As Drug Cartels Threaten Her Life, Mexico’s Most Dangerous Journalist Uncovers More Dark Truths

Anabel Hernández’s reporting on the ties between the cartels and the nation’s leadership has earned her enemies in high places. Despite recent attacks on her by unidentified gunmen, the government now says it will remove her bodyguards. In an exclusive interview, Hernández explains why she refuses to surrender her pen.

The Mexican investigative journalist Anabel Hernández is recognized worldwide as one of the most important reporters on the War on Drugs. Over two decades, she has received numerous awards for her work, including the 2012 Golden Pen of Freedom Award from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. And just over a week ago, Reporters Without Borders placed Hernández on its list of “100 Information Heroes,” created to pay tribute to “the courage of the journalists and bloggers who constantly sacrifice their safety and sometimes their lives to their vocation.”

Hernández’s life has been at risk since she published Los Señores del Narco in 2010. The book—released in English last fall as Narcoland—breaks with conventional narratives of the “drug war,” which pit the Mexican government against drug traffickers. With unprecedented access to sources and tireless study of documents, Hernández instead makes the ironclad case that the war is a sham, its aims “limited to protecting the Sinaloa cartel.” The book exposes the intricate ties between Mexico’s leading drug traffickers and the leadership of the Mexican state. Published in 2010 to explosive effect, Narcoland remains one of the most widely read books in Mexico.

Since 2011, Hernández and her family have been the target of an escalating series of violent assaults. She has found decapitated animals on her doorstep. Gunmen attacked a family gathering. Last December about a dozen unidentified men armed with AK-47s invaded her house in Mexico City, terrorizing neighbors and injuring one of her bodyguards. She was lucky not to be home then, but the threats against Mexican journalists are deadly serious: Scores have been killed with impunity since 2000. Hernández’s courage, and her deep understanding—the product of years of relentless reporting—of the “drug war,” make hers an essential voice, one we ignore at our peril.

Nick Alexandrov: How did you begin covering the drug cartels?

Anabel Hernández: I’ve been a journalist since 1993, when the newspaper Reforma was founded in Mexico. Back then, Reforma didn’t hire experienced journalists, but journalism students, who were trained to become the kind of reporters Reforma needed. In 2000, when my father was kidnapped and killed [and the police refused to investigate unless the family paid them], my views on everything changed, and I started to investigate corruption in Mexico. The first case I discovered is known as “towelgate” [involving illegal use of funds for redecorating Fox’s houses], which occurred when Vicente Fox was president. Investigating that kind of common corruption eventually led me to the drug cartels.

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