< Borderline Entertainment


Friday, July 07, 2006

BOB GARFIELD: In the three years since that piece first aired, the killings have continued, and so has the danger for journalists covering the story. But when it comes to entertainment, the tragedy in Juarez has provided fodder for songs, plays, telenovelas and made-for-TV movies. Tinseltown, however, has never shown much interest, until now. In two films slated for release this year, Minnie Driver and J-Lo tackle the case. Both play journalists, and at least one real journalist is concerned that the Hollywood treatment might actually do more harm than good. Diana Washington Valdez, whose voice we heard in the previous piece, is an El Paso Times reporter who worked the Juarez beat for almost 12 years. Diana, welcome to the show.


BOB GARFIELD: After all these years and all these deaths, it would seem that reporters covering this story would be delighted that the attention of Hollywood and the world were to be focused on this case. But you're not so thrilled, necessarily, are you?

DIANA WASHINGTON VALDEZ: Hollywood, there's no question about it, has a lot of impact. And what some of us fear is that the viewers will go away with the wrong impression as to what was behind these murders. They will go away with the idea that the bus drivers did it. They were killing the women all these years, which is the official line. And so what could happen is that the truth will get lost in all this.

BOB GARFIELD: Now, you mentioned the bus drivers. Please describe that theory of the case and where it stands now.

DIANA WASHINGTON VALDEZ: Yes. The authorities have charged two sets of bus drivers in connection with some of these multiple homicides, and in both cases there's been no scientific proof linking the bus drivers to these crimes. They were fabricated, scapegoats, and a couple of them, in fact, have been released. And the real killers have not been brought to justice.

BOB GARFIELD: Now, you have a theory based on your extensive reporting over these past 13 years. Describe for me, please, what you believe has taken place.

DIANA WASHINGTON VALDEZ: There are several sets of killers that explain these murders - two or more serial killers that have killed in the community and are still loose, low-level drug dealers that have killed and have gotten away with murder, two violent gangs that have killed women as a way of initiating their members, a group of powerful men that have killed with impunity, and your copycats that are taking advantage of these scenarios to hide their own crimes. None of them are in jail. None of them have been prosecuted or apprehended. And what's more, the Mexican authorities know and have known all this time who's behind the murders, and instead of going after them, they've protected them.

BOB GARFIELD: Now, I've read of silver or lead threats made against Mexican journalists; that is to say, you can take money and be bribed off the story or we'll take care of it for you with violence. Have you had any silver or lead threats yourself?

DIANA WASHINGTON VALDEZ: I haven't gone there in about a year and a half. The most important threats, the ones that I responded to, were delivered to me personally in El Paso by someone conveying a message from police who were linked with the drug cartels. And basically the message was that if I ever went back to see Ciudad Juarez, they had something prepared for me. I know when to stop, and I knew that they would come.

BOB GARFIELD: Let's get back to these new movies. Tell me about the two major films and where you believe they go wrong.

DIANA WASHINGTON VALDEZ: Well, what I know of the Minnie Driver movie is that basically it has a supernatural element to it that, I think, totally detracts from any kind of reality about the issue. I understand one of the central figures develops stigmata. What is that going to do? Turn this whole thing into a myth again, which is exactly what the authorities want. In the case of the Jennifer Lopez movie, Amnesty International representatives and others who have seen the script have told me that it just concludes that the bus drivers were behind these murders, which again is the official line. We don't make any progress, and a lot more people are going to go away with the wrong impression.

BOB GARFIELD: You know, in the best of all worlds, Hollywood focuses on this, which puts pressure on the Mexican government to get serious about the investigation with the eyes of the world upon it. Could that happen?

DIANA WASHINGTON VALDEZ: Yes, because there is no question that these movies will raise the visibility of this issue on such a level that it will be very difficult for the governments to ignore, and also, people out there will then be wanting to know, at least some of them, well, then, this was Hollywood, this was the movie depiction – what is the real story here? Bringing attention to the issue is one thing. Forcing change is another. Or I think what needs to happen is this issue needs to be taken out of the hands of the Mexican government and the whole thing needs to be taken before an international tribunal, and the international tribunal should be trying the presidents and the governors who were in power when these crimes occurred for failing to prosecute the killers and for failing to deliver justice.

BOB GARFIELD: Okay, Diana. Well, thank you very much.


BOB GARFIELD: Diana Washington Valdez is a reporter for the El Paso Times and author of Harvest of the Women, which will be released in English this summer. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]