By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
For all that Hank has done poorly, there is one thing all agree he has done very well: Establish that he answers to no one. In Tijuana, Hank is the Law. At his election-day press conference, he declared that Mexican President Vicente Fox, who is a member of the PAN, is not “his” president. In a much-publicized slight last February, Hank begrudgingly greeted a visiting Fox at the Tijuana airport with a protocol handshake and hug. The welcome mat lasted four seconds. Fox went on a maquiladora tour with the mayor of Tecate instead.
Local law hasn’t mattered much either. In July, after arriving at the Tijuana airport from an out-of-town trip, Hank and his guards ignored a series of rudimentary police and customs stops and were chased by a fleet of 10 siren-blaring patrol cars all the way back to his Caliente compound. Hank shrugged it off, telling reporters he thought the police were being nice and offering him an escort home.
“Nothing ever happens to him,” says Guillen. “No questions are ever asked. He is never made responsible for his actions. These are symptoms of something bigger, a total loss of boundaries. He has no limits.”
The Zeta editorial offices are tucked into a quiet street just off the tree-lined traffic hustle of Boulevard Las Americas. No address is readily visible and there is no sign out front, just a man in dark sunglasses holding a large rifle in the afternoon shade of a pair of parked black Suburbans, their windows tinted as dark as night. Inside, the only decoration on the walls of the narrow, claustrophobic lobby — sealed off from the rest of the office by a thick pane of bulletproof glass and a secured door — is a trio of photographs of Zeta employees killed in the line of duty.
J. Jesus Blancornelas was almost one of them. In 1997, after a decade of writing probing articles about the Arellano-Félix drug cartel (capped off by his charge that the top Arellano hired gun was David Barron Corona, leader of San Diego’s Barrio Logan gang), Blancornelas’ car was sprayed with bullets. His driver was killed, and he was hit four times. Now he travels with a fleet of bodyguards, who were in full display last year at the L.A. Press Club when he was awarded the Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism.
“If I were afraid I wouldn’t write,” says Blancornelas, in Zeta’s sterile meeting-room lounge. “I had thought about retiring but when I saw that Jorge Hank was going to be mayor I said to myself, ‘I have to go on.’ ”
The murder of Héctor Félix Miranda may be nearly 20 years old now, but it remains the driving force of Blancornelas’ mission at Zeta. Félix’s killers are in jail, but the man Blancornelas believes is ultimately responsible for ordering the assassination, Jorge Hank, is not only free, but is the city’s top elected official. For the editor, it is simply a matter of connecting the dots: the killers were Hank’s employees, they were paid with money traced back to Caliente, and many believe their families are still on Hank’s payroll.
Blancornelas, dressed in all black, leans forward. “If an animal has a duck beak, duck wings, duck feet and duck feathers then wouldn’t you say that it’s a duck?” he says, his mouth bending into a sly smile. “If you have very trustworthy bodyguards, the bodyguards are not going to act on their own and say ‘I’m going to kill so and so.’ The one thing bodyguards should never do is cause problems for their boss. During the investigations, it was known that there was money leaving the racetrack for these assassins who were on the run. That was proved. There is no doubt.”
The case was reopened a few years ago by the Inter-American Press Association in conjunction with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The first Zeta writer directly involved with the investigation was Francisco J. Ortiz Franco, who had also published a series of critical pieces about the Arellanos. Ortiz was shot to death in 2004. Hank was a prime suspect, but once again, never charged.
“Ortiz Franco was revising the document for the human-rights commission,” says Blancornelas. “He had all the elements to initiate a new investigation. So we established Hank’s involvement in his death as a hypothesis. In November one of Arellanos’ pistoleroswas detained, and he declared that it wasn’t the Arellano brothers but Hank. We still haven’t proven it, but it remains our leading hypothesis.”
Blancornelas moved to Tijuana in 1960, and of the long list of mayors he’s experienced, he says, none can touch the inefficiency and ineptitude of Hank’s administration. It’s an opinion he does not hesitate to broadcast to Zeta readers. A recent cover paid tribute to Hank’s first year in office with “The Worst Mayor in the History of Tijuana,” and a cover last month featured a photograph of Hank fumbling a stack of money under the headline “Inability, Deceit, and Fraud.”