By Emilia Perez
Spanish journalist Judith Torrea said the press must report on the reality in violence-wracked Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, “where only the dead are safe and life only exists in the cemeteries.”
“If we as journalists don’t inform (readers). If we don’t say what’s really happening in Mexico, in the so-called ‘war on drugs,’ we become participants in genocide, accomplices of genocide,” she said.
Torrea is in Madrid to present her book “Juarez en la sombra” (Juarez in the Shadows), published by Aguilar.
The work, to be released in Mexico in late May, compiles articles published on her blog “Ciudad Juarez, en la sombra del narcotrafico” (Ciudad Juarez: In the Shadows of Drug Trafficking), winner of the 2010 Ortega y Gasset Prize for Digital Journalism, as well as other accounts of people who live in the violent city just across the border from El Paso, Texas.
Torrea harshly criticized a recent pact on news coverage of the drug-related mayhem signed by 50 Mexican media groups, saying it was an agreement to “not report” on drug trafficking and violence “because they say organized crime shouldn’t get any publicity.”
“When Mexican authorities say nothing’s happening (and) that all the people dying are narcos and you realize that’s not true, that an entire city is dying, you (as a journalist) feel you ought to tell those stories,” the reporter, a former Efe correspondent in Texas, said.
As many as “26 or 27 corpses” are discovered each day in Juarez - the largest city in Chihuahua state - and Mexican authorities say most of the fatalities have links to drug-trafficking.
But Torrea says that’s not the case.
“Death has become more democratic: everyone’s in danger,” she says.
“I see dead bodies every day. It’s not a problem of perception. It’s a problem of more than 8,300 people killed in Ciudad Juarez in these four years since the so-called war on drug trafficking began,” Torrea added.
Some 35,000 people have died in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderon militarized the struggle against the cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006.
The reporter left her life in New York, where she reported on the world of entertainment for the Spanish-language edition of People magazine, and took up residence in “Juaritos,” her pet name for the city she fell in love with 15 years ago.
“I discovered the joy of living, which still exists in Juarez despite the constant death, and it fascinated me. It was a love I’d never felt before ... not even for a man,” said the reporter, whose blog is a finalist in three categories of German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s prestigious Best of the Blogs prizes.
“A lot of people want to leave but they don’t have the money. People are starving. The companies have gone. There’s no work,” Torrea says of life in Juarez.
“Sometimes you know you have to leave, that they’ve killed your family, that it’s very dangerous. You stay and then they kill you.”
Torrea insists she does not live in fear - “the only thing I’m afraid of in life is not doing what I feel I should do” - although she recognizes the danger. She is even considering buying a house in the city now that “they’re much cheaper.”
“When I see I’m facing a great deal of danger or that they’re coming after me, I’m not going to stay. And I’m prepared for that day,” said Torrea, who is looking for other avenues for reporting on the reality in Juarez.
The journalist is working on a film script based on her own life - “because everyone is very interested in those two worlds, New York and Juarez” - and is training new bloggers in Ciudad Juarez so “normal citizens will tell its story.”