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Mafia grips slain journalist’s town

Death may scare away foreign investors

PAMELA HARTMAN Citizen Staff Writer

SAN LUIS RIO COLORADO, Son. – The murder of journalist Benjamin Flores Gonzalez was a death foretold in this border town, where violence and drugs mix with the hot desert air.

So strong is the organized crime’s grip on the city – and so fearful are its residents – that many are wary to comment on the corruption that permeates the town south of Yuma.

But at the 29-year-old publisher’s funeral Thursday, the anger was palpable. Flores had devoted much of his newspaper, La Prensa, to exposés on police, public officials and others he said were corrupt.

”Everyone told Benjamin that he would be killed, and he was the first to acknowledge it,” said Mauricio Manzo, a reporter in nearby Mexicali, Baja California.

”San Luis is called Narco City. All the main cartels from Colombia are here. The city is controlled by the narcos the police, the judges, the prosecutors, everyone works for the narcos. This is a town without law.”

”Cowardly assassins,” members of the funeral procession yelled as they demonstrated in front of the offices of the state police.

Jesus Barraza, news editor at the newspaper Flores published, said they appeared to be the only ones in San Luis who didn’t know who the drug traffickers were.

And yet, Barraza said, ”They eat in the same restaurants, they dress exactly alike, they drive the same cars and they have the same girlfriends.”

San Luis is home to 29 foreign-owned factories that assemble everything from stereo speakers to kites and frozen foods. The town, unofficially estimated at a population of 200,000 plus, also is an agricultural center for growing cotton, wheat and other crops.

But the qualities that attract foreign companies also entice the illegal ones.

”We are heaven for the maquiladora (foreign factories along the border) industry,” said Carlos Guzman, president of the Industrial Chamber of Commerce in San Luis. ”But unfortunately, it’s also very attractive to the Mafia, because there’s access by air, by sea, by car, by train.”

Guzman said San Luis is poised to profit from the North American Free Trade Agreement and from hopeful signs in recent elections of democratization of Mexico. But he worried that the shocking murder of Flores would scare away foreign investors, who crave a stable political environment.

”This is going to hamper foreign investment a bit,” he said. ”There’s fear that the businesses will flee.’

Guzman said Flores’ newspaper, which crusaded against drug traffickers and corrupt politicians, gave a voice to people in the community who were too scared to speak out.

”It was a forum for democracy,” he said. ”They didn’t just kill a journalist, but they killed the hope of the people who saw in him a way to free themselves of the impotence they felt.”

Reporter Manzo, a native of San Luis, said residents are fearful of speaking out against the drug trade because the economy is so reliant upon it.

”Now the only way to survive is through the narcos, and because of that no one complains,” he said.

Flores was shot nine times by the assassin, who sprayed bullet holes across the wall of the La Prensa building. The murderer had trouble controlling the AK-47 he used, but continued to shoot Flores with a .22-caliber pistol he got from three companions waiting in a getaway car.

”You see this every day, but usually it’s not an important person,” Mikky Arvizu said of the murder that took his friend’s life.

The brutality of the murder remained scarred in people’s minds, even after Flores’ casket was lowered into a wind-swept, sandy cemetery on the outskirts of town.

La Prensa news editor Barraza said the newspaper would continue to speak out.

”Benjamin (Flores) would always say that we are the voice that clamors in the desert,” he said, ”and sometimes we feel very alone.”

Murder suspect was hired by drug trafficker

PAMELA HARTMAN Citizen Staff Writer

SAN LUIS RIO COLORADO, SON. – Two days after a Sonora newspaper publisher was gunned down in broad daylight, Mexican authorities yesterday arrested a man for the killing, and said a local drug trafficker was behind the assassination.

Benjamin Flores Gonzalez, 29, was shot nine times Tuesday as he walked to his newspaper office in San Luis Rio Colorado, Son., about 20 miles south of Yuma. Flores had used his newspaper to crusade against drug traffickers and corrupt politicians.

Sonora Attorney General Rolando Tavares said police arrested Rolando Arroyo Palacios yesterday in San Luis, according to an Associated Press report. Tavares identified Arroyo as the shooter.

Tavares said Jaime Gonzalez Gutierrez, a San Luis drug trafficker, hired Arroyo to do the killing.

A reporter at Flores’ La Prensa newspaper said readers called with information that led police to Gonzalez’s home.

Reporter Damian Zavala said police found evidence that the assassin’s getaway car had been painted a different color while at Gonzalez’s home. Police found the car, a Chevrolet Impala with California license plates, the day after the murder. Police said the car was green originally, but had been repainted gray.

He said Flores had written many articles accusing Gonzalez and two of his brothers of being drug traffickers. The Gonzalez family offered Flores a bribe to make him stop writing about them, but Flores refused, Zavala said.

One of the Gonzalez brothers, Ismael, had been a fugitive wanted for homicide, he said, adding that Ismael Gonzalez was captured by the Mexican army last year trying to get a drug load across the desert, and is in prison in San Luis.

Zavala said Jaime Gonzalez claimed to be a representative of a human rights group in San Luis.

The La Prensa staff was skeptical that Palacios was the murderer, Zavala said.

”It’s one more person that they detain as someone suspicious,” he said.

PHOTO CAPTION: XAVIER GALLEGOS/Tucson Citizen

Mourners gather around the coffin of slain Mexican journalist Benjamin Flores Gonzalez on Thursday.

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