Impunity in Mexico: Remembering Javier Valdez

If Javier, the fearless, the talented, fell, who can stand?

By Maria Teresa Ronderos

Despite his life cut short at 50 years and one month exactly, Javier Valdez’s life and death leaves a huge imprint on journalism in the Americas. Together with colleagues, he set up Rio Doce in Culiacan, Sinaloa, the rockiest place for an independent newspaper to survive. And, yet, it got under the skin of Sinaloans and became their voice. In its pages, the newspaper asked politicians hard questions about collusion with drug traffickers. It spelled out corruption in all its nasty characters. It recorded the “fragility of life” in their state (600 people assassinated just this year). It denounced the endemic impunity. Its cartoons laughed at terror, and its photos registered the pain.

In the several books he published, Javier wrote about ordinary people crushed by violence: victims and perpetrators, all sucked into this killing machine. His literary journalism was brutally honest: he laid bare how the residue of the ‘narco’ influence tarnished social values and disgraced the culture.  

Over years, Javier, like the best journalists of the Americas, resisted the insanity not just with truths and beautiful journalism, but also with a great deal of humor. He weathered the hard life of these tough lands matter-of-factly, and even taught his wife and kids to duck in case machine-gun fire sprayed their windows as had once happened. He never posed as the hero he was. It was as if he felt protected by the many people who loved him and cheered him onto continue to write; like he was certain that as long as he and his colleagues stuck together and were willing to speak out, the colluding forces of the narco-political threat could be exposed.

This is why, I believe, Javier’s assassination was such a blow to journalists in Mexico and all over the continent. Indeed, as colleagues have shouted out, Javier’s death was one too many: he was the 14th journalist to be assassinated in the last five years because of their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. But it’s not just that. Everyone thought that his talent and daring somehow shielded him. If Javier, the fearless, the playful, the internationally-acclaimed writer, the caring colleague, fell, then who can stand?

Despite the sadness and sense of loss, how Javier lived his life and how he told stories are shedding light on what to do next. Alongside many other efforts, some of his Mexican colleagues are together trying to get as close to the truth about what Javier was reporting on. Others are proposing to jointly investigate other cases of  reporters killed on duty this year, among them, Maximino Rodríguez, Miroslava Breach, Cecilio Pineda and Elidio Ramos.

The more journalists from the mainstream media in Mexico and in neighboring countries join these brave pioneers, the safer everyone will be. A shared editor will help to make the stories better; publishing each identical story simultaneously in hundreds of different outlets will make them unbeatable. Journalists telling truths and using their multiple platforms to shout them with one voice: nothing could be more effective against those who want them silenced. This would be the best homage to Javier Valdez. Avenge his death with good journalism and solidarity, the two things he did best.