In Mexico, it's been called a "crisis of freedom of expression.”
That’s a modest assessment. For Mexican journalists, this crisis can mean death for those who investigate one of the country’s biggest stories: organized crime groups and their grip on vulnerable communities and institutions.
On May 15, respected reporter Javier Valdez Cardenas, 50, who wrote for multiple outlets, became the latest victim to be silenced — the sixth Mexican journalist to be killed this year.
Valdez was pulled from his car and shot to death in Culiacan, a city in Mexico’s Sinaloa state. The Pacific coast state exports winter vegetables to the United States and hosts a bustling seafood industry. But it’s also home to brutal drug cartels battling over turf.
On Thursday, June 15, a month after Valdez’s killing, journalists in the United States and other countries are joining Mexican colleagues to say, “basta,” enough.
The singular focus of this campaign is to support Mexican colleagues with a call for the Mexican government to better protect journalists, and to ensure thorough investigation and prosecution that those responsible are brought to justice. This collective call for better protection is linked by this hashtag: #ourvoiceisourstrength.
It’s common knowledge in Mexico that American journalists and those in many other countries can report on suspected corruption or other controversy with far fewer risks than their Mexican colleagues.
Valdez was a go-to journalist in Mexico, sought out by CNN and other foreign media for his insight into the intersection between poverty, organized crime and corruption inside terrorized communities. Cartels are known to offer a choice to those they terrorize: “Plata o plomo,” silver or lead, meaning money or bullets.
Valdez not only founded Riodoce, a weekly paper in Sinaloa, he was also a correspondent for La Jornada, an influential daily newspaper based in Mexico City, and a contributor to Agence France Presse, the international newswire. In addition, he earned high honors for his reporting from the Committee to Protect Journalists and Columbia Journalism School.
Valdez’s book, The Taken: True Stories of the Sinaloa Drug War, was published in English in January.
Mexico has long struggled with crime and impunity for those who perpetrate it. But attempted government crackdowns and cartel feuds have in recent years helped make the country one of the deadliest in the world for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Based in New York, CPJ counts 95 journalists killed in Mexico since 1992. In 41 of those cases, the victim’s work was confirmed as the motive for the killing. Still, most of the crimes have gone unresolved.