By Agence France-Presse
Daniela Rea, a Mexican journalist known for her searing chronicles of the violence gripping her country, was awarded the first edition of the Breach-Valdez Prize in journalism and human rights on Thursday.
Launched in March, the prize honors journalists who risk their lives to cover human rights abuses in Mexico, following in the footsteps of two Mexican colleagues murdered last year: Miroslava Breach and Javier Valdez.
Its sponsors — the United Nations, Agence France-Presse, the French embassy in Mexico and the Ibero-American University — praised Rea for her heartrending body of work in articles, books and documentary film telling the stories of missing and murdered Mexicans and the toll the violence takes on the country.
Journalists are both chroniclers and victims of that violence: at least 12 were murdered in Mexico last year, and more than 100 have been killed since 2000.
“We are gathered here today for them, for a prize born out of pain,” Rea said tearfully on accepting the award from Valdez’s widow.
“But we are also here for all those other colleagues, many of them anonymous, who continue going out into the street, notebooks in hand, to ask questions, to write, to try to understand the workings of this machinery of death… despite our narco-government.”
The prize was awarded on World Press Freedom Day, as tributes poured in for 11 journalists killed in two attacks in Afghanistan on Monday, including AFP’s chief photographer in Kabul, Shah Marai.
“Freedom of speech and of the press are under attack,” said Giancarlo Summa, director of the United Nations Information Center in Mexico.
“Journalists are the ones who give a voice to victims’ calls for justice when the authorities don’t deliver it.”
Rea, 35, is from Guanajuato, in central Mexico, but launched her journalism career in the eastern state of Veracruz, one of the most violent in the country because of turf wars between rival drug cartels.
From 2005 to 2012 she worked in Mexico City for the respected newspaper Reforma, focusing on the consequences of the Mexican government’s decision in 2006 to deploy the military to fight drug trafficking.
Since then, Mexico has been hit by a wave of violence that has left more than 200,000 people murdered. Another 30,000 people are missing in the country.
“I didn’t make a conscious choice and say, ‘I’m going to write about human rights.’ It was the natural result of writing about Mexican life,” Rea told AFP.
In her work, she said, she tries not to reduce people’s lives to the crimes that ended them, telling their stories and those of their families and communities.
“One of the consequences of crimes like ‘forced disappearances’ is to ‘disappear’ not only the victim but also (the stories of) everyone around them,” she said.
A contributor to many of Mexico’s top magazines and The Harvard Review of Latin America, Rea has also written and contributed to several books and directed the award-winning documentary film “Eternity Never Surrendered.”
As winner of the prize, she will receive a research grant and a trip to France to take part in a series of events on free speech.
Tribute to slain colleagues
Miroslava Breach, a correspondent for Mexican daily La Jornada in the state of Chihuahua, on the US border, was a celebrated investigative journalist known for hard-hitting reports on links between politicians and organized crime.
She was shot dead in broad daylight on March 23, 2017 as she drove her son to school.
Javier Valdez, a long-time AFP collaborator, was gunned down on May 15, 2017 outside the offices of Riodoce, the newspaper he co-founded in Culiacan, the capital of his native Sinaloa state.
An award-winning journalist, he was known for his in-depth knowledge of the dirty workings of power in a state where Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, now imprisoned in the United States, once reigned.
Investigators believe Valdez was murdered for his investigative reporting on drug trafficking, Mexico’s national security commissioner said last month after a suspect was arrested in the high-profile case.