“In Such a Demonic Age as This, There Is No Room for Calm”
A Letter from Laura del Castillo in Colombia
By Laura del Castillo Matamoros
Narco News Editorial Columnist
May 26, 2005
For two years, many people have asked me why I write for Narco News. “Narco what?” they ask me, their eyes opening wide. “What a weird name,” they say. “It isn’t a newspaper for drug dealers, is it?” “Who reads it?”
And before I can respond, they begin to tell me about the importance of working for a “recognized” publication, one that would guarantee me “protection” and would “back me up” (with bullet-proof vests, a good salary, and other armaments). And, what’s more, they assure me that “everything would be easier” for me if I would just start not to care about the situation of a country that seems to be without salvation, like Colombia, or if I would accept with stoic joy that all those who are born without money should just reproduce and die, punctually following the demands of the establishment.
And yes, maybe they are right. Maybe “everything would be easier” if two years ago, when I was about to erase the shame of having studied journalism – “the most mediocre calling in the world” – from my past, I hadn’t found Narco News and the School of Authentic Journalism. “Everything would be easier,” because that chance encounter has helped me to understand what exactly I wanted to oppose, but could never before clearly define. “Everything would be easier” if I hadn’t spent a whole day among the philosophic/journalistic reflections of The Medium is the Middleman, on the commercial media and the fundamental role they fill in the dynamics of consumer society. “Everything would be easier,” because since I read that work, every time I turn on the television or the radio, or look at the newspapers, I feel overcome by the impotence I feel when I think about the things that are shown, said, or written and labeled as “truth” (the war on terror, the heroic war on drugs, the popularity of President Uribe, Bush’s reelection, weapons of mass destruction, the criminalization of Latin American social movements, the death of a pope who has become a deity, the Colombian paramilitaries transformed into martyrs and saviors of a country at risk of falling into the clutches of communism, etc, etc, etc…); how they are no more than small pieces in the enormous puzzle of the generalized lie that, thanks to the New World Order, the fall of the twin towers on September 11 2001, and free trade, now knows no borders.
Maybe “everything would be easier” if during the two sessions of the School of Authentic Journalism that I had the opportunity to attend (two years ago in Mexico and last year in Bolivia), I hadn’t met journalists from different latitudes and of all ages, people who I had once thought of as species on their way to extinction, and who showed me that journalism is no mediocre calling, but rather that the mediocrity lies in those who practice it from the media conglomerates that have taken over radio, television, the press, and the Internet, to say what the great centers of power (especially the one with its headquarters in Washington) want said: that everything is going fine, when in reality everything is going wrong.
And “everything would be easier” if I hadn’t listened to them talk about their particular experiences of creating autonomous and popular communications media; or of investing months and even entire years, perhaps without counting on any moral support, much less economic support, to do investigative journalism; or making radio or shooting videos with the risk implied in working on a low budget and nonexistent sponsorship; or not losing the capacity for doing journalism in an independent way even when a report or photo must be sold, once in a while, to the commercial media.
And in fact “everything would be much easier” if these people would just dedicate themselves to repeating the official discourse instead of bringing to light all that which those people and organizations all around the world – those who, faced with the most diverse forms of repression and exclusion, still have the bravery and strength to keep on fighting for their freedom and, above all, to maintain their dignity – have to say.
Maybe “everything would be much easier” for them if they would become part of the “egosystem” that the insect-journalists of our century inhabit (the same who talk about war, death and money like someone narrating another exciting episode of a soap opera called “The End of the World,” then come out of their office-hives and put their hands in the air, justifying themselves with the pretence of “neutrality”), instead of fighting against those who order the media where they work closed; instead of holding on to the firm desire to maintain their independence and critical position towards reality, despite censorship, or of seeing themselves condemned to death for all of this, as happens to many journalists in my country who work “for the other side.”
In fact, everything would have been easier if Narco News had never won in their lawsuit from Mexican narco-bankers in 2001 and had been forced to disappear, or if it had never recovered from the financial crisis that forced it out of circulation for a bit beginning in October 2003. In the end “everyone would be more relaxed,” some will think.
But what they don’t know is that none of the journalists that make up the Narco News team – not its correspondents, nor its contributors, nor its copublishers who make the Narcosphere go ‘round every day (many of them having come through the School of Authentic Journalism) – are interested in “relaxing,” especially when “relaxing” is something that risks approaching obedience and conformity.
Yes, maybe everything would be easier for everyone if they would turn around and opt for the comfort of not reporting, not denouncing the injustices that are committed day to day in the world, not taking part in the social and political renewals taking place day to day in this continent that is on the verge of exploding, better known as Latin America. Maybe, some will think, “things would be better for those Narco News journalists if they wouldn’t report on the plotting against the leftist Mexican presidential candidate, López Obrador, or if they wouldn’t talk about the social explosion in Ecuador that provoked, a few weeks ago, the resignation of President Gutiérrez, or of the valiant struggles of the social movements that are stronger than ever in Bolivia, or of the immunity of the criminal U.S. soldiers who ‘advise’ and ‘train’ the Colombian army.”
But what they don’t know is that it is exactly all of this that is happening which fuels Narco News, and that, despite all the difficulty it implies, allows none of those who write there to relax. In such a demonic age as this, there is no room for such calm, as Gary Webb himself – who must be practicing feisty and disobedient journalism in some other dimension – would surely say.
Perhaps because of this, and out of stubbornness, to train and unite more and more restless, not-relaxed journalists, the idea to do a fourth session of the School of Authentic journalism is now being cooked up. Many of you will think that this is madness (in fact, you have already seen Al Giordano’s letter announcing that he plans to invest his last savings in the project, despite the fact that “everything would be much easier” for him if he would just spend that money on a nice car or some other luxury product). You may think it even more demented to look for financial solidarity from those among you who count with sufficient economic solvency to make it possible for Narco News’ journalism to keep on agitating, and for a group of wild journalists, determined not to let themselves be so easily domesticated by the system, to meet for a few days to write, to made radio and video, to join together to form the third eye needed to see the world, far from the one-dimensional perspective imposed by the commercial media.
And well, yes, effectively, you are right. It is madness. But it is indubitably worth it. You may wonder why. Just think about two things: one, about the people (from journalists to social leaders) who have found in Narco News an alternative to the soft or explicit censorship in the commercial media that, for obvious reasons, don’t allow certain things to be talked about. And think, please, think especially of those journalists or future journalists who have had to resign themselves to take the clean and paved path of a life where “everything is easier,” because they are unfortunately lucid enough to realize that the happiness lived down that road is actually empty, dull, and fluffy. So they leave their offices and newsrooms, which have become tiny hells, running from their insect-coworkers, to kick some beer can that lies strewn accidentally on the hygienic street of boredom.
Think about them, in their solitude, in their fear, in their desire to lose their minds once they clock out of work, in their profound desire to escape from a destiny that seems to submit them to being simply information mercenaries.
Think about it well, and then decide if it is worth the effort to do something as difficult as help keep afloat two projects as crazy as Narco News and the School of Authentic Journalism.
You can make your donation online, by visiting the website of the Fund for Authentic Journalism:
Or send your contribution by mail, making your check out to “The Fund for Authentic Journalism” and sending it to:
The Fund for Authentic Journalism
P.O. Box 241
Natick, MA 01760
Think about whether you would like to let the lights of thousands of brilliant journalist minds serve just to light up the street that makes everything happier, where life looks like a television commercial with someone kicking around an empty beer can…
Just think about it…
Laura del Castillo, in Colombia
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