Political Indicator

by Carlos Ramírez

May 2, 2000

Story by Mexico's most widely-read columnist credits Narco News report

Veteran journalist Ramírez confirms and expands upon the facts of our story

To read original Ramírez column in Spanish, click here.


(published in El Universal, Mexico's most-widely read daily, and 30 other newspapers around the world)

(Translated faithfully from the original Spanish by The Narco News Bulletin)

They censor the LA Times and Protect Labastida
They hide accusations of drug trafficking

by Carlos Ramírez

As if by the art of magic, a long and critical report in the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times - a million-and-a-half issues published every Sunday - transformed Francisco Labastida from a suspicious functionary who didn't stop drug trafficking in Sinaloa to a hero saved by his wife. The translated information was published on Sunday in the (Mexico City) daily Excelsior, but with at least 30 paragraphs censored, precisely those that signaled doubts about the PRI candidate's fight against the narco.

Even the title of the article had the intention of protecting Labastida and of removing from the report of the Los Angeles Times the criticisms of the PRI candidate for his negative results in Sinaloa in the fight against drug traffickers. Excelsior titled this story: "Labastida confronts the Ire and Threats of Narco-Traffickers." To the contrary, the Los Angeles Times headline says that "PRI Candidate's Drug Stance Stirs Doubts. Mexico: Labastida denies deals with traffickers. Some question ex-governor's vow for 'all-out' war on narcotics."

But the matter doesn't just stay solely in the realm of the headlines. Excelsior censored 30 paragraphs of the story by LA Times reporter Mary Beth Sheridan. And they were the paragraphs that revived the reports of the daily Washington Times and its Insight magazine about a CIA report that signaled that Labastida, as governor of Sinaloa, had made a deal with the narcos. That story has been cited various times by Political Indicator with its respective letters of clarification by Labastida.

(Narco News note: see our April 18th story that links to the DC Times report: "Labastida: Inventor of the Modern Narco-State?")

The story of the Los Angeles Times presented an opportunity for Labastida: to use a story by a prestigious daily of the US but removing the most controversial paragraphs. The decision, in the end, is owed to the editorial policy of Excelsior, but hand of Labastida's team is obvious. There was a double intention: to present, through the Los Angeles Times, a Labastida as victim of drug traffickers and to close the chapter on the CIA report. And as if that were something small, Labastida would make the theme of the narco his style in the campaign, presenting himself as a combatant against the capos by risking his life.

The Excelsior story was not signed by the reporter Sheridan and had the informal byline of "Story by the Los Angeles Times." Nonetheless, the story was a censored translation of the story. Entire paragraphs were unintelligible because they took out critical text. The central theme of the Los Angeles Times story was to confront Labastida with the CIA report although in the end the espionage agency of the US never denied its content. The Excelsior story has as its central theme Labastida as victim of the narco and the quote from his wife for posterity: "'I can live with a threat to my life. I can't live with a threat to yours." And (then-president Carlos) Salinas sent them to Lisbon.

Excelsior censored the paragraph in which the reporter Sheridan signaled that she made "interviews with nearly two dozen politicians, analysts and U.S. and Mexican officials, along with a study of newspaper archives," and concluded that "Labastida was less than the heroic crusader he has portrayed in his ads." This paragraph simply disappeared in the version published by Excelsior.

At the same time, the Excelsior version censored the paragraph with the declaration of Jorge G. Castañeda, identified by the Los Angeles Times as a political analyst who advises one of the rivals of the PRI candidate. In the original version, Castañeda says: "I don't think any Mexican president is crazy enough to declare an all-out war on drugs. What are the costs? What are the benefits? Add all that up." What's more, he said, "Society is not clamoring for war."

Excelsior, beyond that, censored three large paragraphs about the situation of drug trafficking in Sinaloa. These paragraphs were related with another - that was published - that described Labastida as "an economist," who came to Sinaloa and found a violent panorama. The official version tells of an incident of an automobile of the governor shot with bullets.

But, said one censored paragraph, this incident marked "the entrance" of Labastida to the "narco-nightmare." "Sinaloa," reported the censored paragraph, "is to narcotics what Detroit is to cars." The reporter Sheridan outlined in a few words how the narco took advantage of the situation of poverty in Sinaloa to construct an empire. Labastida came to a chaotic state, says the Los Angeles Times in the censored Mexican version, and Labastida inherited the government from Antonio Toledo Corro, who was signaled as an ex-governor connected with drug traffickers. Toledo Corro, of course, has been a defender of Labastida in the narco theme.

The censored version of the Los Angeles Times was very critical. Excelsior didn't publish a paragraph where the reporter established that Labastida exalts his actions in Sinaloa as "evidence" of his commitment to fight against drug traffickers. "No governor has done what I did," declared the PRI candidate in a paragraph not published by Excelsior. Another paragraph censored in Excelsior said that on April 9, 1989, "while Labastida was on a diving holiday... the army swept into the state capital, Culiacan. The soldiers detained the entire municipal police force for questioning and arrested local and state police chiefs appointed by Labastida. The charge: protecting Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, at the time Mexico's top drug lord, who had just been captured in Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco state" and today is in prison.

Another paragraph censored by Excelsior put in bad terms the PRI candidate that today presumes to have cleaned up Sinaloa of narcos. "A chagrined Labastida began another purge in the state police." Still, the case took a surprise turn when the federal court liberated his police chiefs for lack of evidence, according to ex Labastida officials in Sinaloa.

The Los Angeles Times gave the official version about how the government police and Labastida took on the narco. Labastida came to suspect that his police chiefs had been planted. ""It was to distract attention" from other officials who had been protecting Felix Gallardo, he said in the interview. The clean-up that the army made of Labastida's police in Sinaloa - a fact that (presidential rival Vicente) Fox said to Labastida in the debate last Tuesday, April 24th, when the PRI candidate praised himself in the anti-drug fight - brought, says the LA Times story - a series of conflicts between the state and federal governments. "Labastida ultimately came to believe that he was not only confronting traffickers but also their protectors in the federal government."

The censorship by Excelsior of the Los Angeles Times report sought to protect Labastida. For this, the verions in Mexico cut the paragraph in which Labastida, "his eyes clouding" from tears, lamented the assassination of two of his collaborators in the theme of drugs.

Excelsior censored the paragraph in which the leader of the PRD party in Sinaloa established that Labastida combatted against the capo Héctor "El Güero" Palma, but to benefit Félix Gallardo. "There was a war between bands of drug traffickers," said Gregorio Urías, ex-PRD leader. This scenario established the secret report of the CIA: Labastida made deals with the two groups of narcos but helped just one. For this came the agressions against him. A study indicated that the police were incapable of fighting against drugs. "Drug trafficking flourished."

The doubts of the Los Angeles Times were also censored by Excelsior. "How will those experiences affect his policies if he becomes president? Would they motivate Labastida to make the drug fight a priority? Or would the danger, the seemingly intractable corruption and the lack of public outrage over the problem prompt him to be more cautious?"

A critical version of the Los Angeles Times and Excelsior stories is found at http://www.narconews.com/.


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