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August 2, 2001

Narco News 2001

Roberto Hernández


The Banamex-Narco News War

By José Martínez M.

Mexican Nationally-Syndicated Columnist

Translated by The Narco News Bulletin

Originally published July 29 in the daily Por Esto! and other newspapers

For my friend Mario R. Menéndez,
With a strong embrace of solidarity

With more than two decades of experience as a journalist and activist, Alberto Giordano, the editor-founder of Narco News - one of the most widely-read web pages by analysts of organized crime and narco-politics - has confronted a lawsuit in the U.S. courts due to the attack by one of the magnates of Salinism, Roberto Hernández. Giordano is being sued together with the veteran Yucatán journalist Mario Menéndez Rodríguez, publisher of the newspaper Por Esto!, of one of the most influential dailies of the Mexican Caribbean.

Giordano and Menéndez were sued in the Supreme Court of the State of New York by Roberto Hernández Ramírez - a magnate who was made immeasurably wealthy in the shadow of ex-president Carlos Salinas. The cause: Having denounced the remains of drugs on the properties of the neo-banker on the Island of Punta Pájaros of the state of Quintana Roo. Yes, the ostentatious plantation where the most recent presidents (Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox) have passed holidays as guests of the strongman of Banamex. Hernández has risen through the friendship of his friends of high politics to create a blanket of impunity around him and up until now has made him untouchable.

Through Banamex, Roberto Hernández contracted the services of the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld with offices in Washington and New York, led by Robert Strauss, personal friend of (Mexican politician-banker) professor Carlos Hank González. The attorney Strauss is an influential politician in the Democratic Party and is widely recognized for defending conspicuous persons linked to the mafias.

In a way it could be said that Giordano's tribune is that of David. Tenacious, stubborn, obstinate, this obsessive smoker who follows the path of Subcomandante Marcos in utilizing the Internet to declare war against injustice, recognizes that, in effect, the founding of Narco News is an idealistic, but realistic, project. His web page is ultra-recognized throughout the entire world. Giordano knows that the power of the word can be lethal and that, at the core, was intuited by Roberto Hernández who has engaged in all legal subterfuges to try to flatten his critics.

A boxing analogy could be made about the fight between Hernández with the editor of Narco News. The Banamex magnate appears as a heavyweight but with a clumsy manner, while in the other corner is a middleweight, light, agile, ready to battle to the ultimate consequences.

That's how he is seen here before Domingo Político - Al Giordano in interview during one of his elusive visits to Mexico City, in a meeting spiced by succulent coffee and some mouthfuls of blue smoke from the legendary Faros-brand cigarettes.

We now present the interview with Al Giordano conducted a few days before the hearing in the Supreme Court of New York, last July 20th, in which he and Mario Menéndez made progress toward being absolved.


Martínez: How goes the lawsuit by Roberto Hernández against Narco News?

Giordano: It's an act of harassment, nothing more. Remember that the rich don't like it when the people know about their activities.

Martínez: What's the motive of the lawsuit?

Giordano: First, it's a lawsuit against Narco News, against me as an individual and against the Mexican journalist Mario Menéndez Rodríguez. It's a lawsuit over facts that three judges have already ruled that there was no defamation. What's more, is that the reports were not about Banamex, but about Roberto Hernández. But Hernández has hidden behind Banamex. He didn't personally present the lawsuit. It's very curious, but understandable.

Martínez: I hear that the attorney Martin Garbus is representing your defense...

Giordano: Marty Garbus is Mario Menéndez's lawyer. He's an outstanding attorney that brings four decades fighting purely in the field of liberty of expression.

Martínez: He's an institution, famous for his triumphs…

Giordano: Among the multitude of cases that he's fought and won, there are 21 cases that have gone to the Supreme Court of the United States. The first case of this kind began with the comedian named Lenny Bruce. He was the comedian who in the 1960s used words that today we all use every day, but in those times were prohibited and he was prosecuted many times for obscenity and died, like many artists, due to problems with addiction to heroin. He died in the middle of his vice and didn't survive to see that, in the end, he won and won the right for everybody to speak freely. He is a hero of freedom of speech, but he paid a personal price that included his life and we don't want to find ourselves in the same situation here. We want to win and to survive the lawsuit.

Martínez: And who is defending you and Narco News in court?

Giordano: I'm representing myself, but not Narco News because there are very technical matters such as jurisdiction over the use of the Internet. Narco News is represented by attorney Tom Lesser who defeated the promoters of nuclear power plants in the 1970s. And in the 1980s he represented Amy Carter, the daughter of ex-president Jimmy Carter, and other students that blockaded the CIA at the University of Massachusetts. The CIA wanted to recruit students to be members of the CIA and the marched to block it all and the police arrested them and they went to court. And at this moment the activist Abbie Hoffman called me on the telephone and asked me who would be the best defense lawyer to represent them. And I told him, it was Tom Lesser. And Lesser and other attorneys, including Leonard Weinglass, who cosigned the Narco News motions, brought a novel defense. The students and Hoffman had been accused of trespass, and they admitted to the trespass. But they said that the CIA committed a greater crime by trying to recruit people at the University because the CIA in the 1980s was meddling in Nicaragua, in Central America, in cocaine and all that. And the defense argued that there was no crime in trespass when a fireman enters a private property to save a child from the fire. The fireman is not guilty of a crime. And 12 jurors from the citizenry declared that the students were not guilty because the CIA is the greater criminal, and this broke the back of the CIA. It was something totally unprecedented. Tom Lesser is my friend of 25 years and I trust him totally and I'm very lucky that he has taken this case because I can't afford an attorney of his quality and level.

Martínez: When did you begin publishing Narco News?

Giordano: On the 18th of April of 2000.

Martínez: What impact has it had in this short time?

Giordano: It's had various, as the Washington Post recognized when we were responsible for the downfall of the AP (Associated Press) correspondent in the country of Bolivia. This South American country has a lot of problems especially with the drug war, with the persecution of peasant farmers, of the coca-growers, and it has Hugo Banzer, no? But there was only one gringo correspondent in the entire country.

Last September there were blockades in all the roads and highways of Bolivia, until the capital city of La Paz was running out of food, and not one newspaper nor news agency reported the news in English because the AP correspondent, Peter McFarren, who had a monopoly over press coverage out of that country for 18 years always seemed to defend the regime. I contacted people who had written me from Bolivia to ask about this journalist because I was suspicious, and the people of the social movements in Bolivia led me to information the proved that while he was acting as a reporter, as an AP correspondent, he was also, at the same time, lobbying in the Bolivian Congress for an $80 million dollar water export project to bring water to the copper mines of Chile. And Peter McFarren was set to collect a percentage of this project for the mysterious foundations that he had. We proved it, and after 18 days of reports the correspondent of 18 years had to resign. That, and my previous battles with Sam Dillon of the New York Times, who is also a real phony, has put the U.S. correspondents in Latin America on notice. In these places, the people have changed the rules so that the press can never again lie about events the way the correspondents have done for years and years.


Martínez: Sam Dillon and his companion Julia Preston were severely questioned when they received the Pulitzer Prize for their reports on Mexican narco-politics that involved personalities like the ex-governor of Sonora, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, and that of Morelos, Jorge Carrillo Olea. What was the problem with Sam Dillon?

Giordano: I've never known the guy, except for his writings. And one day in March of 1999 I received a call from the offices of the New York Times in Mexico. Dillon had learned that I was investigating the matter of Punta Pájaros - the stories about the property of Roberto Hernández - and the persecution against the editor of the newspaper Por Esto!, Mario Menéndez, and all the story that finally is a story about persecution of freedom of the press and the behavior of presidents Clinton and Zedillo.

Sam Dillon asked me something that seemed to me very strange, because how is it possible that a colleague asks another about the advance of my investigation before I published anything? And I said to Sam Dillon that I was still in the middle of my investigation.

Then, the Times correspondent wanted to corner me, saying, "you believe the accusations of the editor of Por Esto! against Roberto Hernández?" And I said, "Look, Sam, I am in the middle of my investigation by the story of narco-trafficking seems to me to be very credible, there are photos and all that." And suddenly this guy threatened me and said, Do you know what I'm going to do, I, the most powerful United States journalist in Mexico, he of the New York Times? I'm going to publish an article in the New York Times saying that Mario Menéndez Rodríguez is the last example of blackmail journalists in Mexico in order to discredit anything that you write about this.

I said to the correspondent, Look, Sam, I don't recommend that you do that because you've admitted to me that you knew all the facts about Roberto Hernández, about Punta Pájaros, about the fight between Hernández and (then-governor) Mario Villanueva that is part of all this. And this anti-drug summit between Clinton and Zedillo happened on the property of Hernández and you didn't say anything about it to the readers of the New York Times.

And like a typical coward, his threats were empty. And the day that I ended my investigation and published the facts in the Boston Phoenix in May 1999, I sent a FAX of four pages to one of the veteran journalists of the New York Times, a very important columnist, to say, "Look, this happened last March, one of your reporters threatened me not to publish an article and I just published it, and I hold the Times responsible for any aggression against me." And nothing happened. But later I published Narco News, and in May 2000 an outstanding journalist, Cynthia Cotts, published in her newspaper (the Village Voice) that Sam Dillon was already over in Mexico and the editors of the New York Times didn't want to say anything. But the exit of Dillon and his wife Julia Preston was announced one month before the presidential elections, and it was a scandal among U.S. journalists.


Martínez: Who reads Narco News?

Giordano: Many journalists of various countries, investigators, human rights activists, people who want to legalize drugs or reform the anti-drug policies, ecologists, particularly with the reports about Colombia because the issues of the environment and that of drugs in Colombia cannot be pulled apart, and now there are people who follow things like the purchase of Banamex by Citigroup.

Martínez: What perception do you have of Mexico after the problem with Banamex and Roberto Hernández? How do you see the country on questions of narco-politics?

Giordano: I believe that the U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow was wrong when he said that Mexico is the international headquarters of drug trafficking. That's just not true. The international headquarters of drug trafficking is Washington and that is the largest cartel in the world. And Mexico, like all the other countries, is a victim of the policy of the United States. We're living the same fucked-up mess ("chingadera") as happened during the prohibition of alcohol. And as with all the mafias, all crime, all corruption, now we are reliving it and it's worse today. The movie "Traffic" doesn't tell the half of what is happening. And Mexico lives with all the violence, all the corruption, but doesn't receive the money. The money is washed by bankers, this has already been proved. For example, in the Salinas case, and this is a very long story, these are the bosses, these are the capos as they say in Italy, they are the capo di tutti capi and until drugs are legalized this problem will not end.

The Mexican people have much more consciousness than the gringo people about this issue. The gringos have illusions. They believe that governments are sincere about combating drugs and the narco. And the majority of Mexicans that I know don't have any illusion that the governments want to stop this. To the contrary, they know that the governments, all the governments, make profits off this and have an excuse to persecute social movements, like those of the indigenous prisoners. Thus, Narco News is, in the end, argument to Washington and the North American people to say to them, look, the war on drugs is not what the government says it is, it has another pretext, and this war must be ended. And the only way is to legalize drugs. And this is Narco News. And everything else that has happened, including the Banamex lawsuit, is simply a consequence of this mission.

Banamex can't win anything. I don't own any property. I don't have a car. I don't have a credit card. I have a laptop computer, a cat and a guitar. And Roberto Hernández has a lot of computers. Thus, I suppose that he wants my guitar. But he won't get it! And he's going to gamble millions of dollars to win a guitar, but he won't win even that. This was to try to silence us, to defeat us economically, and he can still try to intimidate us and and try to silence me, but he won't succeed.

Martínez: As a journalist how do you describe Roberto Hernández?

Giordano: As a poor little rich boy.

Martínez: A neoliberal yuppie?

Giordano: I've never met the guy. But he's not going to have his way with me because I'm going to place him on the witness stand. There is a process in that before trial, I have the right to interrogate not only Roberto Hernández but also the entire Citigroup board, one by one, for hours and hours, and while Hernández has sworn to tell the truth. And if he says one single lie he could go to jail for that. And after that interrogation happens, I will be able to tell you what I think of Roberto Hernández as an individual. Right now I don't know him. I've never met the guy, nor anybody from Banamex. He hides behind his bank and the bank hides behind their lawyers and I only know the lawyers.

Martínez: Who are they?

Giordano: They are members of the law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld of Washington DC. It's the same law firm registered by the governments of Colombia and Bolivia, and during the PRI regime was the office of that worked for the Mexican government, and Robert Strauss is very good friends with Carlos Hank González.

Martínez: Then, the lawyers of the mafias are the defenders of Roberto Hernández and Banamex?

Giordano: Robert Strauss is the most important partner at the Akin, Gump, Strauss law firm. He's a Texan who was chief of the Democratic Party and is very good friends with the Bush family. Strauss is a thoroughly powerful guy and the lawyers of Hernandez think that through brute economic force they can defeat the truth. But they're wrong. We're going into the fight. We're going into battle.

Martínez: Do you know a person who plays an important role in Banamex that is named Frederico Ponce Rojas?

Giordano: I don't know him, but I have heard a lot about him regarding what is happening in Yucatán right now. He has sued Por Esto! You should speak with Mario Menéndez, because he has a lot of information about the guy.

Martínez: Frederico Ponce Rojas was assistant attorney general when his boss was Ignacio Morales Lechuga....

Giordano: Something happened with him in Veracruz but I don't recall exactly…

Martínez: At it's root is the massacre of judicial police in the town of Tlalixcoyan. He had to resign because he wanted to discredit the army. He's now a person who, in Banamex, is dedicated to telephone espionage and obviously, say the people who know about this matter, Rojas spied on President Fox last Christmas in Punta Pájaros, that on the orders of Roberto Hernández he put microphones on the president and not only microphones, but also video cameras…

Giordano: Has this been published?

Martínez: So far, no. But it is spoken of in high police circles.

No Silence, No Deals