Alfredo Corchado: ‘Trust No One’

On Monday, the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington hosted a panel discussion on the press freedom crisis in Mexico. Carlos Lauría and I spoke about CPJ report “Silence or Death in the Mexican Press” and the results of our meeting in September with President Felipe Calderón. Dolía Estevez described the event in a blog she posted yesterday. I was struck by the remarks made by Dallas Morning News correspondent Alfredo Corchado, one of Mexico’s bravest and best reporters. Excerpts from his prepared remarks are below:

“As foreign correspondents covering a country at war, we have to apply the same rules that you would in a country like Iraq, or Afghanistan.  I was recently in Ciudad Juárez with a photojournalist who covered Bosnia, Baghdad, and Kabul and she said, this is worst than covering those places. At least there you had a sense of who’s who. Here you’re covering ghosts.

“For too long we’ve tried telling ourselves that as foreign correspondents we’re afforded a measure of protection. We’re fooling ourselves. The killings are so indiscriminate these days that you can die not just because of the work you do, the words you write, the questions you’re asking, or what you may know–but because you may be in the wrong place, or wrong time, or yet become another victim of mistaken identity because the guy pulling the trigger is likely a young punk who doesn’t know the difference. They can kill for 250 pesos to 1,500 pesos and they know they can get away with it. There are no consequences when you live in a country with an impunity rate of more than 95 percent.

“Trust no one. Whether the reporter you once trusted, the fixer, the cab driver, the shoeshine boy, the cop, the mayor, the federal investigator, the guy who greets you at the hotel, or even the pretty waitress–they can be working as halcones. Again, we’re seeing a whole economy of illegality.

“When I travel I tell no one my plans, my time of arrival, or departure. I tell no one, even people I’ve known for years because often times they themselves don’t want to know your plans. In Mexico they kill you not just because of what you know, but because of what they think you might know.

“I don’t spend much time in anyone place. I’m constantly moving, in and out, trying to stay in one place for more than 30 minutes, an hour at the most. I get in and out of city in 24 hours, in less time if I can.

“Oftentimes as a foreign correspondent you depend on reports that come out in other regions. With so much self-censorship today, it’s hard to have a real pulse of the rest of the country.”