From the Editor
The Editor Bids Farewell to Frontera NorteSur
Well, the time has come to say my goodbye to Frontera NorteSur. Alas, the anvil of austerity is burning red hot and the ink is dripping off the pink slip. Everything aside, it’s been a remarkable journey in the editor’s seat during the past eleven years and seven months. Writing for FNS’ wonderful and special readership has been a challenge, a privilege, and a labor of love.
Part of my job consisted of deciphering the codes of Mexican politics and media and then summarizing the news with context for English-dominant readers; part of it involved researching and writing original reports about Mexico, the U.S.-Mexico border, New Mexico and other places of occasional interest.
When I assumed the editor’s post in the spring of 2005, the so-called Mexican drug war was flaring up. The Sinaloa and Gulf drug cartels were battling over Nuevo Laredo, the Tamaulipas border city made super-strategic by the North American Free Trade Agreement, and began “heating up” Acapulco in the southern state of Guerrero. More than ten years later, Tamaulipas is by all accounts a “narco-state” and Acapulco is Mexico’s most violent city.
By 2008, the war had engulfed Ciudad Juarez. El Paso’s sister city was devastated by the Great Violence of 2008-12, leaving more than 10,000 murdered and tens of thousands displaced in Mexico and the United States. The border city experienced a shaky recovery but slid back towards the abyss as state and municipal governments changed hands this year. New orphans have been added to the ranks of the thousands left produced by the carnage of a few years ago.
Since 2006, various estimates calculate about 200,000 people have been murdered nationwide in Mexico, 28,000-plus disappeared and 250,000 or more forcibly displaced. According to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, 119 journalists have been murdered since 2000, the year of the celebrated Mexican democratic transition, and another 20 disappeared since 2005. Newsrooms have been sprayed with gunfire and shattered by grenades.
During my time as Frontera NorteSur editor, I reported from the ground on the disputed 2006 and 2012 Mexican presidential elections; the emergence of the mass U.S. immigrant rights movement in 2005 and 2006, which witnessed the largest public demonstrations for any cause in the United States during recent times; the Little Katrina flooding of the Paso del Norte; the Great Recession on both sides of the border; and Occupy Wall Street (Southwest style).
Original FNS stories reported on the 2014 rebellion against police brutality in Albuquerque, forerunner of subsequent events in Ferguson, Baltimore and elsewhere; the international outrage over the killing and forced disappearance of the Ayotzinapa rural teacher college students in Mexico; the death of Mexican icon Juan Gabriel; and the resurgence of Indigenous popular movements in the U.S. Southwest and across Turtle Island.
To the best of our shoestring capacity, Frontera NorteSur reported on stories that were either ignored or underreported by other media outlets. FNS covered the Ciudad Juarez feminicides; the booms and busts of the maquiladora industry; the historic 2015 movement of Juarez maquiladora workers; the North American Free Trade Agreement; state immigration fights such as SB 1070 in Arizona and the still-not-quite finished battle over driver’s licenses in New Mexico; the environmental future of the Rio Grande Basin; the decades-old struggle of former Mexican guestworkers, the braceros, to recover a “lost” savings fund deducted from their paychecks; the future of El Paso’s old Asarco smelter and the sickened workers left behind; and the resiliency of New Mexican culture.
Officially, my job was always a “part-time” position. My stint as editor coincided with the Fox, Calderon and Pena Nieto presidencies south of the border as well as most of the second term of George W. Bush and the two terms of Barack Obama- short of two months- north of the border. During my years with FNS, Chapo Guzman was a fugitive of growing legend, a recaptured prisoner, a twice escaped convict rubbing noses with Hollywood celebrities, and a three-time prisoner held virtually incommunicado in Juarez while awaiting extradition to the United States.
It’s worth noting how many of the stories regularly covered by FNS since the 1990s-free trade, immigration, border security, and the so-called drug war- framed in many ways the 2016 U.S. presidential race. That is, when vulgarities, personality deformations and scandals real and imagined did not predominate in the media circus. Reminiscent in some ways of the last two Mexican presidential contests, a post-election conflict of great magnitude engulfs the United States, with unforeseen consequences for the years ahead. A great showdown is in the works between the incoming Washington administration and a growing sanctuary movement of cities, churches and campuses in defense of undocumented immigrants.
These have been tumultuous, transformative and trying times for the planet. In hindsight, yesterday’s predictions of would-be futurists of the end of history and the dawning of a technologically liberating and leisurely age in the 21st century seem preposterous. Instead of the Age of Aquarius, we now find ourselves in the Age of the Anthropocene, meaning the era of human made climate and environmental changes. Besides record heat, 2016 will go down as the year when levels of carbon dioxide tipped 400 parts per million for the first time in millions of years. Artic ice is vanishing, and millions of trees are dead or dying in California.
Mexico, the Paso del Norte borderland and New Mexico are situated in some of the most vulnerable quarters of the planet to the changing climate. During the past decade, flooding, grinding drought and apocalyptic forest fires have scarred the land, displaced humans and wildlife, and wrought untold billions in damages on both sides of the border. Whether the U.S. president-elect believes it or not, human-caused climate change was responsible for an additional 16,000 square miles of burned forests in the western United States from 1984 to 2015, according to University of Idaho and Columbia University study recently reported on by the Associated Press. That’s half of the forest areas that went up in smoke over a span of three decades.
An emblematic space snapshot of the earth’s perilous course, NASA detected a 2,500 square mile methane plume in the Four Corners region of New Mexico and three neighboring states, largely traced to leaks from thousands of oil and gas wells.
New Mexico has been ruthlessly pummeled and plundered in myriad other ways. As violence and mayhem raged south of the border, local governments in two New Mexico border towns, Columbus and Sunland Park, were exposed as dens of corruption. Some went to jail, but many of the accused had their wrists slapped or were let off the hook. Instances of wrongdoing too numerous to list here slithered up and down the Land of Enchantment’s government and business ladder, including a secretary of state who misspent campaign funds on casino spending sprees and served a brief jail sentence, and a prominent realtor who was convicted of a multi-million dollar investment Ponzi scheme.
Tax giveaways for the rich and pickpocketing of the working class (regressive sales taxes, budget shrinking business tax incentives, spiraling college tuition increases, utility rate hikes, etc.) define the local economic landscape, as do persistent poverty, epic homelessness and a jobless rate that’s still nearly two points above the national average of five percent. New Mexico has excelled in cutting general school spending 14 percent between 2008 and 2014 ( a year of supposed recovery from the Great Recession), according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Despite subsequent increases in funding, overall spending still came out 7 percent lower in Fiscal Year 2017 than in 2008, when inflation is factored into the equation.
“Only seven states made deeper cuts than New Mexico,” declared the non-profit advocacy organization New Mexico Voices for Children.
Signs of what Mexican political analysts describe as social and political decomposition, or disintegration, punctuate New Mexico. A shattered social safety net, tone deaf state and local governments (i.e. the controversial Albuquerque Rapid Transit project) and impunity are but a few of the symptoms. The prescription for the public seems to be: dumb them down, numb them out and shunt them aside.
As economic, social and political structures teetered on the brink of collapse, new meth and heroin epidemics spread across the state like a grasshopper plague. Perhaps unsurprisingly, New Mexico became auto theft central, even rivaling or beating out Ciudad Juarez for that dubious distinction. Car and truck thefts nearly doubled from 2,773 in 2010 to 5,179 in 2015, according to a count by the Albuquerque Journal.
Hundreds of the state’s young went to early graves courtesy of Killer Speed and King Heroin. As another Associated Press story reported, meth-related deaths in New Mexico jumped from 39 in 2009 to 111 in 2014, while emergency room visits related to the drug soared from 382 in 2010 to 1,097 in 2014. The scriptwriters of the Breaking Bad series that put New Mexico on the map fell far short in setting the story.
As hard drugs use surged, so did violence. Individual and mass killings- mostly with guns- claimed lives in Gallup, Albuquerque, Roswell, Las Cruces and elsewhere. From 2001 to 2015, the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator registered 2,689 homicides in a state where the population hovered around two million people. “As with suicide rates, homicide rates in New Mexico tend to higher than the national average…,” the OMI routinely deadpanned in its annual reports. New Mexico’s murder rate either exceeded or came close to surpassing the 10 murders per 100,000 people the World Health Organization regards as constituting a public health emergency during the years of 2002, 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2015.
Even as I sat contemplating these words from Albuquerque, the yellow-tape of a crime scene blocked the street a half-block down where a man was shot and killed in the morning, reportedly over a stupid argument arising from a game of “beer pong.” A tasty cocktail guns and alcohol don’t make.
As murder victims, Native Americans and African Americans were regularly overrepresented. Shades of the Juarez feminicides, a clandestine grave containing the remains of 11 disappeared women and girls, working-class women of color, was discovered on Albuquerque’s West Mesa in 2009. Despite the local police department’s homicide clearance record in the 70 or 80 percent range, the West Mesa Murders remain unsolved.
New Mexico prides itself on green chile cheeseburger competitions, but it’s the Great New Mexico Melt Down that’s getting national and international attention. Lately, I’ve found myself in Ciudad Juarez reading about New Mexico violence in the Mexican press or even hearing about it from Juarenses who are in the know about what’s happening with their sickly friend next door.
When all is said and done, it’s as if the Santa Fe Ring, the Three Stooges, Ebenezer Scrooge, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Count Dracula, and the Mummy all crawled out of the crypt at once to haunt, deceive and pillage the Land of Enchantment. In the final analysis, all the individual pieces published by Frontera NorteSur over the years, whether from north or south of the border, really make up one big story.
Through all the horrors, surprises and wonders it was you, the reader, who kept me going with your comments and criticisms. Apologies to those I did not always have time to answer due to what seemed like interminable crises demanding news coverage. Special praise is merited for the editors of Frontera NorteSur who preceded me. Namely, Adriana Candia, Jeff Barnet, Anne Marie Mackler, Greg Bloom and others who crafted and finessed the journalistic mission and format of a small but spirited news service that tried its best to clear away a bit of the border media fog.
Candia is a co-author of a pioneering 1999 book about the Ciudad Juarez women’s murders that rescued victims from an official oblivion of faceless statistics and horribly stereotyped caricatures. Profiling the lives of real people with real dreams for a better life on an often unforgiving border, the book greatly influenced me and others in approaching an issue that, unfortunately, still screams for justice just as it did in the last years of the past century.
Recognition is due to the directors of the Center for Latin American and Border Studies under whom I worked during all these years-Neil Harvey, Jose Manuel Garcia and Inigo Garcia-Bryce. Kudos go out to the great NMSU student and part-time staff who assisted in getting FNS stories posted on the web: Jennifer, Seth, Anja, Gaby, Megan, Gaurav Panwar and any others I might have unintentionally missed. All of them were an indispensable part of this news operation.
Bouquets of thanks go out to Diana Washington Valdez, Marisela Ortega, Teresa Vazquez, Bob Chessey, Generation Justice, Steve Ranieri, and Andy Beale for their occasional and unpaid contributions of articles and/or photographs.
During the last two years, Frontera NorteSur showcased a group of promising New Mexico State student writers that included Nicolas Cabrera, Marianne L. Bowers, Kyle Fields and Laura Iesue. Nicolas’ talents and contributions to FNS were duly recognized by awards from New Mexico Press Women. An especially heartfelt thanks to those readers who answered our annual fundraising appeals and dipped into their pockets, allowing this project to literally go the extra mile. Without your dollars, FNS would have been so much thinner.
The good news is that Frontera NorteSur will live on as an important historical archive that documents some of the most critical years in the borderlands, Mexico, New Mexico and beyond. The Center for Latin American and Border Studies will maintain the FNS subscriber list and alert readers of future developments. You can always consult our previous stories at https://fnsnews.nmsu.edu/
Look for another story or two up before the unseasonal winds of November blow the rest of the golden leaves of fall to the ground and the jingle bells of December come to town. Meantime, a few lines from an old San Francisco rock band (RIP Jerry Garcia, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Keith Godchaux and Brent Mydland) seem appropriate for the times.
The Grateful Dead
Picture a bright blue ball just spinning, spinning free
Dizzy with eternity
Paint it with a skin of sky, brush in some clouds and sea
Call it home for you and me
A peaceful place, or so it looks from space
A closer look reveals the human race
Full of hope, full of grace, is the human face
But afraid we may lay our home to waste…..
Shipping powders back and forth
Singing black goes south and white comes north
And the whole world full of petty wars
Singing I got mine and you got yours
While the current fashions set the pace
Lose your step, fall out of grace
The radical, he rant and rage
Singing someone got to turn the page
And the rich man in his summer home
Singing just leave well enough alone
But his pants are down, his cover’s blown
And the politicians throwing stones
So the kids, they dance, they shake their bones
‘Cause it’s all too clear we’re on our own
Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down….
-Kent Paterson, Frontera NorteSur Editor
April 2005-November 2016
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico