On Monday, May 15, Javier Valdez was murdered just blocks from his office in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He was a courageous journalist and a tenacious defender of victims of the drug war. His work gave voice to those living through the violence. It is hard to overstate his importance to the cause of justice and peace in Mexico.
Perhaps what is most important about Valdez Cárdenas’s stories is his ability to humanize his subjects. As he told one interviewer, “I think that what I am is an expert in people. I have specialized in telling the stories of people involved with the narco. Yes, I have information about the bosses and the roots, but my work has been mainly with people who have suffered from the narco.
Q: And what would you have done if narcotrafficking never existed?
A: I would have told peoples’ stories just the same. I would enjoy a night searching for vagabonds or spending a bit of time in an asylum or jail. I love that life, and those are the places where journalism is; in those secret passageways you find our profession. I am drawn to the rubble, to look for what is left of us.”
In the context of Sinaloa, where drug violence became an almost unavoidable fact of life, Valdez wrote passionately about the struggle to preserve the social fabric. He saw journalism not as a profession, but as an obligation, as a means of working towards a better future. In his book, Con una granada en la boca, he remarked:
“But I must write what I see and what I hear, I have to raise my voice so that you know that the narco is a plague, a monster that swallows boys and women, that devours dreams and families whole. I have to say it, with fear and rage, indignation and sadness. We are many, the reporters who chase the news unsure what will happen, knowing that some day a bullet could come for us. We are many, the reporters who are outraged by the silence they want to impose, outraged by the official lies, because daily we see the people whose futures were smashed into nothing, the women with the hot kiss of a grenade in their mouths, the young men, almost boys, filled with pain and cocaine. In the streets we see gunmen and mothers despairing, armed commandos and the bodies of fathers left in canals or on the sides of dusty roads. That is why I have to write, to try to rescue the voices of so many people drowning in despair, suffering to hope.”
The Trans-Border Freedom of Expression Project has translated a number of Valdez Cárdenas’s stories, from both his weekly column in Riodoce magazine to his reports in La Jornada on abuses by security forces. As poet Dina Grijalva noted, while Javier may be gone, as long as people still read his words, he will not die.