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The story and
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
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.
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.
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.