[This remembrance of the murdered journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas first appeared in Horizontal.]
The death of Javier Valdez has brought Mexican journalism to a breaking point. If they can kill the best known, the winner of the most prizes, and the most protected in the profession, what about the rest of us? There’s a bull’s eye on Mexico’s press.
And if now you are going to ask me what’s to be done, the answer is I don’t know. Today, 15 May, they murdered my friend, Javier Valdez. My first hypothesis, of course, is that they killed him because of his journalism.
When Chapo Guzmán’s kids went around gossiping on Ciro Gómez Leyva’s program that Dámaso López Núñez – El Chapo’s former business partner – had ambushed them and tried to kill them, Javier interviewed one of Dámaso’s messengers for Ríodoce. He knew that the article didn’t please Chapo’s kids and their people, and he knew that they would try to silence him so that national media would believe that Dámaso was the government’s new criminal enemy. And not just silence him. They would try to silence everybody at Ríodoce. But now Dámaso is in prison, so why kill Javier? I can’t figure it out.
When I heard the news about Javier I pulled away from the table where I was eating lunch with my colleagues to celebrate Teachers’ Day in Mexico. My mother called me from Sinaloa. She said that that they are killing people like flies. She fears for my siblings. Yesterday they went to a party. My sister left early but a few minutes after that they “took” one of the friends who accompanied her. Yesterday they murdered some kids in the Colonia Alameda for no good reason and because they could, just for going out with a group of friends. The thing is that you don’t know who’s who or what’s going on. Some people aren’t caught up in anything untoward but they get killed anyway and in unfathomably cruel ways.
“Your sister was just a minute away from danger. She’s safe but just one minute more…”
We are all worried for each other.
“Around here you can’t even stop to look around,” my mother told me.
And that’s when the heavens poured from my eyes. The house collapsed around me. There’s no safe place to go back to. Maybe tomorrow things will be better. In time things improve but right now that safe place does not exist. They have snatched it from me, from us, bit by bit. Today there’s no home. Tomorrow I will return to see if there is justice, to see if trust exists between people. Today there isn’t. Death knows no bounds today. If they can kill Javier Valdez, our beloved Javier, the most well known, the winner of the most prizes, the most protected in the profession, then what about the rest of us? It’s like all of us are wearing a bull’s eye.
I met Javier Valdez in 2003 when I pitched stories to him for Ríodoce, while I was a researcher for the Los Angeles Times. Ismael Bojórquez and Alejandro Sicairos welcomed me with open arms, but the first time I met them in Culiacán, Javier sweetened the welcome with an invitation to drink beer in the Guayabo, his regular watering hole. Everybody made me feel welcome and supported but Javier called me Ríodoce’s correspondent in the country’s capital. Javier’s words made me feel proud. Ríodoce was not well known at that time. It had not won any prizes. Nobody knew if the publication would last. They were just beginning and this gave me hope that in Sinaloa things might be different. And then I began to find Javier everywhere I looked for him: in meetings of the Foundation for New Iberoamerican Journalism (FNPI), in the International Book Festival (FIL), and on his many visits to Mexico City.
I remember, Javier, when you gave me a bound copy of your Malayerba, because you wanted help spreading the manuscript around interested publishing houses. I confess that I handed almost all of them out to editors, my dear friend. But I kept one of them for myself. Forgive me. It’s just that you were quicker than I was in finding an editor and you began to publish books as if they were enchiladas. And after I’d done the rounds of publishers, they called me out for not insisting they publish you. Always some publisher would approach me to confess that they should have grabbed your first book. Isn’t that funny, my friend? And isn’t it great that one of your books just appeared in English. Now your books are going to sell. I’m reminded how you said goodbye to me in that email when I told you about one of those editors who was remorseful about not publishing you when he had the chance.
“Don’t go just anywhere to lose your virginity or leave it lying about. Big hug,” you told me.
I laughed to myself and I played along. You were frightfully naughty and you had a commanding way with words and you fell in love with your own games more than once. You could never get enough and you sometimes had the bruised heart of a big child, even though you always said Sinaloans copulated with death.
And I just want to remember that the heavens are falling from my eyes. And I want to say that whoever did this has to be shitting themselves. Soon we must stop crying. They are going to have to kill all of us, too, because the place where we want to live in peace has no master.
Author Froylán Enciso is a historian from Sinaloa who specializes in the political economy of drugs and politics in Mexico. He holds a PhD in History from the State University of New York, Stony Brook. He is a Senior Analyst for Mexico in the International Crisis Group and a professor in the Programa de Políticas de Drogas at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) in Mexico. Follow him on Twitter: @elfroyenciso.
Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator, journalist, and lecturer in History at El Paso Community College.