Courageous Mexican Journalist to Receive the Daniel Pearl Award
This year’s winner of the Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism is Mexico’s Sandra Rodríguez Nieto. She has worked for El Diario de Juárez from 2003 to 2012 where she has courageously written about local government corruption and the failures in the judicial system. She has also written about immigration issues as well as the military deployment that turned Juarez into one of the most dangerous cities on earth. She has focused on how a lack of education and jobs drives thousands of young people into the brutal world of crime and drugs. Her reporting has revealed the organizational structure of competing drug cartels and their ability to evade law enforcement. She continually reports on the composition of warring gangs fighting for control of Juárez and how the alleged leaders have been out of reach of the authorities. She has also shed light on how various properties of these alleged drug kingpins remain uninvestigated.
Among Rodríguez’s various efforts exposing the horror Mexican citizens endure, she has created databases to analyze the murders in Juárez. She found that most of the victims were teens and young people from the poorest neighborhoods and not drug cartel members as officials claimed. Her analysis proved that 98 percent of the victims were unarmed and 97 percent of the killings remain unsolved.
Mexican journalists are especially exposed as deadly attacks against them has become commonplace. The organization Article 19 estimates that 66 reporters have been murdered in Mexico, nine of them in the past 18 months. Since 2008, more than 10,000 people have been assassinated in Juárez alone. In the vast majority of cases the perpetrators have not been arrested. Two of her colleagues at El Diario – the reporter Armando Rodríguez, in 2008, and the photographer Luís Carlos Santiago, in 2010 – became victims of the murderous criminality.
Her fearless pursuit of the truth has placed her in harm’s way on a daily basis. Rodríguez is haunted by visions of her own death: “The most recent occasion when I had the vision of my body, shot and left lying on the ground… I was in Islas Carolinas Street, one of the poorest areas of Juárez, in the western part of the city. As we walked between the dust and the stones…where many others had perished, I saw myself among them.”
In 2010, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo presented her with the Reporteros Del Mundo award for her outstanding work covering a conflict zone. That same year, she made the Los Angeles Times’ Media Hero list for reporting in one of the most dangerous cities on earth.
Rodríguez studied communication science at the Autonomous University of Chihuahua in Juárez and holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas at El Paso. She is co-author of “La Guerra por Juárez” (The War for Juarez, Temas de Hoy, 2009) and author of “La Fábrica del Crimen” (The Crime Factory, Temas de hoy, 2012). Her work in Juarez has been recognized with the Reporteros del Mundo Award (in Spain, 2010); with the Knight International Journalism Award in 2011 and with the John Peter and Anna Catherine Zenger Award in 2012. She has also written for Reforma and La Jornada newspapers, Proceso magazine, New Internationalist Magazine and The Investigative Reporters and Editors Journal. She is currently collaborating with SinEmbargo.mx, a news reporting and opinion website in Mexico City.