Reporters’ Lives — and Deaths — on the Mexican Border

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EL PASO, Texas — With the constant violence in Mexico has come an increase in reporting about the ongoing drug war in Ciudad Juárez, the neighboring metropolis across the border.

In 2009, more than 2,600 people were killed there. El Paso Times Editor, Chris López, has dedicated himself to following the turmoil ever since he joined the paper in 2009.

“This is one of the most dynamic stories on the border — and in the country,” he insists.

El Diario de El Paso, the sole Spanish-language newspaper here, also sees the importance of reporting on it because readers often have direct ties to Juárez and other parts of Mexico.

“We try to cover the violence binationally. We talk to North American agencies and scholars to give their opinions on the phenomenon,” El Diario de El Paso editor Armando Vélez says.

His newspaper’s audience is comprised mainly of Mexican immigrants. For this reason, Vélez says his reporters are asked to cover other aspects of daily life.

Although at the El Paso Time they still write about the daily lives of Juarenses, they also try to incorporate how the violence is affecting their lives, Lopez said.

“Anybody who says that the backdrop of the drug cartel war is not impacting every segment of society in Juárez is not over there talking to people,” López says. “You cannot tell a story in Juárez right now without giving that context because they live that every day.”

KINT Channel 26, the local Univisión station in El Paso, also showcases other aspects of life in Juárez. Reports such as one Producer Ariadna López did on an orphanage remind people that life still continues there, she says.

“People in El Paso want to know about the violence, but a lot of times they would rather not watch the news or read the newspaper because they are tired of so much violence, and at the end of the day it¹s the exact same story,” López says.

In 2009, 11 journalists were killed in Mexico, making it the second most dangerous country for journalists, according to the International News Safety Institute.

El Diario de Juárez lost its police reporter, Armando Rodríguez, in November 2008. Rodríguez was warming up his car, about to take his daughter to school, when he was shot.

Rather than back away, the newspaper take precautionary measures to protect its reporters.

“The best homage we could give Armando was to continue with our work,” editor Rocío Gallegos says. “We’ve just been more careful. We don’t publish reporters names with articles that we feel may be threatening, or include the names of photographers.”

Karla Mariscal, a news anchor at Channel 26, lost her brother in November 2009 when he was ambushed and killed in Juárez.

Channel 26 no longer sends any of its staff to report on the crime across the border. Instead, it uses someone who lives and works out of the city.
“We cannot put our people at risk. Our station has already suffered enough,” she says.

KVIA Channel 7, El Paso’s ABC station, sends its news teams into Juárez, depending on the type of story they choose to cover. They also have a reporter from the BELO Corporation based out of KVIA who reports on border issues.

“We get to work with her and we air her stories, too. That is a great asset for us because she is also able to go back and forth and tell the border stories that we show to our viewers,” KVIA news director Brenda De Anda Swann says. The El Paso Times consistently sends reporters into Juárez. Although safety is a concern, López says it will not stop him from sending reporters to the city.

In contrast, Vélez sends his reporters if need be but they work mainly with reporters from Juárez.

“We get the hard facts from the 20 or so reporters from El Diario de Juárez, and then we will modify the information to reflect how it affects our readers here in El Paso,” he says.

At the end of the day when the paper hits the press or the lights of the studio turn off, journalists are human beings with families, and although their work is important, López says the line has to be drawn at some point.

“For CNN reporters it is easy to go into Juárez, do their reports and leave to their homes in the U.S,” she says. “We on the other hand live in this community. We cross over daily and have family in Juárez. If we expose ourselves more than necessary we are going to get killed and our voice is going to be turned off.”

Editor’s note: This column was previously published on Hispanic Link News Service.

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  1. Ms. Matos,

    Are you aware of a resource that would have a comprehensive list of drug war-related crimes/deaths? I am compiling this material for US immigration case purposes, for my husband.

    Many thanks,

    Diane Murray

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