Juarez Story Untold As Journalists Are Targeted

The shooting death of an American consulate worker over the weekend in Juarez, Mexico, a border city racked by drug violence, made big headlines in the United States. But the thousands of Mexicans who have been killed in the city's escalating drug war often go unrecognized. One reason is that journalists have been have been targeted with particular viciousness. Newsrooms have been shot up, reporters have been kidnapped and some have been killed. Now, many reporters have simply retreated from covering the story. Reporter Diana Washington Valdez of the El Paso Times talks about the challenges of covering this conflict-wrought region.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

On to a very different kind of crisis. Mexican President Felipe Calderon travels today to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, which was the site of the brutal killings of three people linked to the U.S. consulate in that city this weekend. A headline in one of the local papers reads (Speaking Spanish), which means, quote: We are fed up, Mr. President.

This weekend's incident is revealing widespread media coverage in Juarez. But many other recent drug killings have gone unreported in the local press, and that's because journalists have been targeted with particular viciousness. Newsrooms have been shot up, reporters have been kidnapped, and some have been killed. And many reporters have simply stopped covering this important story.

Diana Washington Valdez is a longtime reporter for the El Paso Times, which by definition, also means covering Ciudad Juarez. It's just across the border. And she's with us now. Welcome, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. DIANA WASHINGTON VALDEZ (Reporter, El Paso Times): Well, thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So Diana, how big of a story was this - these shootings over the weekend? I understand that these three people connected to the consulate were only three deaths this weekend; that in fact, there were many more.

Ms. VALDEZ: That's correct. But because of their affiliation with the - well, frankly, the State Department, these deaths have attracted international attention. We have had media from all over the world come here and - as well as call here and - trying to get information on what's happening. Now, we've had two presidents, the president of the United States and of Mexico, both stating that this is going to be a priority, that they must solve these murders.

MARTIN: How are the journalists you know in Juarez reacting to what has been happening - not just this past weekend, but the situation going past the last couple of years?

Ms. VALDEZ: Yes, well, the environment in Juarez has become very dangerous for journalists who live there. Of course, it's very different for the people who come in and leave after they've gotten their story, and they're not from here. But the ones who live there day to day and have their families there, some of them have had to adjust the way they cover the news. And even something as simple, for example, as covering a drug trial in El Paso, the deals with people from Juarez, drug traffickers from Mexico, will have, for example, a story re-filed, you know, with a regular byline, but stories that my Juarez counterparts filed, their byline is simply "staff."

MARTIN: You mean, they won't even put a byline on a court case story.

Ms. VALDEZ: That's correct.

MARTIN: Why is that?

Ms. VALDEZ: Because they know that - well, people involved with the cartels are reading the stories. And what could happen is retaliation simply for mentioning a particular organization in a bad light, or for giving their opponents some credit. It's like exactly what happened with the singers who were singing the corredos that praised one particular cartel or cartel member. Then opponents would often kill that entertainer, that singer.

And the same thing is happening to journalists. And they are being intimidated. They are being given - threats are communicated to them. Don't mention us or don't mention that. This sort of thing goes on constantly. And then it moved (unintelligible) in Ciudad Juarez two years ago. A reporter a longtime reporter there, Armando Rodriguez, was actually murdered, and his murder remains unsolved.

MARTIN: Is the Mexican government doing anything to address this situation for journalists, which is obviously an inherently difficult situation? I mean, journalists are supposed to be acting independent of the government. But then, you know, clearly, their ability to function is being severely compromised by this. So, is the government addressing this in any way?

Ms. VALDEZ: Well, a couple of years ago, the federal government created a special prosecutor's office to investigate the murders of journalists. However, this year, the Mexican congress decided they don't want to fund that office anymore. And unfortunately, what happens in Mexico, and they will tell you that the creation of a special prosecutor's office usually means a death knell to that particular issue. In other words, it won't go beyond that. They'll create this office - and nothing happens. We've had more than 50 journalists over the past two years killed throughout Mexico, a record number, of course.

MARTIN: Fifty. And, finally, may I ask, how about you? I mean, are you able to do your job?

Ms. VALDEZ: Well, I have received threats and - including from people, you know, related to the cartel. I've been very fortunate so far. I can't kid you that when I drive through town sometimes, I'm not looking over my shoulder and looking at when a truck with tinted windows pulls up close to me, I know I get a little bit nervous about it. I do.

MARTIN: And, finally, is there anything that we could be doing on this side of the border to support both you and the journalists in Mexico who are reporting on this important story?

Ms. VALDEZ: The deed to pressure the Mexican government to protect journalists, protect that profession because of course, without their work we won't know what's going on.

MARTIN: Diana Washington Valdez is a senior reporter for the El Paso Times. Her new book, "Mexican Roulette: Last Cartel Standing," is coming out later this year. And we hope you'll come back and talk to us about that, if you would.

Ms. VALDEZ: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.