Jesús Blancornelas

Crusading investigative journalist
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The Independent Online

Jesús Blancornelas, journalist: born San Luis Potosí, Mexico 14 November 1936; married Genoveva Villalón (three sons); died Tijuana, Mexico 23 November 2006.

Jesús Blancornelas was the crusading editor of Zeta, one of Mexico's foremost investigative magazines, known for its daring exposés and investigations into corrupt officials and drug traffickers - particularly the Tijuana cartel.

Blancornelas's two closest colleagues at Zeta had both been murdered and he himself narrowly survived an attempt on his life, on 27 November 1997, which left his bodyguard, Luis Lauro Valero, and one of the hitmen dead, and Blancornelas with a punctured lung.

Born in 1936 in the state of San Luis Potosí, in whose bracing streams and rivers he loved to swim, he began his career as a sports reporter on a local paper before moving north to the border town of Tijuana, Baja California. In 1977 he founded a daily newspaper, ABC, for which he wrote until his resignation in 1988 after political machinations made his position too difficult. But by then Zeta, which he had founded in 1980 with his friend Félix "The Cat" Miranda, had gained international as well as local fame for its investigations into the Tijuana cartel, already a sophisticated cross-border operation.

His former colleague the journalist Antonio Heras recalled that many of Blancornelas's subjects - particularly the Hank dynasty, the state's most powerful family and the Arellano Félix brothers who headed the Tijuana cartel - were among his most loyal readers, buying Zeta just in case they happened to get a mention that week. But that didn't stop them from doing their best to silence the Zeta team; Miranda was killed in 1988 and the assistant editor Francisco Ortiz was shot in 2004.

Two men (one of whom was a guard at a racetrack owned by Jorge Hank Rhon) were convicted of the 1988 shooting and in every edition since Zeta has carried a page under Miranda's name asking, "Jorge Hank Rhon: Why did your bodyguard Antonio Vera Palestina kill me?" When asked how he would remember Blancornelas, Hank Rhon, now the mayor of Tijuana, said "I'm not going to remember him."

"He was the first to realise that the Tijuana cartel had metamorphosised into something much bigger than had been previously thought," says Heras:

He identified their modus operandi, and how they had gone from being a relatively small operation in the 1980s to a huge corporation, stretching to San Diego and Los Angeles, with all the trappings of a multinational - even retaining the services of a public relations company.

The author of several bestselling books, Blancornelas was awarded a number of prizes for his work, including the Unesco World Press Freedom Prize in 1999 and most recently, in 2005, the Daniel Pearl Award for Courage.

Elizabeth Mistry