The example of Javier

Reforma 05/19/17
Juan Villoro

Javier Valdez Cardenas would arrive everywhere wearing a hat, and use his canonic greeting: “What’s up, bato?” As a speaker, he would tell stories full of regionalisms and cussing: the ideal narrator to share amazement and emotions in accompanied with beer. In writing, he subjected those effects to the rigors of style: the ideal narrator to objectively understand a convoluted reality.

On May 15, twelve shots put an end to the life of one of the best people in the country. Having studied sociology, founder of independent journal Riodoce, which is headed by Ismael Bojorquez, writer for La Jornada newspaper in Sinaloa, author of necessary books on violence in Mexico (Miss Narco, Levantones, Malayerba), Valdez Cardenas fought against the indifference in an environment numbed by fear, and described the horrors without allowing them to influence him. When we presented his book Huerfanos del Narco en Culiacan in 2015, he highlighted the main lesson he got from the children who had lost their parents to the absurd “war against drug traffic”: none of them spoke of revenge. The absence, the fear, the senselessness had not driven them to resentment. He behaved with the same nerve as his informers; he knew that the best way to outdo the adversaries is not to become like them. In the midst of the storm, he kept his sense of humor, his affection, his empathy towards others. His critical conscience was not animated by hate, but by the search for truth. During half a century, he lived to improve a country that was incapable of protecting him, and has turned him into one of its martyrs. Just as Daniela Rea, Marcela Turati, and other exceptional chroniclers, he understood that the most significant plots of the violent Mexico do not concern the executioners, but the victims, whose ranks he has now joined.

Who kills journalists? Valcez Cardenas was not a seeker of unnecessary risks, and he knew that his prestige did not provide him with any immunity. Riodoce’s offices had been attacked. There, editorial closure Fridays combined the festive atmosphere of a job completed with a sensible weighing of the threats received. Few professionals were better qualified than he to gauge the frail limits of the trade. His murder represents an escalation in the violence against this profession.

At some time, Javier considered moving away, but the country got so much worse that it was difficult to find a sanctuary away from danger. On the other hand, his stories were in the place he knew like the back of his hand.

Several times we recalled the phrase of another great author from Sinaloa, Elmer Mendoza: “We don’t need to watch out for the bad buys, but for the ones who appear to be good”. The declared villains of drug traffic, the capos of drug dealing, are less concerned with the news than those who provide an apparently legal façade to organized crime. Those who stand to lose the most from the accusations are the businessmen, politicians, and military accomplices of crime. Felipe Calderon presented the rivals of his “war on drug traffic” as the “barbarians”, the “baddies”, the “others”, failing to understand that they belong to a society where the border between legal and illegal is growing fainter. Peña Nieto has also failed to understand. Those who operate in that decanting area do not wish to be investigated. As long as the government does not investigate itself or make inquiries into the various ramifications of dirty money, the journalists who do so will continue to die.

Ever since he shared a home with Martin Amaral, a chronicler of Sinaloa culture and daily life, Javier Valdez Cardenas understood writing as an accomplice activity, that benefits from others’ texts and others’ voices. Although he had a unique style, he preferred to listen. On September 4, 2015, I stood with him before the wide audience who followed him in Culiacan and again he endorsed his interest in what others had to say to him: “If you are silent, well, one stops writing, but if you are not silent, like hell one stops writing,” he said before a Norteño group punctuated his words with their music.

Each testimony that arises in this blood country will bear the stamp of Javier Valdez Cardenas. It will not be he who writes it: it will be his example.


Text translated by the Instituto VIF from the original published by Reforma.