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Journalists Are Dying in Mexico

June 15, 2017

Reporter and author Javier Valdez Cárdenas was shot and killed in Culiacán, Sinaloa on May 15.

When gunmen shot and killed Mexican columnist, investigative reporter, and author Javier Valdez Cárdenas in Culiacán, Sinaloa on May 15, a chill went through newsrooms everywhere. Not only was he the sixth member of the press in Mexico to be assassinated in less than three months, some reporters had just assumed that someone of Valdez’s international fame and stature would be protected. After all, Valdez was renowned for his weekly columns in the regional outlet he co-founded, RíoDoce. He was a correspondent for the newspaper La Jornada. He was the author of nine books – including one translated into English, The Taken: True Stories of the Sinaloa Drug War – the most recent, Narcoperiodismo, in 2016. He was the recipient of some the world’s most prestigious international journalism prizes, including the Maria Moors Cabot Prize from the Columbia Journalism School and the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

But Javier Valdez’s reporting and writing routinely addressed the most dangerous of subjects: organized crime, narco-trafficking, and the corruption of Mexican government officials. And someone took notice. At around noon on a sunny Monday, Valdez left his office with his customary and only slightly ironic farewell, “May God bestow his blessing on me,” and headed to his car. He had driven just a few blocks when two men, according to witnesses, stopped him and pulled him from his car, executing him with twelve bullets. They left his body sprawled on the street.

Javier Valdez now joins the black list of the estimated 125 journalists killed and 20 disappeared in Mexico since 2000. According to the press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders, Mexico is the third most dangerous country for journalists in the world, after Afghanistan and Syria. Yet Mexico’s government has done little to nothing to stop the violence targeting the media. Although President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration supports a “Federal Protection Mechanism of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists,” created in 2012 to offer special protection to journalists under threat, reporters have complained that it is underfunded, understaffed and does little to stop the violence. And according to a recent report by the Washington Office on Latin America and Peace Brigades International, in those cases the Mechanism did take on, some 38 percent of aggressors against the press were found to be government authorities, making it difficult for some journalists to trust government support of any kind.

In response to the crisis of violence against journalists, press organizations around the world are publishing, airing and broadcasting pieces today to mark the one month anniversary of Javier Valdez’s assassination. The campaign is intended to express support and solidarity with Mexico’s journalists under siege, as well as draw international attention to their vulnerability and failure of the Mexico government to protect them. The National Security Archive’s Mexico Impunity Project joins with our colleagues in the press and civil society in support of the right to information and free expression, and the right of journalists to write, publish, and live without fear of violent repercussion.

#ourvoiceisourstrength #nuestravozesnuestrafuerza

Below is one example of the fierce, resonant reporting and writing of Javier Valdez, written two months before his death. It is a story about another journalist, who is unnamed, but who now bears an tragic resemblance to Valdez himself.

Published by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project on May 16, 2017


Friends, family, and colleagues warned him: Take care, man. Those guys have no limits. They are bastards. But in his column in one of the local papers he kept criticizing and complaining, using his keyboard, his words, to pelt corrupt politicians for conspiring with criminals, police at the mafia’s command.

He’d been a reporter for some time, experienced in investigative work. There was never a shortage of subjects to cover, but those paths, hidden by thorny plants, led to gunpowder or a waiting trigger, to the bosses’ glassy stares, to escape routes without exits, to streets that only led to hot smoke, wisps dancing in the wind after the gun shots.

But he wore a bulletproof vest across his chest. To him the moon looked like a lantern that could even light up the day. Pen and notebook were his escape, therapy, crucifixion, and exorcism. He wrote and wrote onto a blank page and spat it out onto the screen with his fingers, from his mouth, splattering everything. He bawled into his columns with anger and pain and sadness and wrath and consternation and fury, talking about the shit-covered governor, the mayor flush with funds, the smiling lawmaker who looked like a cash register receiving and receiving wads of cash and pinging when taking in another million.

The business dealings of the powerful were his subject. How they took advantage of everything and fucked over the common people. Destitution, like garbage, grew and spilled over sidewalks and street corners. Brothels overflowed. Hospitals never lacked sick people but neither were there beds nor doctors. That’s right, the prisons overflowed and an empire of smoke covered everything. Black clouds covered the starry skies, filling the heads of the region’s residents, making them sick yet not indignant. But he wasn’t going to give in. No way, he repeated to himself. He started to write.

A report put a lawmaker at the center of a hurricane. He joined those criticizing the lawmaker’s might and his ties to those at the top of political, economic and criminal power. Few were the legislators’ detractors and almost nobody wrote about it, but he would not shut up. On FaceBook he posted ferocious, brave words. They told him: Hey man, tone it down. Those bastards are out to get you. They will kill you. He shrugged it off with a harrumph. They won’t do anything to me. They can go fuck themselves.

Three hours after that post on social media they caught up with him and shot him point blank so as not to miss.

Award winning Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas was murdered on 15 May 2017 just after leaving Ríodocea newspaper he helped establish in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He was 50 years old. He published this Malayerba column on 27 March 2017. His most recent book (previously published in Spanish as Levantones), appears in English translation and with an introduction by Everard Meade as The Taken: True Stories of the Sinaloa Drug War,  published earlier this year by University of Oklahoma Press.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator in the Americas, an investigative journalist, and historian. NACLA, the CPJ BlogThe Texas Observer, and CounterPunch have published his writing.



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