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article imageWeekly vows to keep probing Mexico cartels even after reporter's death

By Jennifer GONZALEZ COVARRUBIAS (AFP)     May 20, 2017 in World

Despite the threats and the murder of colleague Javier Valdez, the weekly Riodoce plans to continue its role as a leader in investigating drug trafficking in Mexico.

The office is austere, with fewer than a dozen computers spread around the small rented apartment.

Safety measures seem conspicuously absent here. The entrance of the building, in the center of Culiacan, in western Sinaloa state, is always open.

There are no surveillance cameras. And the door into the green-walled apartment that is home to Riodoce is not reinforced.

Yellowing newspapers pile up in the hallways. The office of Valdez, who was murdered on Monday at the age of 50, is tiny: a simple table, file boxes on the floor, a telephone, a printer, a framed photograph, some Post-its on the wall along with a few Riodoce frontpages.

Valdez, who was also an AFP freelancer and a correspondent for La Jornada newspaper, had a love for "this combination of investigative journalism and prose," said Ismael Bojorquez, a founder of Riodoce along with Valdez.

"Mala Yerba," Valdez's weekly column since 2003, reflected those dual loves.

Riodoce was "overwhelmed" by drug cartel violence, and felt obliged to go "all out" to cover the trafficking scene.

"We mark certain lines (not to cross) and certain precautions to take," Bojorquez said. "We couldn't not cover the issue in a state like Sinaloa. Either you do it or you make a fool of yourself."

- A line crossed, but where? -

Riodoce faces many challenges, not least its financing.

Forty percent of its income comes from sales. A copy sells for 10 pesos (about 50 cents), while the digital version is free. About 8,000 copies are sold each week.

It has nonetheless managed to establish itself as a respected investigative reporting platform, with a wide network of contacts, in a country where the threat of violence means self-censorship is the rule.

The courage of its journalists earned Riodoce the 2011 Maria Moors Cabot award from Columbia University in New York. The citation noted that the paper's journalists "heroically struggle" in one of "the most dangerous places in the world to practice journalism."

In a display of both its courage and its connections, Riodoce on February 19 published a cover story by Valdez on his interview with Damaso Lopez, nicknamed "The Graduate," the one-time right-hand man of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

Lopez was arrested May 2 at an apartment in an upscale Mexico City neighborhood.

In Valdez's interview, he denied having attacked the sons of "El Chapo," despite their claims to the contrary, and said he was a friend of Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, another close collaborator of "El Chapo."

But the interview provoked "considerable annoyance" between Guzman's sons and Lopez's faction, Bojorquez acknowledged. The day it was published, several men followed the newspaper's distributors around to try to buy up all the copies.

"I do not know which line we crossed," but "the context in which Javier was killed was foreshadowed" by the publication of the interview.

Concerned about the risks facing Valdez, La Jornada suggested that he move for a time to another state, or even leave the country.

That conversation was continuing on the day of his death. "I asked him how things were going with that, and two hours later..." Bojorquez could not finish the sentence, wincing and shaking his head in sorrow. "We were very slow."

- 'We're going to keep on' -

Keeping Riodoce in print can come at a high cost, with no room for error.

Two years ago, the newspaper ran the photo of a "gunslinger" over the name of another man. Seven men -- including the one wrongly identified -- burst into the editorial office to forcibly complain.

The weekly pulled back every copy it could find and apologized in its next edition, but it was not enough. "They wanted money," says Bojorquez.

In the wake of Valdez's murder -- which brought to five the number of Mexican journalists killed this year, along with a radio program writer -- Riodoce plans to strengthen its security.

"I worry a lot about the reporters," Bojorquez said. "I don't want (surveillance) cameras in my house, but I do want them here -- and a guard as well."

Despite the tragedy, the weekly is determined to maintain its editorial line.

"We're not going to change what we're doing," he said. "We're going to keep moving, we're going to keep doing what we've been doing, (although) obviously we're going to have to be a little more careful."

Asked the same question, chief news editor Andres Villanueva looked down and took a few minutes to formulate a response.

"It is difficult to think clearly after all that has happened," he said, weighing his words.

"After what they dared do to such a visible man, you can't help but feel much more vulnerable."

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