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— "But through his brother, Francisco de la Madrid, he asked us to leave, because Jorge Hank is the son of his very good friend [ex-minister of agriculture and appointed mayor of Mexico City, billionaire] Carlos Hank González. He said that we were affecting their friendship, and we should stop the investigation. So we had to leave.

"When we were at El Dia, we were handling very strong information about the administration of Governor Xicoténcatl Leyva. He tried everything to kick us out and he couldn't -- until he bought the newspaper. Then he kicked us out."

But she says the winds of change have been evident ever since President Salinas de Gortari's administration (1988 to 1994). "During that time I started feeling a freedom from the authorities towards these issues. In the old days, gobernación [department of the interior]'s agents would monitor all media. And when there was something they didn't like, they would either single out the reporter, talk to him, maybe threaten a little bit, or maybe even talk to the owner. 'Your line of articles don't necessarily go with our policies....' "

Plus, says Cortés, journalists were paid such a low salary that they depended on money from organizations they covered on their beat. The Chamber of Industry or the city or state government would use the journalists to place ads in their paper, earning the writers a commission. This gave the organizations control over what was written about them.

"But when Salinas came along... Maybe it was because his administration was technocrats, but there wasn't as much control as when [traditional] politicians had been in charge."

Cortés says she made the best move of her career in 1984 when she started writing for Mexico City-based El Universal as their Tijuana correspondent. "I've stayed with El Universal because they publish everything I write. It is one of the most influential papers in the country and also one of the oldest: 83 years old. It was founded in 1916. It covered the revolution in Mexico. The Mexican constitution itself was printed on its presses in 1917."

Cortés's biggest test -- and her paper's -- was the 1994 assassination of presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio in Tijuana. The murder was a watershed moment for many Mexican journalists. "In the Colosio situation, what we wrote mainly blamed the army and the president as the people responsible for the situation. The information we handled in our articles made the president and the army suspects in the assassination itself -- and all that information was published.

"When I sent the stories to El Universal, I had my doubts as to how it was going to be published and what was going to be published. I was pleasantly surprised that it was front page, and everything I sent was printed.

"And all the different media just started opening up, and society in general was more critical about everything. Those papers that weren't full and accurate in covering the issue lost circulation or disappeared."

That doesn't mean it's any safer being a journalist in Tijuana. Perhaps the opposite.

"We [journalists] are at a very high risk because there is [still] a lot of impunity in the state of Baja California. Because of the big crime wave that is happening down here, until the criminals are properly dealt with, it will continue.

"I have had some panic attacks, fears that people were following me. There was a moment when I started feeling real fear and hysteria, especially in the Colosio case. Maybe when I arrived home, somebody might be waiting outside for me. Then it got to a point where I said to myself, 'If it's going to happen, it will happen. Hopefully it won't, but whatever happens, happens.'

"I overcame the fear. And in other situations when I've had to cover crime stories, people have read it and said we are 'too daring,' that we're not thinking of the consequences. But fortunately till now, nothing has happened. It's the people expressing concern who make you become afraid because they're saying it so much. But it gets to a moment when you overcome it, and then you keep on going."

Still, she says, the present situation hasn't made things safer for journalists. "In the case of Héctor Félix, the people who ordered his killing felt that they were untouchable. Beyond the law.

"We're talking about two different governments: PRI [Institutional Revolutionary Party] and PAN [National Action Party]. In both governments there is impunity. You have to be careful, especially with certain stories when you handle information such as drug-trafficking or drug traffickers. We really think about that information and what we're going to say. There's a high risk to [covering] a lot of things that are happening right now. With the impunity [many criminals feel] we have to think seriously about what we say. There's not any sense of protection by the government. People feel that they can do almost anything they want. There have been some [criminals] who have been detained or arrested and then just mysteriously released without anybody knowing."

The one true backing she feels is from her bosses in Mexico City. "Our newspaper has protected and supported us in doing this investigative work. If we get hurt in any way, people know that El Universal will make a big deal of it. That gives us a form of protection.

"When the Colosio situation happened, the paper sent a whole team, photographers, even a sub-director [deputy editor] to be here with us, so we wouldn't be alone. There had been several complaints from the president's office and from the Ministry of the Interior to the paper's director. So he thought we may have trouble up here, covering the story. That's when I got a call from him saying, 'You're not alone. I'm sending the team to give you support. You're doing a good job. Keep on doing it.' We felt good about it. Because we felt we had support."

Is it dangerous to be open and honest on her radio show? "Well, I was talking about drug-trafficking here in the city recently, about the narco-juniors and the Arellano Félix family. Then somebody called in. He talked to the young producer of the program at a time when I wasn't there. He asked him to tell me that I should stop doing those kinds of programs. That there were other important subjects I could talk about in Tijuana and that I should think about it really well. For my good and for the good of the station. And he hung up.

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