A mob of 250 members of a government-backed labor union last night stormed the offices of the daily ABC here, taking over control of the only independent newspaper in this border Mexican city.
The takeover watched by police and judicial officials stationed outside the ABC building in Tijuana, was set off by a labor dispute between the largest of Tijuana's five papers and the local branch of the Confederation of Mexico Workers (CTM).
But it appeared designed to stifle the voice of the paper's outspoken editor, Jesus Blancornelas, who has been openly critical of the government of Baja California state headed by Governor Roberto de la Madrid.
The newspaper's exposes of government corruption and inefficiency had repeatedly angered de la Madrid, who on one occasion described Blancornelas as an "insect," adding "and we all know how to get rid of insects -- with insecticide."
Blancornelas and other ABC employees blaming the state government for the takeover. De la Madrid flew out of the state hours before the paper was stormed and could not be reached for comment.
ABC, with a circulation of 45,000, was the only newspaper in Tijuana independent of the government. Last month in his state-of-the-state address, the American-born and educated de la Madrid blasted the paper's practice of supplying news items to newspapers in the United States.
'It is treason against Mexico to feed foreign media with false information," de la Madrid said, adding, "This is damaging both to public order and the national interest."
An ABC editorial replied to the charge saying that if exposing nepotism and corruption were treason "then ABC is guilty of the crime."
Although freedom of the press is guaranteed by the Mexican Constitution, examples of hard-hitting and investigative reporting like that common to the American press are rare.
ABC's staff of young, agressive reporters prided themselves on being the only Tijuana jounalists to refuse bribes to report favorably on the government. Recently the paper lashed into Gov. de la Madrid for allegedly employing 26 of his relatives in high-paid state jobs. The governor was also accused of helping a local businessman to avoid paying $3 million in taxes for butane gas bought in the United States.
Recently the paper lashed into Gov. de la Madrid for allegedly employing 26 of his relatives in high-paid state jobs. The governor was also accused of helping a local businessman to avoid paying $3 million in taxes for butane gas bought in the United States.
In recent months Blancornelas had become the target of attacks by the government-controlled Tijuana newspapers. He had been accused of being, variously, a CIA agent, a communist, a homosexual, a womanizer and of both incompetence and accepting bribes -- from the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union which often reprinted ABC articles.
Thursday's takeover, however, was precipitated by a sharpening conflict with the Baja California wing of the government-backed CTM union which recently won a 300 percent pay increase.
Since ABC yaps the highest journalism wages in the area, and since only two members of the paper's staff were union members, the ABC rejected the agreement. Union officials, with the consent of state labor authorities, nevertheless called a strike and sent busloads of men to storm the paper's premises.
To avoid bloodshed, Blancornelas ordered the paper's offices evacuated, but he said the paper would continue to operate.
"We are going to stay within the limits of the law, even if the government isn't," he said, adding, "We'll continue printing even if we have to do it on scrap paper."