La Frontera

Saturday 3 April 2010 2:05PM (view full episode)

The borderlands between Mexico and the United States are a lawless wasteland where massacres, drug busts and battles between the military and drug-traffickers happen regularly.

Juarez has one of the highest murder rates in the world, including more than 100 young women whose random murders can't be explained or solved. Colm McNaughton journeys through La Frontera to piece together the different aspects of this complex, sad and violent story.

Supporting Information

This is the speech given by Marta Orjeda when she collected the Silver Medal at the New York Radio Awards for this program.

My name is Martha Ojeda, and on behalf of Colm McNaughton, the ABC national radio broadcasting network in Australia, and the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, I would like to thank the New York Radio Festival for the Silver Medal Award, given to "La Frontera" radio documentary under the social issues/current events category.

I would also like to thank the international solidarity which makes our work possible but especially all the supporters in Australia that enabled me to attend this event and the honor of accepting this award for Colm. Of course special thanks are due to Colm who vindicated the freedom of speech in Mexico by taking the risk and having the courage to put in the spotlight the challenges that people on the US/Mexican border face every day.

On Colm's behalf I want to dedicate this award to the many people whose lives are represented in this documentary. They include the hundreds of women in Juarez and all along the northern border of Mexico who have been murdered, tortured, and disappeared with impunity and injustice. This award is also dedicated to the more than a million maquila workers who face exploitation and discrimination on the assembly lines of the multinational corporations in the free trade zones. Many workers now also face the fear of not knowing whether they will return alive from work. I am thinking here of those maquila workers who were attacked with grenades and bombs and massacred while the bus was driving them home after work in Juarez and recently in Reynosa Mexico.

This award is also dedicated to all those unknown undocumented people including women and children who were sacrificed, massacred and buried in common graves by the organized crime in San Fernando, Tamaulipas and Durango.

I also dedicate this award to all the innocent children who have died in the crossfire between the army and the drug cartels. In Mexico now children in kindergarten and elementary school have to learn to throw themselves on the floor in order to escape the shootouts before learning their ABCs.

This award also is dedicated to the nearly 35,000 innocent victims who have been killed in the last few years because of the federal government's ineffective and disarticulated strategy fighting organized crime. After countless confrontations between the army and the drugs cartels the only result is an out of control situation and thousands of victims.

But especially, I want to dedicate this award to Roberto Mora, the Director of el MaƱana newspaper in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico who was killed in 2004 and to the other reporters of El Manana who were kidnapped, tortured, disabled and disappeared like many others throughout Mexico for doing their work with dedication and passion.

In order to understand what is happening in Mexico, we need to put together all the pieces of the puzzle and "La Frontera" radio documentary does that. The situation in Mexico now is very complex because there are many factors and actors involved and we can't address these issues as isolated or blame just one protagonist or factor. We need to put together the good, the bad, and the ugly in order to see the big picture.

We know who are the good are-the innocent victims. And we know the bad ones--the cartels, because we see them in the scenario. Everybody blames the drug cartels and organized crime because they are the actors that we see on the front lines provoking the violence and killing our loved ones. But I also think that they are just a consequence of a social decomposition that has been created by many other ugly actors and factors that are behind the scenes, and we need to expose them: among the actors are governments, politicians, political parties, and multinational corporations. Among the factors are corruption, impunity, lack of jobs, opportunities, and education.

NAFTA and free trade opened the doors for goods, drugs, laundered money and weapons. The corruption that has long prevailed in Mexico now has been extended across the border. Now the US Congress is investigating the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Department (ATF) in the US, which was involved in illegal gun trafficking through the Fast and Furious operation, where more than 2,000 machine guns and weapons were given to the cartels in Mexico. The US and Mexican governments signed the Security and Prosperity Partnership and Plan Merida to militarize the country and then blamed each other because of the increased insecurity and the lack of effective strategies for combating organized crime. Despite billions of dollars invested in this war, and despite building a wall along the border and increasing the number of officers to "watch" the border, "the insecurity crossed the border undocumented." In Texas, a common grave with 25 bodies, including children, was recently found, and many border patrol officers in el Paso and Arizona have been found to be involved with the drug cartels and aiding them to cross drugs, money, and weapons.

NAFTA, CAFTA, the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP,) Plan Merida, Plan Colombia: everything is connected, as well as the US gun and weapons industry, local governments and politicians; extending and multiplying the pattern of corruption and impunity. Unemployment, poverty and immigration have increased, and yet we are waiting for the jobs and economic growth that were promised. Instead we have out of control violence, curfews, and a gagged freedom of speech.

I thank Colm for taking the risk to bring what people are living every day on la frontera into the global spotlight and vindicating freedom of speech in Mexico but especially for doing so in a way that puts together all the pieces of the puzzle, including the good, the bad and the ugly in the big picture.

The media and freedom of speech has been gagged, censured and silenced in Mexico, but not by the government as used to be the case, now it is being done by organized crime and government impunity. This is not just an issue of a violation to civil rights or to freedom of speech. The situation is beyond that. It has aimed to undermine peoples' power to fight for social change. One way that a society can be transformed is through the media and radio broadcasting. These are powerful tools that circulate knowledge in communities through the news and other programs. Once people get that knowledge they can organize and develop international solidarity for social change. This is what "La Frontera" is doing in spreading the word as are all of you attending this Festival who are on the radio in every corner of the world.

We know there are some communities that do not have access to computers or cell phones to use face book or twitter but they do have a radio, and through radio broadcasting we are transforming the world into the place that we all dream it can be, a world with justice and dignity.

So thanks, Colm and also Daniela and the ABC national radio broadcasting system in Australia, and all the supporters in Australia that made it possible for me to attend this event on your behalf, and especially those worldwide that make possible CJM's work supporting workers and communities to defend their rights and to improve their lives. Thank you New York Radio Festival for this Silver Medal Award and thank you to every one for the work you are doing worldwide.

View comments (19)


Howard Campbell
Professor of Anthropology UTEP (University of Texas, El Paso)
Heriberto Cantu
Editor of El Manana newspaper
Marta Ojeda
Rrganizer with CJM - Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras
Father Francisco
Casa Migrante Narareth
Ninfa Martinez
Owner of newspaper El Manana, Neuvo Laredo, Mexico.


Killing for kudos - the brutal face of Mexico's 21st-century war
Ed Vulliamy
The War Next Door
Charles Bowden
Adam Smith's invisible hand meets magical realism on the border
Committee to Protect Journalists
Report on violence against journalists in Juarez..
Beyond the global storytelling crisis
Colm McNaughton


Ya Se Va la Embaracion
Ana Gabriel
Joyas De Dos Siglos
Ana Gabriel
CD details: 037628167822
La Linea
Lila Downs
Border / La Linea
Lila Downs
CD details: 72438-10265-2-6

Further Information

The hidden victims of Mexico's femicide (ABC News)
Just two months after local opposition thwarted its effort to build a massive outdoor training facility near San Diego, the private military company Blackwater USA is being accused of secretly trying to build a new one just blocks from the US-Mexico border.
Unleashed article by Colm McNaughton


Colm McNaughton
Sound Engineer
Steven Tilley
Supervising Producer
Nick Franklin

Comments (19)

Add your comment

  • Colm McNaughton :

    31 Mar 2010 8:40:47am

    beautifully presented. very informative.I had no idea

      • Mo :

        02 Apr 2010 7:10:03pm

        I really wish the English speaking media in the Pacific (especially in Japan, China, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands) scrutinize and encourage public discourse on the issues raised here, for it is the biggest 'border' issue happening at the eastern rim of the Pacific region within the global market they all subsist upon. This doco is potent with so many layers of stories weaved into one, making it interesting to say the least. You're a great story teller MacNaughton!! I like the use of Dante especially towards the end in evoking optimism to stand the tide of inhumane crisis told here, in building something new .. we need to see and appreciate again those lovely things that are priceless and cannot be bought or sold, that we the people can reclaim again. In using Dante, the Easter weekend release of the doco also offers another symbolically powerful layer of story for some listeners.

  • Michael Bedward :

    03 Apr 2010 7:05:49pm

    Thanks so much for this brave and wonderfully produced program. Horrifying, both for the accounts of those trapped in the violence and also for the idea that La Frontera might indeed be a 'lab of the future'. But against all that, who could not be inspired by the bravery and dedication of the activists ?

  • Colin Butler :

    03 Apr 2010 10:34:16pm

    I thought this was excellent, though terrifying. How different is today's reality to the promises made by the naive economists who promoted NAFTA.

  • Chucho :

    04 Apr 2010 5:22:02pm

    yes, i liked this program, although I found something very irritating about the presenter/journalist's faux hard bitten-ness, that gave the impression he was a kid enamoured by the hard men in westerns and this played out in the romantic exaggeration every time he said a Spanish word, like LA FRONTERA or MAQUAILLADORA. Sorry to be critical

  • Viola Wilkins :

    05 Apr 2010 12:05:44pm

    "welcome to The Road" the Cormac McCarthy post apocalpse americaca novel filmed recently...popular TV shows like Weeds & Breaking Bad also look at the Borderlands & gangster Capitalism so this documentary is timely indeed.
    Great and brave effort.

  • Pilar Aguilera :

    05 Apr 2010 9:55:59pm

    Excellent doco! Great work Colm!

  • Reggie :

    06 Apr 2010 12:17:54am

    Awesome coverage/access given the threats to journos at present All contributors are to be praised for their fearless contributions. Well done.

  • David :

    07 Apr 2010 2:07:05pm

    Great documentary. The program is however misleading as the journalist implies that the NAFTA and its inequalities is one of the major contributors to the increase in the number of killings in this area. The author fails to mention that the real reason for the increase in the killings is the cartels fight for the dominance of ports of access to the USA. Cartels fight for ports that provide them with free access to smuggle their drugs into the USA.
    Drug cartels in Mexico and their fight for dominance of border areas is older than NAFTA (major cartels have been operating in these areas since the 70s). NAFTA however increased the already present inequalities in the society and hence some people have joined the cartels and got into the killings to achieve economic power and empowerment through violence. Having said all these I think it is a good documentary.

  • Paul J Meyer :

    07 Apr 2010 2:20:26pm

    It is awful and it is happening in other countries as well.
    American powerbrokers bare a large part of the responsibity for what is happening for they have set the pattern.

  • John Foster :

    07 Apr 2010 2:32:54pm

    My profound thanks to the producers of 360 for publically broadcasting Colm MacNaughton's excellent exposure of the dark, hidden side of 'Free Market' Capitalism in the badlands between Mexico and the United States.

      • david :

        07 Apr 2010 7:26:53pm

        John you are missing the point. It is not capitalism but other powers at play here. Don't blame capitalism for all the nasty human deeds

      • pback :

        30 Dec 2010 5:25:35pm

        Indeed, further evidence that the capitalist system that provides many of the opportunity "shop 'til we drop" depends , as has always done,on exploitation of the less fortunate.

        Furthermore, the effects of NAFTA as demonstrated in the program, provides reasons for the proliferation of enemies of Anglo-American oppressors.

        Well done ABC for presenting this quality investigation journalism. A welcomed departure from what has become a pattern of regurgitating press releases.


  • nicolette :

    07 Apr 2010 6:24:40pm

    what a brilliant piece of radio! Congratulations...
    I've been wondering about the relationship between the free agreement and the out of control violence and this was a fascinating insight. I can't believe the country that I visited 16 years ago has fallen apart so badly. Tragic.

  • db :

    08 Apr 2010 10:35:24am

    powerful understated documentary. the style of presentation is a lesson to those producers (some of whom did the voicers on this piece) about discreet use of sfx and journalese. if the story is worth telling, it doesnt need embellishing

  • sara :

    15 Apr 2010 3:26:55pm

    interesting documentary, glad to hear that australia is reporting on this issue. i am living in north of mexico. the violence you speak about really is a reality here. recent events have seen an increase in the violence and it is slowly spreading downward to states such a s nuevo leon. the real root of the problem is america. the arms are being bought in america by these drug cartels. the weapons are highly advanced. three weeks ago grinades were thrown 200 metres from my house by drug cartel members during a clash between military and cartels. two innocent studens were killed in the process as they were standing outside their university after a study session on campus. the drugs that are fuelling this war are going straight to the US. US need to take responcibilty for the war here. hars her gun laws and increasedborder control can help this. the drugs that fuel this war ARE NOT consumed in mexico but the USA. if the dead was not as high this war would not have a foot to stand on. corruption and bribery are inheritant in the border towns of mexico and states. the argument of nafta as a contributing factor to this conflict is certainly true, however i do not beleive it is a driving force. the answer is get rid of the corruption in mexican police and government officials. many police officers work for the major cartel, ZETAS, or Z. they were initially est as a gov security force however past gov corruption saw them transform into one the most powerful drug cartels in mexico. majority of police in monterrey, NL, are working for the ZETAs. i would love to see this story in further depth. analyze who works for who and then you will have a very clear explanation for the violence. capitalist forces contribut but barely define this war.

  • Dylan Prins :

    17 Apr 2010 5:09:05pm

    Enchanting piece. Brilliantly presented. Took me right there.

    One thing i would have craved would be some more depth to the voice overs eg: in a relative accent or more authentic expression. It's a big ask i know but the whole piece is of such a fine standard that it allows the listener to be fussy about these things. .

  • Caed Stepehenson :

    18 May 2010 10:04:32pm

    Fabulous to see a journalist actually allowing room for analysis and the articulation of deeper connections. Too rare.

  • Mosese Waqa :

    23 Oct 2010 7:50:58am

    COLM MACNAUGHTON, CONGRATULATIONS for winning the 2010 UN Association of Australia Media Peace Award for 2010, for Best Radio feature. Wow!!!! 20 years of preparation as an honest story teller ... first the "Awakening From History" and this? Virginia Trioli was right in reading the commendation simply announcing that your story was simply the best! Keep those honest stories coming mate .. we all badly need them!