The Road to Mérida: Interview with Mario Menéndez, Publisher of !Por Esto!, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico 1/10/03

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The Yucatán's newspaper, !Por Esto! (http://www.poresto.net), first got wide notice north of the border when its publisher, Mario Renato Menéndez Rodrìguez, was sued in New York City for libel, along with Al Giordano of Narco News, in the now famous "Drug War on Trial" case. !Por Esto! had since 1996 been publishing exposes linking Banamex bank owner Roberto Hernandez with the cocaine traffic in the Yucatán. Hernandez had twice sued for libel and lost in Mexico. Seeking a friendlier venue in the United States, Hernandez lost again, allowing !Por Esto! and Narco News to secure a victory for the free exercise of journalism everywhere -- even in cyberspace.

But Menéndez has a journalistic career going back four decades, and has published !Por Esto!, now Mexico's third largest daily, since 1991. From Mérida, Menéndez and !Por Esto! have long comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. Menéndez is a member of the Out from the Shadows Mérida steering committee, and !Por Esto! is a host of the event.

Week Online: What are you seeking to do with the brand of journalism you practice at !Por Esto!?

Mario Menéndez: I come from a journalistic family. My grandfather founded El Diario de Yucatán, but my cousins threw out all the principles and values for which it stood. It has become a newspaper of Catholic conservative extremism. I left and formed my own newspaper, one that would provide a voice for the voiceless. We are open to all voices -- left, center, right -- as long as they speak the truth. I don't impose any ideology. We are an independent voice, we do not take money from politicians, and we let the people voice their denunciations of wrongdoing in high places. For that we have been persecuted on many occasions, but after 12 years we are stronger than ever.

WOL: You and Al Giordano practice a brand of journalism you call "authentic journalism." What do you mean by that?

Menéndez: Yes, that is what we practice. Authentic journalism is journalism with a commitment to the good of the community. It is journalism with a commitment to freedom and justice and dignity. Authentic journalism seeks to find a community's problems and help fix them through bringing knowledge of the problem and the solution. Authentic journalism is the voice of the people, the voice of the voiceless.

Let me give you an example. Last September, a fierce hurricane struck the Yucatán, but the other papers downplayed it for fear of hurting the tourism business. While the storm raged, our reporters were going to every corner of the state. No other papers did that, no other so-called journalists risked their lives to tell the people what was going on. It was because of our efforts that the international community sent aid. Now we are finding that much of the aid wasn't distributed. Instead, the politicians plan to use it to buy votes in the upcoming elections. We have photos of the stored supplies and we are asking the government what it is hiding from the people. The governor here is going crazy.

WOL: You and Al Giordano are holding a school of authentic journalism in conjunction with the Mérida conference. What is that about?

Menéndez: The object is to teach the lessons we have learned to a new generation of journalists. We want to introduce the journalistic community to journalism. I believe there are some 25 authentic journalists from all over the Americas to whom we have extended scholarships to attend. We will teach them the commitment to the community and we will teach them a commitment to truth, honesty and justice. Those are the important things. They will not be like other reporters, only chasing the news story. The students will learn to listen to the people to understand their problems, and to help the people find solutions.

The students will cover the conference, of course, but there is much more. For example, one of the things we regularly do at !Por Esto! is go out to the communities in the interior and hold public meetings at the town square. We go without police presence because the people are happy to see us. Anyone who has a complaint, a denunciation of wrongdoing, even a personal opinion, can have his say, and we print it in the newspaper. That is authentic journalism. You do not get rich doing this sort of journalism, but to see the smiles on the faces of the people when you arrive makes it worth more than money.

WOL: How did you get involved in this conference?

Menéndez: Well, I know Al Giordano, of course, that's it. But also, on one of my trips to New York, I spoke at Colombia University. They wanted to know about the drug trade in Latin America. Are we fighting drugs? they asked. I told them the DEA is effectively the most powerful cartel in the world. The United States is the great drug consumer, and the DEA only persecutes those whom it doesn't control. We know how the drugs flow north, and we know this war on drugs is a farce. And we know that the government of the US tells the government of Mexico -- all the governments of Latin America -- what to do. The people at Columbia told me I was idealistic, which I know means they think I am a fool. But that's what I believe. Maybe some people listened to me there.

WOL: If the war on drugs is a farce, then should we legalize the trade?

Menéndez: I believe we should legalize and depenalize drug consumption and the drug trade. That is how we reduce the violence and corruption of those huge black market profits; that is how we reduce the robbing and killing by addicts who need to buy their drugs. But legalization must be accompanied by a strong campaign of education and prevention and rehabilitation for addicts. But even when we educate people about the dangers of drug consumption, we violate their rights if we forbid them from using drugs. Just as an alcoholic can drink without fear of persecution, so it should be for drug users.

But this is a $600 billion a year business and too many people profit from things they way they are. That is why I say the war on drugs is a big fake, a simulation to fool the people. The drug war will continue with all the suffering it brings. And you have so many people in prison up there! And now you can't afford to keep them there. Now you have to choose: More schools or more prisons? What a stupid question. Education is the key to human freedom, not more prisons.

WOL: How's the weather in Mérida?

Menéndez: Warm and sunny. Come on down.

-- END --
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Issue #271, 1/10/03 The Road to Mérida: Interviews with Participants in the "Out from the Shadows" Campaign | The Road to Mérida: Interview with Mario Menéndez, Publisher of !Por Esto!, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico | The Road to Mérida: Dr. Jaime Malamud-Goti, former Argentine Solicitor General | Latin American Anti-Prohibition Conference, Feb. 12-15, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico | Cumbre Internacional Sobre Legalización, 15-Dec Febrero, Mérida, México | Canada Cannabis Conundrum Continued: Government Will Appeal Ontario Ruling, Prosecutors to Put Possession Cases on Hold | Newsbrief: Eyeing Stiffer Meth Penalties in West Virginia | Newsbrief: First Local Salvia Divinorum Ordinance Proposed | Newsbrief: Huffington SUV-Terrorism Ad Parodies Drug Czar's Drug-Terrorism Campaign | Newsbrief: Corrupt Cops of the Week | Newsbrief: Ontario Court Clears Tokin' Motorist of DWI Charge | Newsbrief: Massachusetts Cops Slow to Act on Racial Profiling Law | Newsbrief: New Jersey Seeks to Delay Ban on Asset Forfeiture, Will Appeal Ruling | Newsbrief: Federal Court Ruling on No-Knock Search Raises Questions About Standard Procedure in Kansas City | Web Scan: Maia Szalavitz in Slate, GAO on Colombia Coca, Globe and Mail on Ontario Marijuana Ruling | DC Job Opportunity at DRCNet -- Campus Coordinator | The Reformer's Calendar
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