|Adela Navarro Bello, Mexico
2011 Courage in Journalism Award
Ruthless drug cartels have murdered her editors and repeatedly threatened to kill Adela Navarro Bello, but she refuses to stop writing about Mexico’s raging violence.
Navarro – an IWMF 2011 Courage in Journalism Award winner – is facing daunting challenges overseeing her news magazine’s struggle to cover escalating violence in Tijuana.
Legendary Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzman Loera appears to be “targeting” Tijuana, in the aftermath of the extradition of cartel boss Benjamín Arellano Félix to San Diego, Navarro Bello said. “Nobody was fighting for this territory before because the cartel got protection from the government and police. Now it looks like Guzman is arriving and that will start a new war in our city,” she said.
At the same time, Navarro Bello, general director of Zeta news magazine, is calling for the Mexican government to reopen the case of her slain Zeta editor, Héctor “El Gato” Félix Miranda, who was killed in 1988 by the bodyguards of ex-Tijuana mayor Jorge Hank Rhon. Navarro Bello was outraged when Hank Rhon was arrested and released because of lack of evidence on illegal weapons allegations.
“Hank is not absolved,” Zeta headlined after he was released. “Our website collapsed from the traffic,” Navarro Bello said, after the paper reported the makes and models of 88 weapons seized, including many of the serial numbers.
“Our newspapers sold out, and we were getting 100 hits a second on the website,” said Navarro Bello, 43. ”We devoted 18 pages to an investigation of the ex-mayor. Everything is there. He is a suspect in everything from money laundering, drug cartels and murders. In 23 years as mayor nobody has investigated him.”
While cartels have silenced many Mexican journalists, Navarro Bello refuses to stop covering the the drug wars despite repeated death threats. “I don’t understand self-censorship in Mexico. I don’t understand why reporters are afraid. If you’re not reporting on what is happening you are an accomplice to these people,” said Navarro Bello, whose 60-person staff is 60 percent women. “We have the right to freedom of speech in a democratic country like Mexico.”
The Arellano-Félix cartel threatened to kill Navarro Bello in January 2010, and seven soldiers were assigned to guard her around the clock. Police arrested 10 people the following February, as they were plotting to plant grenades to blow up the Zeta offices. In retaliation for covering the drug war, Zeta co-founder Héctor "El Gato" Félix Miranda was murdered in 1988, and co-editor Francisco Ortiz Franco was killed in 2004.
“We kept wondering, ‘How many lives must be lost?’ Francisco was putting his two children in the backseat of the car before he was gunned down. The kids got out of the car and started crying and running. It was one of the saddest moments in the history of Zeta,” said Navarro. “There was talk of closing the paper, but we wanted to do our work.”
After learning that she received this year’s Courage in Journalism Award, Navarro said she felt that “Zeta isn’t alone. We have allies. This is an important message to the people of Mexico.”
“I’ve been poisoned with the truth. I can’t stop," Navarro Bello said. “We aren’t afraid to write about the drug cartels and run the names of people who are hurting our society. We tell the police who they are. That’s the kind of journalism we do. We go everywhere and cover everything. We won’t remain silent.”