by Joe Malone
Juárez, Mexico was the most dangerous city in the world from 2008 to 2010. Masked gunmen murdered anywhere from four to eight men, women and children on any given day in an area about the size of Brooklyn.
The vast majority of assailants in those killings were not caught, and the catalyst for the chaos is believed to be the rivaling drug cartels there, including one run by the recently captured kingpin, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
This anarchy kept journalist Sandra Rodríguez Nieto very busy. As a reporter for “El Diario de Juárez,” Nieto risked death trying to make sense of the indiscriminate homicides that inflated year by year.
Nieto is the latest speaker in the Center for News Literacy’s “My Life As” lecture series. In front of the half-full auditorium in the Student Activities Center, Nieto spoke of what she discovered about the violence in Juárez.
While there were thousands of murders per year, only 3 percent ended with a prosecution, so Nieto created a database called the Impunity Index.
“I filed this database with crimes versus prosecution so I could sustain with evidence that 97 percent of cases of crime remain unsolved,” Nieto said.
Two of her colleagues died during her time at “El Diario”—Armando Rodríguez Carreón, 40, and Luis Carlos Santiago, 21, were murdered in 2008 and 2010, respectively. Their murderers have not been caught.
Carreón was shot in the driveway of his home in front of his 8-year-old daughter. After his death, Nieto told herself she had to go further with the coverage of the mass slaying, “not just because I was angry or I wanted to honor him, but also because I realized it is a great story,” Nieto said. “I realized it was my responsibility to cover this story.”
Nieto found that the violence was heaviest in the poorest parts of the city. Many victims were teenagers with no connection to drugs, and 98 percent of those killed were unarmed. She came to the conclusion that the drug cartels were the most likely perpetrators.
While acknowledging Saturday’s arrest of El Chapo, Nieto showed the audience pictures of about a dozen cartel members who are still free. She emphasized that the incarceration of El Chapo is not the end of the conflict.
Last year, Juarez was No. 37 of the world’s most violent cities. The body count went from roughly 1,600 in 2008, 3,100 in 2010 and 500 in 2013. Some believe this improvement would not have been possible without the bold reporting of Nieto and other staff members of “El Diario.”
“The story of my city wasn’t being told,” Nieto said. “Journalism can truly change.”
Nieto received the Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism last year. She is currently a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.
(This story was originally reported for The Statesman, seen here.)