THE NAFTA GANG: The story and the furor


Dangerously Living the Freedom of the Press

The threat of a $10 million lawsuit and its chilling effect on the media

by El Andar publisher Jorge Chino


In 1998, Laredo National Bank (LNB) was named “one of the hundred companies providing most opportunities for Hispanics” by Hispanic magazine for having a “long-standing presence in Hispanic ventures.”

El Andar, instead, reported that a Federal Reserve Board document chronicles charges of self-funded loans from LNB to the businesses of a Mexican family known as the Hanks.
Hispanic publications, for the most part, have been catering to corporate America rather than its readers. Traditionally, they have been superficial and conformist, creating a void of knowledge in this society. They suffer from lack of respect from readers and from the public in general. “Hispanic media” paint a cosmetic reality that keeps us from grasping real insight about issues and institutions.

El Andar strives to take journalistic risks, and this can be dangerous, as we found out after publishing “The NAFTA Gang, a tale of murder and money,” in our last issue.

Clearly, LNB and the Hank family did not like the story. The “untouchable” and powerful Hanks shot back demanding a retraction, $10 million for legal expenses, and to consult with them before publishing any future stories on them. “Should you elect to do nothing, you act at your own peril,” stated their letter of demands. The letter from the lawyers for the family of “il capo di tutti capi” (the Godfather of gangsters), as analyst Andrew Reding has called Carlos Hank González, is very intimidating. Carlos Hank González is legendary for having more power and influence than many Mexican presidents have had for decades.
We find ourselves in good company. The influential Washington Post and Canadian Broadcasting Corp. have received similar threats. The Hanks’ attempt to silence El Andar has created a chilling effect in media circles. Several publications have decided against running a story, even after interviewing us or calling to ask questions, being fearful of law suits. Others have taken the position of wait and see.

Our response was to hire a lawyer and publicize their legal threat against our publication in U.S. and Mexican media. We answered with a letter stating that we stood behind our story and would not comply with their demands. Their demand for $10 million is ludicrous, and to let them prescreen our stories unacceptable. Now, the ball is in their court.

The Hanks and LNB claim that they have never been under investigation by federal authorities. Yet the Hanks are being investigated by the governments of Costa Rica, Mexico, and the United States. In the United States, they have been investigated by several federal agencies such as the Justice Department and the Federal Reserve Board.

The Washington Post and El Financiero reported that a National Drug Intelligence Agency document declared the Hank family a “significant criminal threat to the United States.” The Hanks have been linked to multi-million dollar criminal enterprises that control drug trafficking.

It is possible that the governments of Mexico and United States accept the importance of the economic force that these criminal enterprises have, and are not very much inclined to intervene. Their economic power is very important to the economy of the United States and Mexico. This is a very similar phenomenon to undocumented immigration. Neither of the two governments are going to stop undocumented immigration because of the benefits it brings to both economies.

Decent journalism matters. As Latino media organizations grow in importance and resources, we hope that improvement will occur, the “untouchables” will be exposed, and readers will be brought closer to reality. As far as this legal threat is concerned, we hope to count on our readers’ support if need arises.

© 1999 El Andar Magazine