Remembering Eloy Aguilar

By Joel Simon/Executive Director on February 3, 2009 10:05 AM ET

Being a foreign correspondent means living between two worlds. You are an outsider, a foreigner. But you are also insider, with unprecedented access to those in power. You become part of the country in which you live, participating in the culture and developing lasting friendships. And yet you are always apart, observing, commenting, translating, and explaining.

AP/Marco UgarteEloy Aguilar, left, the legendary former AP bureau chief in Mexico City, was the country's ultimate foreign correspondent because he had one foot on each side of the border. He grew up in Texas and served in the U.S. Army before becoming a journalist in Latin America, settling in Mexico City in 1979. He had an intimate knowledge of both countries but always maintained a critical distance.

I first met Eloy when I was a young freelancer in Mexico City and he was the president of the foreign correspondents association. He helped me navigate the two worlds he knew so well, freely dispensing advice and wisdom. He was deeply committed to press freedom and the welfare of his colleagues and provided insight and information to CPJ on so many occasions.


Eloy died Friday at the age 72. His friends are gathering Wednesday to toast Eloy one final time. I wish I were there to raise a glass and say thank you. 


My great friend, mentor and colleague passed in a most characteristic way, on the way to work. My friendship dates back to the late 60s when he visited Puerto Rico for a sports even and fell so in love with the island that he returned and became bureau chief. He pushed me to become a better journalist, during those early years of my career.

When I was transferred to New York, as an editor at the Spanish language desk, he would keep in touch by telephone or his many visits to New York, always encouraging me to push harder. Eventually I became chief editor for the desk and I'd like to think that it was Eloy who got me there by being the teacher that he was.

I vividly remember his extraordinary efforts during the Mexico quake. His exploits are legendary -- just the efforts to get the news out of an isolated capital city are still remembered in awe.

His ethics were commendable, as a journalist and a man.

But most of all, he was a true friend and protector of those who worked with him, particularly those in hazardous conditions.

A friend.

Pepe Abreu

I have worked with Eloy Aguilar many times during my 27 year career in AP. I would like to mention one of those memorable times when I saw him work his magic.

After the earthquake of 1985 hit Mexico, an emergency response team of technical staff was dispatch from various points in the US to aid in the restoration of our Mexico City bureau and the delivery of content to our customers.

When we arrived at the beginning of a makeshift AP bureau, the first thing we noticed was that the building we were moving into also sustained damage. I recall seeing large cracks in the emergency stairs and some floors were shifted slightly. We had to build a bureau in record time and restore news to the numerous Mexican customers who depended on AP for content.

The old AP bureau was housed in a building that sustained heavy damage and was condemned. It is a wonder how Eloy and others kept going back to the old AP bureau to get equipment and other materials necessary for our rebuilding project. Some folks made comments and voiced concerns for Eloy’s safety during the many daring trips to the unsafe building. He dismissed their concerns as if it was nothing. He was certain nothing was going to happen.

Eloy was a “take charge” kind of person. He was a leader who knew when to roll up his sleeves and when to delegate. He could calm worries by simply looking at you. Even when under tremendous pressure, if he said it was under control, you believed him.

I did not know the gentleman sitting next to me at lunch that day in Mexico City. El Universal had invited journalists to meet members of the CPJ board and staff visiting the country for a meeting with the president. My neighbor was soft-spoken and unassuming. But as the conversation unfolded it quickly became apparent that the he was a treasure of knowledge and anecdotes about the people and events that have shaped Latin American over the last four decades. A true agency foreign correspondent of the old school. The gentleman was Eloy Aguilar.

Many of Eloy's friends gathered here in little McAllen today for his funeral, a Spanish-language affair that brought together many of the people that have known and loved Eloy for most of his life. Most didn't really know Eloy the legendary foreign correspondent. They just knew and remembered Eloy Omar. It was a moving event.

I am one of the many people who entered journalism because of Eloy Aguilar. I've known him for more than half my life and will never forget watching him bring order to chaos every day during the 1986 World Cup. Watching him then grew in me a love this profession, one which would still count me among its members had the avaricious Hearst Corp. not closed my San Antonio, Texas rag in 1993 to buy the non-union, more cost-efficient, opponent. Eloy will forever be a towering presence in my life. I am glad I knew him -- and proud to count my modest little career as one of the many Eloy inspired into being.

My name is Edwin Aguilar and Eloy Aguilar was my father. I have received many kind emails and phone calls from his colleagues in journalism. I will never be able to reply to each personally, but I wanted to use this space to thank those whose kind words have helped me and my family through these difficult days. He loved his work , the region and his colleagues. Sincerely, edwin aguilar.

Concepción Badillo-Debusmann, the Washington correspondent for La Crónica de Hoy in Mexico City, has a lovely remembrance of Eloy. The story is in Spanish and the link is here:



I first met Eloy in 2000 when I was a student in New York, and he had just won a prestigious Cabot Award. The journalism school organized a dinner so that some of the students interested in Latin America could meet the legendary Eloy Aguilar. He turned out to be very unassuming, and took a visible interest in our questions--which must have seemed naïve to a real-life journalist. (If they struck him that way, though, he didn’t show it.) At the end of the evening, he handed out business cards and invited us to get in touch if we were ever in Mexico.

I used Eloy´s card three years later when I moved back to Mexico and was having a hard time navigating the journalism job-hunt. I dropped in on Eloy who told me there were no jobs at the AP, but he offered to include me in the foreign correspondents list, as sometimes jobs were advertised there. It was a very generous gesture, given that we barely knew each other, and that I wasn’t even a foreign correspondent. Within a few months I was working as a television producer with the BBC. Ultimately I had got the job thanks to Eloy. Whenever I bumped into him he'd ask how it was all going. A small detail, being included in the list, but it kick-started my freelancing career. I hope I can do for others what Eloy did for so many of us. I miss him already.

Thanks for remembering my brother in such a wonderful way.
Death is one thing that I never think about.
(I never say I am ready to go - no way) but when I heard about my brother being dead it really hurt. We have a wedding soon and Eloy was coming, He would talk to my daughter almost daily and ask her do you need anything?. when I realised that my brother wasn't going to be there and I would not be able to talk or seat next to him that hurt and is still hurting. That was the time when I realised that my brother and friend was gone
thanks to all of you - god bless.

Eloy Aguilar was an extraordinary man, and it was my privilege to have known him and worked with him. I was the greenest kind of 21-year-old rookie in the Dallas bureau of the AP when Eloy took me under his wing. He was tough when he needed to be, and patient when he needed to be. He was always supportive; a true coach and leader. Eloy had that unique quality of truly caring about his fellow journalists so that he made me feel like I was the only person he ever mentored. Yet, we see that he lived his entire life this way and literally mentored an entire generation of journalists. As we get older, I think we all think more often about leaving a legacy. May we be fortunate enough to leave a legacy like Eloy. Rest well, my friend.

Al 'Jefe Pluma Blanca'
Conocí a Eloy Aguilar en el pleno reverdecimiento de su otoño cuando la empresa, que fue su obra, lo dejaba y él comenzaba una nueva etapa y yo otra. El de salida y yo de entrada.
Lo vi por primera vez cuando me llevó y me acompañó a procesar la visa de reportero de AP de México. Con él todas las puertas burocráticas se abrieron para hacer éste, que puede ser uno tedioso y agotador, uno expedito. Desde ese día el 'Jefe Pluma Blanca', como le decían cariñosamente los fotógrafos de la empresa en Latinoamérica, me abrió incondicionalmente sus puertas.
Desde entonces nos Asociamos y Prensamos para hacer travesuras positivas.
Dos días antes de morir recibí su último correo-e. Como muchos de los que me mandaba fue uno cargado de humor, éste es sobre "El verdadero significado de los que es ser valiente".
Hace un año hizo un asado en su casa en Tepoz para despedirme entre abrazos de buena suerte, vino, comida, Serrat, Machado, mariachis, tiples y guitarras por los que compartíamos igual gusto.
Después de su muerte he leído y escuchado mucho sobre la vida de este amigo. Alabanzas que para él sé que serían vanas y galardones que ni siquiera adornan las paredes de su casa como los hace su colección de sombreros y fotografías del viejo Chili Willy. Lo que no dicen estos obituarios es que Aguilar recogía computadoras y equipo para donárselo a la escuela pública de Tepoz. Lo que mencionan es que junto con la 'Madre Teresa de Tepoz', como llamaba a Lisette, su esposa, compañera y amiga, adoptaban a toda cuanta persona indigente, en problemas, tocara a su puerta. Lo que no cuentan estos reportes de muerte, es que Eloy vivió siempre de lado de los que trabajan y hasta el final estaba luchando por sus derechos. No hay palabras ni galardón impreso que pueda ser más grande que sus obras de corazón.
Aunque la vida se lo llevó así sin previo aviso, Eloy completó una deuda que ésta tenía conmigo cuando rapó a mi viejo en una lucha larga contra un cáncer insumiso. En él, Jefe Pluma Blanca, se reflejó y se conjugó el padre que perdí a destiempo. Tal como él perdió a su hijo, Víctor, me recibió como uno más.
Ahora, el firmamento tiene la pluma celestial y blanca, de un periodista íntegro hasta el tuétano, de un hombre bueno.
Por ahora amigo, como dijo el poeta universal Miguel Hernández, "Tanto dolor se agrupa en mi costado que por doler me duele hasta el aliento". Ahora, "Voy de mi corazón a mis asuntos".
De regreso a la realidad diaria de El Diario. ¡Ahí nos vidrios en Tierra Santa, padre,amigo, hermano...cuate!

Este fue uno de sus correos típicos...

This week is National Mental Health Care week.
You can do your part by
remembering to contact at least one unstable person to show you care.

My part is done!

Miguel Alvaro Sarmiento February 14, 2009 1:31:10 PM ET

Although I was not a real journalist, just a columnist for a local paper in McAllen, TX and a travel writer, Eloy encouraged me and often found the time to visit when he came back to McAllen. When I was in Mexico City, he invited me to the AP offices and treated me like one of the guys.

He was interested in, and willing to help, anyone who showed an interest in Mexico, no matter how humble his station. I submitted one small hard news story to him and he ran it, about a flood in Nayarit. No matter how many books I publish, I will always treasure that one story.

I am dedicating my next book ‘Meet The Mexicans,’ (a series of interviews with Mexican people) to Eloy. I was honored to attend his funeral here in McAllen.

'Mexico' Mike

Desde que mi hermano era un adolecente fue el orgullode la familia a veces se podia pensar que exajeraba cuando platicaba de el pero no despues de leer todos estos comentarios tan lindos creo que mis padres VICTOR AGUILAR Y ELENA C AGUILAR iva a decir afortunados pero no tuvieron la dicha de tener un hijo como ELOY que que como cera en en sus manos le fueron dando forma e infundiendole valores y generocidad con su ejemplo y trabajo hermano querido nunca te podremos olvidar sin ti ya nada sera igual. LALA AGUILAR

Conoci a Eloy en una reunión de la SIP en San Antonio, Texas cuando yo trabajaba con Reuters e inmediatamente nos hicimos amigos, estuvimos muchos años encontrandonos y finalmente nos reunimos en la agencia Servicio Universal de Noticias del Diario El Universal donde trabaje sólo un año con el maestro. Fue una experiencia de vida junto a un sabio y un profesional de la palabra. Te extrañamos amigo. Rogelio Arias

Fui fotografa de AP en los anos 80's y con Eloy cubrimos muchas noticias en CentroAmerica.Que dolor saber de la partida de mi viejo y querido amigo me ha tomado por sorpresa ya que me vine a vivir a EU y deje la prensa, la ultima vez que hable con el fue en 2006 cuando le pedi que viniera a visitarme aca a Washington DC donde vivo desde 1989, en ese entonces me dijo que pronto se iba a jubilar y yo me alegre po rel.Como podria olvidar aquellos dias duros de trabajo bajo la lluvia en Costa Rica, los calores en Nicaragua,el dolor que compartimos al perder amigos colegas mutuos en las ingratas guerras, pero atesoro los momentos que disfrutabamos en mi patria Costa Rica que el tanto amo, como nos divertiamos jugando en los casinos y conversando largo de las noticias, con mi hemana tambien periodista que en paz descanse y que el conocio, despues de largos dias de trabajo transmitiendo fotos sin parar al resto del mundo.Para mi siempre fue dificil consider a Eloy como "mi jefe", eramos tan amigos y el siempre me aconsejaba, me alientaba y me protegia en mi trabajo con AP.No olvidare la ocacion en que tome una foto que a el le gusto muchisimo de unos indigenas en Nicaragua y al dia siguiente al llegar a la oficina de AP en Managua encontre desplegada en la pared la enorme primera pagina del Miami Herald con la enorme foto que a el le encantaba y con orgullo a su lado un pedazo de papel que decia "felicidades mija"!viniendo de el jefe pluma blanca ese fue uno de los mas importantes momentos de mi vida profesional.Te lloro amigo hoy y siempre como solo puede uno llorar por un hermano, un amigo del alma que se va y con el cual comparti los mejores dias de mi vida como fotografa, el honor que me hiciste al ser mi jefe y amigo por tantos anos es indescriptible. Mis sinceras bendiciones a su familia, y que el Jesus lo tenga en su gloria.Gracias Eloycito!I love you.

Gracias por esos comentarios tan lindos de mi hermano,pero en realidad,eso es lo que el fue, un gran ser humano, como profesionista,hijo,hermano,esposo,padre,amigo.Para mi que soy su hermana.Era un gran amigo,era el alma de la familia y para mis hijos su tio Eloy,era una mezcla de ALEGRIA,SABIDURIA,AMOR,UNIDAD,CONVIVENCIA.....Gracias a Dios y a mis padres por darnos un hermano como ELOY.

I was a friend of Benny and Eloy's in Mexico in the early 80s. I would love to reconnect with Benny if possible.

Ardis Willwerth March 3, 2011 2:25:59 AM ET

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