A character appears throughout the book, called simply “The Informant” — one among many Anabel Hernandez found during her five-year odyssey through the criminal world, and those supposedly fighting it.
“And he told me when I started this in 2005: ‘Don’t do this. You’re a woman and it’s too dangerous.’ But I had to — because of what had happened in my life, and because only when people understand what is going on can they change it,” she says.
The threats began when Anabel Hernandez’s book was published in Mexico in 2010 — and their story is interwoven into the book she has since written, Mexico in Flames. By this time, she had become a mother of two children.
“I received initial warnings that Garcia Luna — who was minister for public security — wanted to sanction me,” she says. “Even that he wanted to have me killed. I didn’t want to believe it, but I was told this on good authority — ‘they want to kill you.’ I’d come to know Garcia Luna’s various cars well over the years, and one day when I was fetching my little child from school, there it was, one of them, an official one,” she said.
Whatever the motive of this menace, “I reported it immediately to the government’s human rights commission. They opened a file, and I was allocated 24-hour protection.”
Then, earlier this summer, a sinister move: The authorities announced their intention to remove the escort, forcing her to cancel a number of trips to afflicted areas of the country to promote the new book.
“I fought the decision, and they gave me back the escort — but beheaded animals continued to appear on my doorstep even after this, as recently as last June,” she says.
When Anabel Hernandez visits Britain this month, she will be drawing attention not only to the agony of her country, but to the intimidation she has suffered and the murder of scores of her colleagues. This pogrom against the press is no “sideshow” or media obsession with itself — it is strategically integral to Mexico’s drug war, and the taking of territory by the cartels.
One of Anabel Hernandez’s friends is the veteran reporter Mike O’Connor, who spent much of his childhood in Mexico, and has covered conflict since the US’ “dirty wars” in Central America during the 1980s and now works full-time on behalf of Mexico’s menaced reporters, based in Mexico City for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“The silencing of the press and killing of journalists is integral to the reality, the big story, of what is happening here,” O’Connor says. “The cartels are taking territory. The government and authorities are ceding territory to the cartels and, for the cartels to take territory, three things have to happen. One is to control the institutions with guns — basically, the police. The second is to control political power. And, for the first two to be effective, you have to control the press.”
Furthermore, he says, underlining the theme of his friend’s book, “the inability of the government to really solve any of the crimes against journalists during the four years I’ve been here is a metaphor for its inability to solve crimes against common citizens. They simply cannot do it. And you wonder: If they can’t solve these crimes, why not? Is it because they don’t want to?”