Río Doce 05/22/17
I was the first to see Javier lying face down on the pavement. A sinister coincidence. I was driving towards the office and at a distance it seemed as if someone had been hit by a car. As I drew closer, my attention was caught by the hat, slightly off his head, and the miner shoes. I stopped and without getting out of the car, asked, trying to deceive myself, what had happened, had had someone been hit by a car. “No, he was killed, they took his car”, I heard. I got out, and walked around the still body to see the face.
It was a brutal blow. And not because of the national and worldwide reactions against this crime that flooded electronic and social media in minutes, but because of himself, because of what Javier Valdez Cardenas represented and still represents for Riodoce, for the people who work here, for his readers, for journalism, for Mexican society, not to mention for his friends and family.
14 years ago we began this project which cartoonist AVC illustrated as a small paper boat, and someone else as a giant “leap into emptiness”, because we had noting to start on but a handful of dreams.
We started in the midst of harassiment from an infected government, such as was Juan Millan Lizarraga’s, who fenced us in to “starve us to death”, bu we survived. Little by little, thanks to critical jouranlism, strong in its accusations, with substance in its investigation and even daring in matters regarding drug traffic, Riodoce gained a position as necessary reading in Sinaloa.
The matter of the drug cartels hit editors as a tsunami since 2005—with the explosive appearance of the Zetas and their wars to conquer territories—and Riodoce thought how to cover it to protect our integrity. That’s how we sailed all these years, we survided the ruthless war of the Beltran Leyva-Carrillo-Zetas against the Sinaloa Cartel, and at most, in 2009, someone threw a grenade into the lower level of our offices without any major effects.
In all those years, Javier Valdez was a key piece. We are not businessmen and we only built the business we used to keep this little boat with wind in her sails. But no more. We said it over and over again: we didn’t start this journal to get rich, so what little money comes in we will invest in keeping a good team and guaranteeing certain quality levels. We faced economic hardships but we never failed to cover our payrolls. Sometimes money flowed and we celebrated like children, but then other weeks it was back to reality. Never, ever, therefore, did anyone think of abandoning ship.
Not even for fear of violence. The most intense moment we experienced was the war that began in 2008 within the Sinaloa Cartel, and no one backed down. Not under Mario Lopez Valdez’s government, whose police corporations were cynically delivered to Ismael Zambada and Joaquin Guzman, either. We knew the dangers looming against us as, in August 2011, the first year of the “government of change”, journalist Humberto Millan was murdered. Yet we plunged ahead.
It was not until El Chapo Guzman was recaptured in Los Mochis, in January 2016, that the disputes between his children and Damaso Lopez Nuñez for control of the organization resulted in a new stage of violence in Sinaloa. Small confrontations, executions here and there, conciliation meetings summoned by El Mayo Zambada. This was in 2016. Until armed people made forays into Villa Juarez, Navolato, in February 2017, and this was followed by a media war. El Chapo’s children sent a letter to Ciro Gomez Leyva and around the same time, Damaso Lopez Nuñez sought a space in two printed journals in Sinaloa, Riodoce and La Pared, to whom he granted interviews via telephone messages, where he denied the attack that the Chapitos attributed to him. The interview was done by Javier, as it was he they had sought.
El Chapo’s children heard that we had interviewed Damaso and pressured Javier so the article would not be published. But we denied their request. Then they called him because they wanted to buy the whole issue, but he denied them that too. And so, they chose to follow—in Culiacan and Mazatlan—the staff that deliver the issues to stores, and as soon as they had left them, they purchased them. That was on February 19. They did not resort to violence, but to intimidation.
It was after these events that we felt insecurity, particularly for Javier. The ambush from September 30, where five soldiers died, had already charged the environment. We agreed that he should leave town for a while. He himself presented the matter to international agencies, which proposed to send him abroad for a time, but he could not part from his family. Riodoce had reports pending in other states, and we proposed that he go to do the job so he could rest from this shitty town. But a lack of funds and procrastination beat us. La Jornada, following the murder of Miroslava Breach in Chihuahua, proposed something similar to him, but it didn’t come to pass. As time went by, things seemed to have cooled down. Damaso Lopez Nuñez’s arrest would load the dice to one side, and it was common sense to expect a “pax narca”. We mentioned it that Monday morning, before he was killed. But we were wrong.
As we were also wrong to interview Damaso, because this got us into a media war that did not concern us, drawing the displeasure—albeit unintentionally—of the other party. This is why the issues were seized on Sunday 19.
Ball and chain
ON WEDNESDAY, WE MET AT RIODOCE to plan, through tears and sorrow, the next edition. I thought I knew the whole team, each of the reporters, the administrative staff, the people in charge of the website and social media. But I was wrong. They are each and every one greater and stronger than I thought. Weakness was only reflected in the tears of pain for the mate who had been murdered, but never surrounding the commitment that lay ahead of us. No one asked if we would go on or not. We all took it for granted.
Text translated by the Instituto VIF from the original published by Río Doce.