HomeNewsAnalysisJavier Valdez Cárdenas, Famed Narco Chronicler, Killed in Mexico
ANALYSIS

Javier Valdez Cárdenas, Famed Narco Chronicler, Killed in Mexico

HUMAN RIGHTS / 15 MAY 2017 BY DEBORAH BONELLO EN

Journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas, one of Mexico's most prominent chroniclers of drug trafficking and organized crime, was shot dead in Culiacán, Sinaloa, on May 15. His slaying marks a new low in violence against journalists, a new high in the confidence of their killers, and the latest dark milestone in Mexico's drug war.

Early news reports said that Valdez, 50, was walking towards his car at around midday when a vehicle pulled up beside him and shot him several times. He fell to the ground not far from the offices of the newspaper that he founded, Ríodoce, and was declared dead at the scene.

Pictures from the crime scene showed Valdez's body lying in the middle of the road, covered by a blue sheet and surrounded by yellow plastic police cards marking where bullet shells had fallen. His emblematic Panama hat, which he often wore even during television interviews, was visible from underneath the sheet.

A video interview with Valdez, produced in 2012. Credit: Univision / Deborah Bonello

The charismatic Valdez was the winner of a number of national and international awards including the prestigious Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) International Press Freedom prize. He was the author of many books on organized crime, narco culture and drug trafficking, and Ríodoce is widely considered a pioneering, independent publication.

"Where I work, Culiacán, in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, it is dangerous to be alive, and to do journalism is to walk on an invisible line drawn by the bad guys -- who are in drug trafficking and in the government -- in a field strewn with explosives," he said when he accepted the CPJ award in 2011. "This is what most of the country is living through. One must protect oneself from everything and everyone, and there do not seem to be options or salvation, and often there is no one to turn to."

SEE ALSO: Mexico news and profiles

His most recent book, "Narco Periodismo" (Narco Journalism), was about the experiences, realities and dangers of journalists covering drug trafficking in Mexico.

Following his death, shocked colleagues from home and abroad paid tribute to Valdez across social networks. Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto condemned Valdez's murder via his Twitter account.

The CPJ representative in Mexico described his death to InSight Crime as "an unspeakable tragedy."

"He chronicled the drug war and ran the only independent magazine in Sinaloa despite the constant threat of violence," said the CPJ's Jan-Albert Hootsen.

InSight Crime Analysis

The killing of Valdez is the latest grim marker on Mexico's drug war timeline, and a body blow to journalists as they near the end of what has been a dark decade for the profession.

Valdez had one of the highest profiles of any Mexican journalist, both at home and abroad, and was largely considered untouchable as a result of his fame. The attack, which took place in broad daylight, sends a message to all the country's journalists: no one is safe.

This year alone, six journalists have been murdered. The state of Veracruz is considered the most dangerous place for journalists in the region. Violence against the press has risen since the Mexican authorities launched a militarized crackdown on drug trafficking and organized crime in 2006. A recent report on attacks on the media from the CPJ notes that the majority of cases of murdered journalists remain unsolved, their perpetrators unpunished.

The murder of Valdez comes the week after the emergence of a video that captured a Mexican soldier apparently executing an unarmed man in custody by shooting him in the back of the head. The execution not only highlighted the corruption within the Mexican armed forces, which are on the frontline of the government crackdown, but it also illustrated the inability on the part of the authorities to curb the rising violence in Mexico.

Last year was the most violent year of President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration, and despite a spike in spending on security, the violence is getting worse. Over the weekend of May 13 and 14, violence in the state of Guerrero between criminal groups and community police surged, despite efforts by the federal government to try to bring it under control that date back years.

SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profile

Culiacán has been at the center of a struggle for power between different power cells of the Sinaloa Cartel following the re-arrest and extradition of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán to the United States. Chapo's former right-hand man, Dámaso López Núñez, alias "Licenciado," was arrested in Mexico City in May 2017, which may have caused further splintering and in-fighting.

The authors of Valdez's murder so far remain unknown. CPJ Mexico said that he had not reported any recent threats to his life, but when InSight Crime called him for comment last week on a story, he said he did not wish to be quoted for security reasons.

Valdez's fame could increase the pressure on authorities to undertake a serious investigation into his killing, but the fact that he was murdered in broad daylight suggest his killers are not too worried about the consequences.

"At Ríodoce, we have experienced a macabre solitude because nothing that we publish has reverberations or follow-up. And that desolation makes us more vulnerable," Valdez said in 2011. "Despite all of this, with all of you, and this award, I can say that I have somewhere to take shelter, and to feel less alone."

* Update, May 16: InSight Crime published a translation of Ríodoce's rememberence of Valdez on Facebook. You can read the Spanish original here.

Watch our May 18 Weekly InSight discussion on Facebook Live about the murder of Javier Valdez, with InSight Crime Senior Investigator Deborah Bonello and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists Mexico representative, Jan-Albert Hootsen.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ELITES AND CRIME / 12 FEB 2021

US authorities at both the federal and state level provided training to members of a Mexican special operations unit with…

COCAINE / 30 AUG 2022

Cocaine in Australia remains difficult to access, with traffickers either selling low-quality or entirely fake doses.

HOMICIDES / 7 FEB 2022

Stopping near their target, one of the criminals stays on the vehicle while the other jumps off, shoots the victim…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…