LOS ANGELES, Feb. 22 -- El Andar is a new, small-circulation bilingual magazine with big ambitions. The California-based quarterly models itself on mainstream prestige magazines such as Harper's and the Atlantic Monthly. It offers educated Latino readers literary fiction, criticism, and news coverage by writers as distinguished as Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Most strikingly, El Andar fearlessly prints muckraking investigations of the Mexican power elite.
Julia Reynolds, El Andar's chief investigative reporter, remarked during an interview, "The movie 'Traffic' has suddenly made people want to read about Mexican corruption."
Another factor drawing attention to Reynolds' articles (which are available online at ElAndar.com) is President George W. Bush's focus on Mexico. Last weekend, he made it his first visit to another nation since becoming president, and the creation of several commissions to consider cross-border issues is certain to keep it in the headlines during the rest of his presidency.
Although a Feb. 13 Washington Post story claimed that President Bush's links to Mexico have been largely "ceremonial," El Andar has documented ties between the Bush family and a colorful cast of Mexican power-brokers going back four decades to an oil business partnership between George Bush and Jorge Diaz Serrano.
The Bushes are of course a famously friendly family, with a huge circle of acquaintances. Several of their Mexican connections, however, have later caused them some embarrassment. For example, Diaz Serrano would go on to spend much of the 1980s in a Mexican prison for embezzling $58 million while he headed Mexico's Pemex oil monopoly.
El Andar also reported that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, occasionally vacationed at the Puebla ranch of Raul Salinas, the brother of former Mexican president Carlos Salinas (1988-1994). Raul can no longer host anyone, though. He is currently serving a 27-year prison sentence for the murder of his ex-brother-in-law. Raul's wife was arrested in Switzerland when she attempted to remove close to $100 million from their Swiss bank account.
The Florida governor, whose wife Columba was born in Mexico, told Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald, "I've seen$(Raul Salinas$)10 times, at the most. I found him to be a very nice person, with very nice children . . . It's kind of shocking$(to learn of$)all these allegations.' Jeb Bush said that he and Raul "never did any business.'
While El Andar's founder Jorge Chino is a Mexican immigrant, Reynolds is not Hispanic. She has, though, lived in Mexico and has worked in Latino journalism for most of her career. She got her start, however, working for the muckraking leftwing populist Jim Hightower.
Many Latino-American publications try to show only the best sides of Latino culture. Yet, Reynolds claimed, "Our readers absolutely love muckraking about Mexico. The only ones who don't seem to like it are our targets."
Indeed, one target, the family of Carlos Hank Gonzales, a powerful politician in Mexico's former ruling party (the PRI), has threatened to sue the tiny magazine for $10 million over Reynolds' article "The NAFTA Gang."
According to Forbes Magazine, Carlos Hank Gonzales, a lifelong public servant, is a self-made billionaire. He justifies his good fortune with this elegant saying: "A politician who is poor is a poor politician."
His son, Carlos Hank Rohn, is the primary shareholder in the $2 billion dollar Laredo National Bank of Texas. The controversial bank's CEO Gary G. Jacobs contributed a total of $85,000 to George W. Bush's two campaigns for governor, according to the campaign contribution database maintained by Texans for Public Justice. Jacobs has also contributed to numerous Democrats in recent years.
A draft report leaked from the federal National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) alleged, "Several years of investigative information strongly support the conclusion that the Hank family has laundered money on a massive scale, assisted drug trafficking organizations in transporting drug shipments and engaged in large-scale public corruption."
However, Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno later announced, "It was determined that the subject matter of the report was beyond the substantive expertise and area of responsibility for the NDIC, and the project was terminated."
Jacobs has attributed federal criticism of his chief stockholder to ethnic bias: "They don't want Latinos to own or control banks in the U.S."
Journalists in Mexico who write too bluntly about the rich and powerful have more to worry about than lawsuits. For example, a Tijuana gossip columnist named Hctor Flix Miranda was gunned down in 1988. Two Hank family bodyguards were eventually convicted.
Reynolds reflected on the relative dangers of investigative journalism: "Up here, you feel much more protected. In Mexico ... you just don't know." She sometimes gets tips from Mexican reporters who are wary of publishing them in Mexico. In turn, numerous Mexican newspapers have carried accounts of the battle between El Andar and the Hanks as an indirect way to report on that formidable dynasty.
"You won't find a direct connection between the Bushes and the narco business," Reynolds stated.
"Yet, there are always people hovering around the Bushes," she noted. "The Bushes are pretty careful," Reynolds added.
One time, however, George W. Bush let his guard down and was taken advantage of by a dubious character. "In the fall of 1991," Reynolds and Eduardo Valle of Mexico City's El Universal daily newspaper wrote in El Andar, "George W. Bush asked his father, the President, to 'help out' on behalf of$(Mexican attorney$)Enrique Fuentes Len. ... Fuentes Len was living in the United States on a tourist visa that was about to expire. He had fled Mexico in 1989, after a highly-publicized case in which he was charged with bribing two judges in order to free a wealthy Acapulco businessman convicted of the rape and murder of a young child. ...
"Tino Durn$(former president of the National Association of Hispanic Publications$)told El Andar that he and Fuentes Len were sitting in George W. Bush's Texas Rangers baseball team office when the younger Bush called the President. Tino Durn describes himself as a friend and supporter of the Bush family."
Nothing much came of the younger Bush's attempted kindness. Still, El Andar reported, "Fuentes Len lived freely in San Antonio for several years after. He was finally extradited to Mexico after a 1994 arrest for allegedly attempting to bribe an INS agent with $30,000. Assistant U.S. District Attorney Glenn MacTaggart testified at the detention hearing that Fuentes Len also offered to launder drug money for undercover DEA agents. A courthouse employee said that Fuentes Len showed up every day in a $200,000 car, followed by 'around 25' other vehicles."
Reynolds alleged that Fuentes Len could afford his enormous entourage because he was actually "the 'consigliero' of the Gulf cartel." In other words, she claimed that the lawyer served as "counseler" to one of the three big Mexican cocaine mafias, rather as Robert Duvall's character was "consigliore" to the Corleone family in "The Godfather."
"This was an example of George W. Bush being all too ready to do a favor for somebody he hadn't checked out," Reynolds noted.
Reynolds was somewhat optimistic about Mexico's new President. "I think Fox is different," she commented. "He has to be. He has the weight of history on him. Yet, as far as his eliminating corruption during his six year term ... I'll believe it when I see it."