Banamex loses bid to censor Narco News

By Chuck Armsbury, Senior Editor

David slew Goliath with a stone, and similarly on December 5, 2001 in a New York courtroom, tiny cut down the giant Banamex, humbling billionaire narcotraffickers and money launderers, and setting a big precedent for the First Amendment rights of online journalists.

One year ago we printed a page one story in the Razor Wire called "Drug War On Trial" (RW, March/April 2001, Vol. 5, No. 2). We reported that Banco Nacional de Mexico (the National Bank of Mexico or Banamex, now owned by Citigroup, the largest financial institution on earth) had filed a lawsuit in the Southern District Court of New York State in August of 2000 against and its publisher, Al Giordano. In the suit, Banamex complained that Giordano and co-defendant Mario Renato Menendez Rodriguez, famed publisher of Mexico's Por Esto newspaper, had smeared and defamed Banamex and its CEO Roberto Hernandez Ramirez by publishing online news exposing the bank and its president as drug traffickers and money launderers - drug kingpins in short.

In dismissing the Banamex lawsuit with prejudice, the New York Supreme Court did not accept Banamex' primary claim that is merely publishing stories of money laundering corruption north and south of the border in order to gain economic advantage over the huge bank. By December 2001 the Banamex case had completely crumbled, and for the first time in history, authentic, online journalism was squarely placed under the protections of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The Court concluded that "Narco News, its website, and the writers who post information, are entitled to all the First Amendment protections accorded a newspaper-magazine or journalist. Furthermore, the nature of the articles printed on the website (and elsewhere) constitute matters of public concern because the information disseminated relates to the drug trade and its affect on people living in this hemisphere."

Giordano wrote recently, "Together with the other journalists who investigated and published the news about the Drug War on Trial case, something was achieved that was previously thought to be unlikely, if not impossible: The billionaire attack was beaten back. But something more happened, too, as if to remind that the rewards of struggle cannot be predicted nor counted on in advance, because they appear in unpredictable ways. The Drug War on Trial case established a new legal precedent in the United States. It shouts from every mountain and modem: Online journalists and citizen journalists now enjoy the same rights as the commercial media to protection under the First Amendment."

Giordano insists that prohibition policy is not simply a mistake. Urging us to look deeper at how the U.S. government uses drug laws to control targeted populations, he argues that North Americans must see the Drug War as one instrument of U.S. foreign policy goals. If we don't learn to see deeper into what the Drug War means, we will labor in vain to construct "the political and social storm necessary to topple prohibition and its underlying ideology." We're challenged to discard the myth that drug prohibition, like alcohol prohibition before it, is merely just an error, a mistake, a blip of folly on the radar screen of history that will be discarded once U.S. leadership awakens to its misstep.

A great strength developed by NarcoNews from its start online only two years ago was the courage to show "how the banking and financial industries profit from drug money laundering," wrote Giordano. "We have shown how the tyrants who have ruled in our América - from Montesinos in Peru to Salinas and Zedillo in Mexico to Menem in Argentina to the Colombian paramilitaries today - have laundered their illicit narco-profits through United States banks. And how that dirty money has become an addiction for the highest and most inhuman sectors of the United States economy, without which those bankers and brokers would not enjoy the absolute power over Washington that their narco-lobbyists and campaign contributions buy them."

The Razor Wire is a publication of The November Coalition, a nonprofit organization that advocates drug law reform. Contact information:
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