When a newspaper pleads to gang leaders and not the government for a truce in the drug war, the stakes become apparent for both Mexico and the United States. In a front-page editorial Sunday, El Diario asked the drug lords in Ciudad Juarez, the city hardest hit by the violence, for ground rules that would protect journalists. The appeal was a chilling acknowledgement that organized crime leaders are in charge, not Mexico's army, police or civilian government.
El Diario's plea is heartbreaking for what it says about social order and the public's expectations of the government. "Explain to us what you want from us," the paper implored the drug dealers, "so we know what to abide by. You are at this time the de facto authorities in this city because the legal authorities have not been able to stop our colleagues from falling." The open letter ran one day after the funeral of Luis Carlos Santiago, a 21-year-old photographer at the paper, who was shot and killed.
The drug gangs pose a serious threat to Mexico's stability — and to the security of U.S. border states. America has its share of responsibility, given its appetite for drugs and the ease smugglers have in trafficking U.S. weapons across the border. Courageous Mexican journalists have told this story, helping to draw global support for President Felipe Calderon's crackdown. El Diario made clear it was not dropping its courageous coverage. "But we hope," one editor said, "it sounds an alarm bell in the public's conscience." That bell needs to ring loudly in Washington.