Sun, Dec 11, 2011 - Page 9 News List

Journalists hit hard by cartels’ acts of violence

Javier Valdez, a journalist at ‘Rio Doce,’ talks about how drug trafficking is intertwined with everyday life in Sinaloa State

By Jo Tuckman  /  The Guardian, ACAPULCO, MEXICO

At least 16 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2004 because of their work and a further 30 for unconfirmed reasons, according to the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Many have disappeared and countless more have been frightened into self censorship.

Reporting in Mexico is complicated whoever you are, but it can get seriously heavy. In 2009, a grenade was thrown at our offices. It could have come from anywhere: the cartels, government or army — we cover them all. Of course, the authorities are not investigating.

We had always been careful, but after that, we went over everything with a magnifying glass. What we publish is a fraction of what we know. We keep the rest on hold in hope of better times. When we write, we are not thinking about our editor or readers, we are thinking about el narco. Sinaloa State is at least better than states like Tamaulipas and Colima, where the cartels tell you directly what to say. There are no clear rules for staying safe, but I believe our paper knows who is in charge, what state contacts they have and how they tend to act.

In my column and books, I flirt with a literary style that allows me more freedom to show how the drug war is not a matter of good guys and bad guys, soldiers and hit men. It is a way of life. I don’t give names or hard facts, but on occasion others have identified the story. That is worrying because it could put my sources or myself in danger.

We can never go to the government because they [the drug gangs] are the government. They appoint and sack mayors and governors. They decide who is going to be the chief of police. Nothing can stand up to the narco. Not the government, not the police, not the army, not the church and not the media.

I think this is going to continue to get worse. It is a sad and desolate situation. The government said the killing is a sign of desperation, but the cartels don’t look desperate to me. I see them taking measures to strengthen their business.

I am very sensitive to all that happens and suffer from insomnia. Therapy helps and writing about it acts as a catharsis. My wife says we should leave, but where? I don’t want to go, at least not until Rio Doce closes. If that happens, I want to be here to close the curtains and turn off the lights.

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