By Pablo Jaime Sainz
The legacy that journalist Jesus Blancornelas leaves behind will be a great influence for future generations of Tijuana journalists.
When the founder of Zeta died last Thursday, November 23, 2006, due to a chronic lung disease, a new era for Tijuana journalism has begun, an era where journalists must learn from his ethics and professionalism.
Blancornelas died at the age of 70.
In Tijuana, the name of Jesús Blancornelas has become an icon in journalism and, above all, in nar-coculture. If you ask almost anybody, any person (rich, middle class, a police officer, a taxi driver) who is Jesús Blancornelas, he or she will tell you: “Oh, Mr. Blancornelas writes about the narcos. He writes about the truth. His newspaper is the best paper in Tijuana. He writes for the people…”
Ever since he was almost killed by gunmen related to the Tijuana cartel, Blancornelas reached the status of a legend in the city.
But he didn’t see himself as an icon.
“I’m just like other journalists working. I see the events and I write about them. That’s all,” he said in an interview published in La Prensa San Diego four years ago, in 2002.
Even though he might not have acknowledged it, Blancornelas has revolutionized modern Mexican journalism. Every Friday, if you walk around Downtown Tijuana, you’ll notice many people, men and women, young and old, with a copy of Zeta, the weekly newspaper Blancornelas was co-founder and co-director, under their arms.
Zeta was founded in April of 1980. Since then, the weekly newspaper has become the authority in narco-journalism and articles where corruption, murders and government-related obscure cases are exposed.
Blancornelas and Zeta’s impact on Tijuana’s society and politics marked a whole era in the city.
“I don’t do anything else than to write about what’s going on. Drug trafficking is the news and we are the journalists,” he said in the interview.
Maybe it was this sense of professionalism that gave Blancornelas his place in Mexican journalism. He’s published seven books that have become best sellers, including El Cartel. Los Arellano Félix: la mafia más poderosa en la historia de América Latina (The Cartel. The Arellano Felix: The Most Powerful Mafia in the History of Latin America) (Plaza & Janés, 2002). He also received many awards and recognitions from international human rights and press associations.
But this professionalism almost got him killed in 1997, when he was shot by gunmen of the Tijuana Cartel.
“I was about to die by the bullets of this people. A colleague died. I’m Catholic; God didn’t want me to die. After that, I’m convinced that the narcos will not kill me. I’m not afraid. I’m going to die when God wants me to die,” Blancornelas said in the interview.
Rená Blanco Villalón, son of Blancornelas and now Zeta co-director, said that his father left a great school that will inspire future journalists.
“He used to say that it was important to always speak with the truth”, he said.
Adela Navarro Bello, who with Blanco Villalón is co-director of the weekly tabloid, said that “Blancornelas was an inportant factor in giving a voice to society, in his newspaper he gave space to those who weren’t heard by the government or by other media; in that sense Blancornelas encouraged the active participation of society since the 1980s.”
For journalist Oscar Genel, who was a close friend of Blancornelas, said that he “fought so that there was a more integrated society. His struggle was one and that was in direct benefit of society.”
Baja California Governor Eugenio Elorduy Walther, said that “we always saw in him something constructive. He was always direct, always with the intention of improving things, it wasn’t something personal, it was done with the goal of improving Baja California.”
Rest in peace,
Don Jesús Blancornelas.