Alfredo Corchado: 'Trust No One'

By Joel Simon/CPJ Executive Director on November 11, 2010 11:02 AM ET

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."


Alfredo Corchado is not one of Mexico's bravest and best reporters -- he is one of the United States' bravest and best reporters. Corchado spent his childhood and young adulthood in El Paso, Texas, where his immigrant parents ran a popular little tamale and menudo restaurant in the central city. He studied at the University of Texas at El Paso. Working for the Dallas Morning News, he is habitually at ground zero of the drug wars in Mexico, and has remarked that, while it is relatively much safer for US journalists to report from this area than it is for the Mexican press, that fact applies only if you look like a gringo. Corchado does not. He is thoroughly brown. He may be in far more danger than, say, Dudley Althaus, but he is an American member of the American media in danger, and we in the US should be proud to have this precious and beleaguered national treasure.

Thanks, Debbie. I'm aware that Alfredo grew up in El Paso and is a U.S. citizen and it would been have clearer to describe him as one of the best and bravest reporters covering Mexico. That said, I think the point he was making at our panel discussion last week is that no reporter is safe in Mexico these days, no matter what country he hails from or what he looks like. I imagine Dudley takes similar precautions to the ones described by Alfredo when he covers a drug-related story.

Joel I've spent countless hours reading articles on CPJ and all over the net about these cultures of impunity affecting so many of our colleagues around the world. I'm a student at Ryerson University in TO, CAN, and this topic has only been brought to light for me this year because of a course I'm taking. I've written a feature on the culture of impunity and right now I'm extending it into a long feature for another course. By the time I'm done in the next two days, it should cover the Philippines, Mexico and Russia. CPJ's website has proved to be exceptionally helpful, so I'd like to say thanks to you and all the staff for all GOOD work you're doing. It's nice to see so many people working for such a good cause.


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