Impunity in Mexico: Remembering Javier Valdez

Mentor to a Battered Profession

By Christopher Sherman

Javier Valdez occupied a different stratum than most journalists in Mexico. I never met Javier, but I knew his reputation. Independent voices in Mexican journalism stand out and his was unmistakably one of them. For Mexican journalists, it takes more than fluid prose, good sources and a platform. It requires a daily, even minute-by-minute, word-by-word calculation of the risks and the public’s need to know.

For Javier and his courageous colleagues at Río Doce, the newspaper he co-founded, the goal wasn’t naming Culiacán’s new plaza boss or the narco lieutenant on the rise. There’s so much turnover in the drug world these days it hardly matters. Rather, like any good journalist should, Javier focused on giving voice to the voiceless: the families left behind, the teens dragged in, and in his most recent book Narcoperiodismo, the journalists intimidated, co-opted or killed into silence.

He also worked to shine a light in the darkest corners of Sinaloa state where the nexus of drug lords, politicians and big business flourishes. As Río Doce co-founder, Ismael Bojórquez, told my colleague María Verza after Javier’s death, “I want it to be clear: We don't give a damn who is running the criminal world. We're not fighting with any drug lord. For us drug trafficking is not a cause, it's a phenomenon that exists and we treat it journalistically in terms of its consequences on the economy, on culture, on politics, on the government, on the police.”

Javier was an inspiration and a mentor to a battered profession, so inevitably the silencing of such a voice has a strong psychological impact. But independent voices and aspiring journalists remain in Mexico. They should be supported and protected.

Organizations abroad should continue expanding scholarships and grants for training, not only to safely operate in their hostile environments, but also to carry out complex investigations. Their best work should continue to be recognized as Javier’s was. And those who have to strike out on their own to escape censorship at media outlets that depend on government money should be steered toward financial support for their endeavors and offered platforms to co-publish their work.

Unfortunately, expectations are low that the conditions for Mexican journalists will enjoy any significant improvement in terms of safety until there are a string of transparent and successful prosecutions of not only the triggermen, but the capos and politicians who ordered the hits. Those outside Mexico can pressure their own governments to make sure a Mexican politician does not meet a foreign counterpart without having to answer on this topic.

Finally, especially those in the U.S. should not forget our country’s role in this bloodshed. Drug revenue collected in the U.S. and funneled back to Mexico feeds this violence and makes possible the impunity that follows.