Chronicles from Juárez

ciudad juarez

For Ciudad Juárez 2010 ended with more than 3,000 violent deaths. The rate of murders in the city, adjoining with the United States, raised considerably during the last years until being one of the highest in the world since it became the scenario of brutal confrontations between drug cartel gangs of Juárez and the close Sinaloa.

More than 28,000 people have died in Mexico during the last four years since president Felipe Calderón began an offensive against the drug cartels in December 2006 by sending to the city 10 thousand soldiers with the objective of closing the door to the 90 percent of the cocaine towards the United States with the use of military force. According to many, militarization would be responsible of the increase of violence.

Among the main targets the opposing cartels members, police officers, social activists (the last one Susana Chávez, 36 years old, poet fighting for the clearing up of the well-known female homicides in that border, killed and mutilated of one hand last week) and journalists.

Besides the war among the cartels, corruption (with police officers who round off their starvation wages protecting the bosses), perverted effect of delocalization and an urban extremely degraded area with one high school for 500 thousand inhabitants, reign in the city.

This is where Sandra Rodríguez and Luz del Carmen Sosa work as reporters at El Diario de Juárez. In 2010 they were awarded with the Reporteros del Mundo prize (in memory of Julio Fuentes and Julio Anguita, correspondents of the Spanish awarding newspaper El Mundo and who were killed in Afghanistan and Irak respectively) for “having shown an extraordinary courage in every sense, signing their chronicles in spite of knowing that they put their lives at a risk” and for being “firm defenders of the freedom of expression in their country, denouncing the fight among cartels for the control of drug, the indiscriminate murders of women and the general atmosphere of violence going on in the streets of Mexico”.

Both took the chance of the delivery of the award to remember the murders of their colleagues Armando Rodríguez and Luis Carlos Santiago Orozco, killed on November 2008 and on September 2009 respectively, whose cases have not been clarified in a court.

SANDRA Rodríguez, specialized in political issues, is also an expert on the female homicides one. According to the Fiscalía General del Estado (National public prosecutor’s office) and the El Diario’s archives, since 1993 989 women (5,000 according to the local residents) were murdered after been violated and in many cases mutilated, asphyxiated, hit and stabbed. Around 5,000 more are still missing.

In Ciudad Juárez less than 2 percent of police investigations see a conclusion and the female homicides are not an exception.

According to Sergio Gonzalez, author of “Huesos en el desierto” (Bones in the Desert), “the general motive of the female homicides refers to a homicidal ritual of sexual content which serves to unite, fraternize and guarantee the silence of those who belong to its secret”. Do you share this opinion? Which other possible explanations could these crimes have?

I believe that any theory which points at only one direction without proofs only distracts the attention on a series of social, political (corruption) and economical factors that converge so that women (and the whole population) were left in such a high degree of risk: they worked for transnational companies whose arrival in Juárez was never accompanied by any kind of investment in their human wellbeing.

Nor the maquilas (factories using local workers, mainly imported technology and whose products are then exported) nor the local governments were ever interested in knowing how these women workers were living. So, for instance, they would go out to work and spend hours on a public transport with men who probably consumed alcohol or some kind of drug and who, if they felt like it, could follow them around the dark streets of the city.  Then they started killing one, then another, one and another, without anyone doing anything with respect to it nor punishing in a minimally credible way, so they became tens and hundreds until the thousands we have now.  That is, since then and until now there is a whole favourable environment so that who wants to can commit the crime they want to because there is not nor there has been security for anyone.

The absolute lack of official investigation is the one that has allowed the creation of any kind of versions.

If the militarization is responsible for the increase of violence in the city, what other types of measure to fight drug trafficking would be more efficient in your opinion?

I would start with questioning the viability of the fight against drug trafficking itself. It is very hard to eradicate from the face of the world a business whose products have such a demand.

What needs undoubtedly to be fought is the impunity and the corruption that has allowed those who dedicate to this illegal business to have now the total control of this country. And of course the social causes that have brought million of people to prefer this business, among which poverty and social inequality reign.

In your opinion what is absolutely necessary to be a good journalist?

Above all a certain commitment to the common good. If you are not capable of empathizing with the others, of feeling indignation before injustice and abuse, I believe it is difficult also to be committed to your work.

Why and for whom is it worth risking your own life to guarantee the right to information?

Actually I think that “risking one’s life” is not a decision that one as a reporter in Juárez takes in a specific way. The majority of us have simply fulfilled with our work of investigating and reporting on as many issues as possible according they appeared and this obligation is not inevitable for everyone at El Diario.

In my case working during these years of extreme violence has been an experience and a big personal impact not lacking of the passion peculiar of witnessing historical facts of a big local, national and international significance.

Together with other Mexican reporters I have shared the idea that Juárez is one of the best cities in the world to report in and where to find key expressions to the most complex global issues. It is definitely an incredibly fascinating social lab.

Who do you feel supported by in your work?

By the company I work for, which has shown me confidence in my work and in my intelligence. Ciudad Juárez is a place where, on the other end of female homicides, there is a society every time more accustomed to the capacity and compromise of the women at work. I also feel profoundly supported by my parents and brothers who have always admired my work and by a big community of friends, sources and readers who have always backed and helped me. But, above all, God is the main support in my life.

Are there moments in which you feel you would like to stop doing what you do?

To renounce, no. To rest and to take distance, yes.

What gives you the strength to go on in these moments?

I love what I do and where I do it.

Are there situations where you feel you are not given the same credibility as if you were a man?

I have never felt discriminated for being a woman. On the contrary, at El Diario we are a notorious majority of women reporters who in many aspects have big responsibilities. The same happens to the rest of local media.

What have you had to give up in order to do what you do?

I guess to have a more ordinary personal life.

Are there encouraging signs for the immediate future of the city?

I don’t know if nor where because the solution is known to everyone but it requires resources and compromises from the authorities and none of them had an interest in putting it into practice.

What is needed to have them?

Justice procuration to solve the social conflict caused by so much homicide and crime and that it explains to society who killed who and why, because otherwise we will never know what has originated this bloodshed and we won’t be able to put into act public policies specifically addressed to fight so much violence.

This procuration would have to reach all the criminals, including those in the government who have collaborated with criminal activities and that it might SERVE AS AN EXAMPLE to all those who want to abuse of their power.  Justice is the only one that can make all this security system gear work.

What is also needed is a true multisectorial strategy aimed at solving the most evident problems such as low education levels above all. In Juárez almost 50 percent of teenagers DO NOT STUDY!!!

Besides, here there exist no alternative economy to maquiladora, and this has only produced generations of poor and neglected families. A real bet for education and technology is needed so to attract foreign investments which can turn this city into, for example, a capital of scientific development… this would be a basic solution.

What is also needed is a whole infrastructure thought for the welfare, security and to dignify the population such as nurseries which might attend the workers’ children, hospitals with enough equipment and doctors, city parks, public transportation, a policy of urban densification which might stop dispersion. Libraries where children and teenagers might know a world different from crime and violence.

LUZ del Carmen Sosa has taken the place of Armando Rodríguez in the crime and incidents section of El Diario. Last year she was also awarded with the Manuel Vázquez Montalbán International Journalism Award in the category of cultural and political journalism. Sosa is an expert on drug trafficking related crimes and is the only reporter of El Diario who always has to be accompanied when going out to cover a news story.

Why and for whom is it worth risking your own life to guarantee the right to information?

Precisely for this, because it is a citizen’s right and society must be informed properly. It is a democratic exercise that we have to defend and preserve.

In your opinion what is absolutely necessary to be a good journalist?

Above all, passion. Passion for writing, for living, for seeing, for telling.

When did you decide to become one?

I decided to be a reporter when I entered university. I didn’t finish my studies because I got married and pregnant, well, not exactly in that order. I decided to give priority to what I was already doing, being a reporter,  than to finish my studies.

Who do you feel you are pressured by in your work?

By time. It runs really quick for me, my day is always against the clock. The other day I did not have time for lunch nor dinner, I forgot about it.

And who do you feel supported by?

The list is huge. My children, my mother, my brothers, my friends. A lot of people around me support me.

Are there situations where you feel you are not given the same credibility as if you were a man?

I don’t feel treated differently for being a woman, even if I am regularly the only woman covering crime and justice. My colleagues respect me as an equal, they take care of me and I do the same with them.

Are there moments in which you feel you would like to stop doing what you do?

No, I have never had the desire to resign but I did decline to write a feature. It was the coverage of the funeral services in the Villas de Salvarcar case (at the end of January 2010, 13 students were executed and 16 more injured in a massacre that took place in a house of the Villas de Salvarcar colony, where they were celebrating the victory of the local American football team).

I simply could not do it; I had to ask for help because I felt that it was too much for me.

What gives you the strength to go on in these moments?

I have always thought that my job is something that has to be done and that I want to do it.

What have you had to give up in order to do what you do?

Nothing.

In an interview to you, I read that your children (a 16 years old girl and a 19 year old boy) already know what they would have to do in case you get killed and that your daughter said “mom, I do not want to become an orphan”. Is that true? If so, what would they have to do in case something bad happens to you?

Yes, it is true. Danely shed some tears because she does not want to lose me, just the same as I do, but we are not immortal and they know I would prefer to die while working.

I did ask my daughter not to hold a wake over me, to do something quick and short andfor her and her brother to bring )my ashes to the San Carlos viewpoint in Sonora, where we have spent some nice vacations, and to have them spreadthere. I have gone to too many funerals and it is tortuous.

I do not want this for my children, I would prefer if they resumed their normal lives as soon as possible. If the three of us have learned something, it is that life is short and that it has to be enjoyed to its utmost and I want this always to be so for them.

In another recent article published in a renowned Spanish newspaper, I read that “this year not only have more people been killed but also that the drug traffickers have moved toward terrorism, and various car bombs exploded in public places”. What is this change of strategy due to in your opinion and what is its significance?

Criminal gangs have been constantly changing their strategies. But now they are more brutal.  The objective is to impose terror, ridicule the government, show off their power and control (which they do have) and subdue the community.

If the militarization is responsible for the increase of violence in the city, what other types of measure to fight drug trafficking would be more efficient in your opinion?

I don’t consider militarization to be responsible for the increase of violence in town. It is the impunity, the refusal of the authorities to really take action against drug trafficking. Corruption, fights for power among the political parties, citizen lack of action.

The ideal solution is to strengthen the enforcement of the laws and to create effective programmes aimed at the recovering of the social network.

In the well-known editorial (addressed to the criminal gangs and titled “What do you want from us?”) published after Luis Carlos’s homicide, it is written “In Juárez we have come to a point where it is necessary –and urgent- to adopt other kinds of measures to force authorities to offer more convincing answers because the degree of tolerance of many citizens has gone over its limits”. What other kinds of measures would be viable to adopt in your opinion?

Family reintegration, adoption of a culture that respects the law by the Mexicans…a true social revolution.

Are there encouraging signs for the immediate future of the city? Where?

In its people, I think society won’t let itself be knocked down and I hope to be there to write about it.

How do you combine your profession with your work as a mother?

It is tough. I think I am more a journalist than a mother, but my children understand and support me. They know my job is important. Something also important is that we have excellent communication.

Sometimes my son and my daughter go to bed with me and we chat, laugh, make plans, fight and fall in each others’ arms)…I believe few mothers can afford the luxury of this almost-adult children hugged at their side and sleep knowing that at least that night, that specific moment we are together and alive and we can tell each other I love you before closing our eyes.

Spanish version

Italian version of Sandra Rodríguez’s interview in Women in the city

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