January 16, 2018

Mexicans mourn well-known journalist

Friday, May 19, 2017

A prominent voice who waded through unseemly alliances

By David Agren
The Washington Post

Journalist Javier Valdez long chronicled underworld activities in the Pacific Coast state of Sinaloa, home to the drug cartel once led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Valdez wrote on the cartel’s internal power struggles, profiled its players — everyone from capos to grunts — and untangled the unseemly alliances the traffickers forged with the government.

Valdez, 50, on Monday published the last of his weekly columns in Ríodoce, the publication he founded in 2003. He was fatally shot that afternoon as he drove away from the newsweekly’s offices in the state capital, Culiacán — a city beset by a battle for control of the criminal empire of El Chapo, who was captured last year.

Valdez was among Mexico’s most prominent journalists. Statistics show Mexico on pace to experience one of its most murderous years in recent memory. Some media outlets decided to cease activities on Tuesday in a show of solidarity with Ríodoce. His death came amid a wave of attacks against media professionals, who frequently resort to self-censorship to avoid attacks by criminal groups. Journalists often receive little sympathy from police and politicians — some of whom are in cahoots with the cartels

“The murder of Javier is one more link in a long chain of impunity,” said Javier Garza Ramos, former editor of El Siglo de Torreón, a publication whose offices have been shot at five times and four of whose reporters were kidnapped in 2013 and held for 10 hours. “Anyone who wants to silence the press can do it and have the confidence nothing will happen to them.”

Valdez and his colleagues — particularly those who reported on the illegal drug trade — knew the risks involved in their work.

“We worked in fear, knowing that some day this could happen,” the newsweekly’s director, Ismael Bojórquez Perea, said in an interview. As word of Valdez’s killing spread, journalists rushed to the crime scene, crying, hugging and mourning the death of their friend in a state of “shock,” he said.

Mexican politicians expressed regret for the killing and pledged protection for reporters. The government recently replaced the special prosecutor tasked with investigating crimes committed against journalists. But critics say the office, set up to pull cases out of states where investigators were compromised by organised crime, has proven ineffective. It has won just three convictions since its creation in 2010.

One former lawmaker said the climate of fear created by attacks on the press suits politicians, who sometimes have surrogates harass reporters for investigating corruption or even mentioning criminal activity that could make public officials look bad.

“Politicians allow (attacks against journalists) to occur because they end up benefitting from the fear and terror that make journalists not publish their work or self-censor,” said Gerardo Priego, the former lawmaker, who led a special commission in Congress in the late 2000s on protecting journalists.

Valdez expressed some trepidation at covering crime — assailants tossed a grenade at his office in 2009 — but also seemed uneasy with the government.

“I worry more about how the government responds than how the narcos respond,” he told the Mexico City daily Reforma last year.

Always upbeat, sporting thick glasses and a Panama hat, Valdez often assisted foreign correspondents reporting in Sinaloa. He was well-known for his books on the drug trade and chronicles of life in a state where cartels came to be seen as big business and benefactors of the poor.

Reporters at Ríodoce wondered how the publication would continue without Valdez at the helm. “We’ve been defeated,” one of them said. “It’s a stab in the heart.”



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