In Nuevo Laredo, the beheaded body of a blogger, Maria Elizabeth Macias Castro, 39, had been dumped near a computer keyboard with a note signed by a major drug cartel mocking the pseudonym — “Girl From Laredo” — that she had hoped would protect her.
“In Mexico the crimes against journalists are never solved,” Navarro said. “The special prosecutor’s office for crimes against journalists keeps saying, ‘It wasn’t because of their work as journalists.’ It’s terrible. What is the message? That in Mexico you can assassinate a journalist and not go to jail?”
Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, and Tijuana, the sunny, friendly Pacific Coast border city that has been marred by drug cartel violence, has been a punishing home for Zeta.
Two of its journalists have been slain. Zeta’s founder, the pioneering Mexican muckraker Jesus Blancornelas, survived a 1997 assassination attempt by the Arellano Felix drug cartel, and he ran the paper with around-the-clock bodyguards before his death from cancer in 2006.
Now Navarro is an heir to this perilous legacy. On Thursday in New York, the International Women’s Media Foundation will give Navarro its Courage in Journalism award because “she has refused to remain silent, despite repeated warnings that she is being targeted by drug cartels.”
“She is a genuinely independent journalist, in very difficult circumstances — I respect her a lot,” said Julio Scherer, founder of Proceso, the influential weekly in Mexico City.
On a recent day, Navarro sat in Zeta’s conference room under a sort of shrine to her late mentor, with a blown-up photograph of the bespectacled, gentlemanly Blancornelas and his manual typewriter. Wearing black pants, high heels and a stylish white blouse with black embroidery, she thumbed her BlackBerry as she spoke with a straight-to-the-point cool that contrasts with the manner of her courtly, white-haired predecessor.
But she shares her old boss’s sense of outrage, and his impatience, in her criticism of the government’s handling of the drug war.
“Of course they should confront the narcotics traffickers,” she said. “But you can’t just just go for the head. You can’t cut off the head of the cartel, but as long as there is financial backing, five more will take their place. They have to go after the financial structure.”
“They say [Joaquin] Chapo Guzman is worth a billion dollars,” Navarro said of the drug lord whose organization is said to control the Tijuana corridor into the United States. “Where is that money? Where are their investments?
“This is what is lacking in the strategy of [Mexican President Felipe] Calderon,” she said. “Confiscate the houses. Confiscate the bank accounts.”
It is telling that Navarro is willing to talk about Mexico’s most powerful drug lord, yet when asked specific questions about her family, she stiffens.
“I don’t speak of my children,” she said. “I don’t speak of my private life. I don’t want to expose my private life. . . . Unfortunately, the cartel that dominates Baja California doesn’t threaten. They act. You have a disadvantage. They know where you live, where you work, where you go.”