November 16, 2010

Latin journalists keep reporting despite deaths

Journalists Alejandro Paez Varela and Claudia Mendez shared their experiences reporting on the drug trade crises in Mexico and Guatemala under life-threatening circumstances Thursday in the Social Sciences building.

Varela, deputy managing editor of the popular Mexican newspaper El Universal, said he doesn’t think twice about publishing risky stories, even though the Committee to Protect Journalists reported 38 journalists have been killed so far in 2010 worldwide, 10 of them in Mexico.

“You have the right to know that a [political] candidate is being supported by drug money…someone is going to have to say it, and in the end that’s my job,” Varela said.

The drug crisis is an ever-growing problem in Latin America, where drug cartels compete for drug transportation routes to their most demanding consumers—Americans.

Mendez said in her home country of Guatemala, the drug trade, along with organized crime and kidnapping, is one of the “problems we inherit from war.”

Mendez works in Guatemala for the newspaper El Periodico, in a country where more than 70 journalists have been victims of drug lords. Mendez attributed many of her country’s internal problems to the establishment of American military bases on Guatemalan land 40 years ago to check the influence of Cuban communism.

Mendez reported instances where she sent colleagues on assignments but “didn’t want to admit [she] was afraid” for their safety.

In response to a question from the audience about the legalization of drugs, Mendez said that it was a quick solution that didn’t address underlying issues. “The job of the academia [is] to come up with solutions instead of legalization.”