Remembering José Armando

By | February 12, 2015 at 9:56 am | No comments | Blog | Tags: , , ,

On the morning of November 13,  2008, as he prepared to drive his young daughter to school, the journalist José Armando Rodríguez Carreón  was gunned down in front of his home in Ciudad Juárez. He was one of eight Mexican journalists killed in 2008. In this post PEN Canada Writer-in-exile Luis Najera, José Armando’s colleague at the newspaper El Diario de Ciudad Juárez, remembers what it was like to work with “El Choco.” 

Se echaron al choco (el choco was taken down)

I woke up on November 13, 2008, already knowing it would be a long and stressful day, but I had no idea of how sad it would turn out to be.

It was a typical Vancouver morning—cloudy, humid, cold—as I set off early for an appointment with an immigration consultant who was helping my family prepare our refugee claim in Canada. We’d arrived two months earlier, fleeing death threats I’d received because of my work as a journalist in Ciudad Juárez, then the epicentre of Mexico’s ‘war on drugs’. I began to review documents, and check my email for additional information. As I was did so, a message popped up on the screen. It was from a fellow Juárez journalist, a friend and colleague, and its shocking subject line said: ‘se echaron al choco’ (el choco was taken down).

Paraphrasing Dickens, our time together was “the best of times and the worst of times.”

José Armando Rodríguez Carreón was called “el choco” because of his dark skin, but sometimes we joked that it was a good nickname because, like chocolate, Armando was always so full of energy. His vitality emerged from an active lifestyle which included martial arts, mountain cycling, and a passion for journalism. As a reader, you could feel the energy in his articles in ‘El Diario de Juárez’; indeed, Armando was a proactive reporter who typically worked more than 12 hours a day, chasing leads, asking the right and often uncomfortable questions, checking facts, meeting with sources to produce articles that exposed police corruption, unveiled criminal schemes, or gave voice to those affected by tragedy or injustice.

I met him in the early 90s while he was working as a cameraman. At the time, he and my coworker Blanca Alicia Martínez were dating; months later, they got engaged and married. Blanca, a small, shy, deep-voiced woman, was the perfect complement to Armando’s endless energy.

I worked with Armando for two years. Paraphrasing Dickens, our time together was “the best of times and the worst of times.” We were young journalists reporting on the surge of disappearances, rapes and murders of young females, now known worldwide as the Juárez ‘femicides’. These were dark days. On almost a daily basis we covered gruesome scenes of brutality, reported on crimes that were carried out with rampant impunity, and met with families devastated by the loss of a loved one. In those hectic and sometimes chaotic days, however, it was precisely Armando’s personal energy what made the difference in the newsroom. He lifted us with his positive attitude, inspired us to keep going, despite the challenges and perils of reporting on an active serial killer and widespread organized crime in our own city.

Despite his exhaustion, Armando’s commitment to journalism never faltered, he carried on with his brave investigations, exposing drug cartels, their operations at the border, and their criminal networks.

Perhaps because he was training in martial arts at the time, Armando used to pace around the newsroom barefoot, performing some sort of writing ritual that frequently was accompanied by jokes and smiles that broke the solemnity of the moment, boosting our own energy to continue working, one day at the time, one smile at a time.  

In 2008, Ciudad Juárez was a war zone. People were murdered by the dozens every day despite convoys of soldiers and law enforcement agents patrolling the city. Organized crime groups and corrupt authorities merged, creating an amorphous monster that covered the city in blood. Slowly this began to drain Armando’s energy. Just days before I fled with my family, I saw him at a press conference; he looked utterly exhausted. We didn’t speak, but I distinctly recall the way he left the room, walking so slowly that he was almost dragging his feet.

Despite his exhaustion, Armando’s commitment to journalism never faltered, he carried on with his brave investigations, exposing drug cartels, their operations at the border, and their criminal networks. In one of his last pieces, Armando revealed the alleged nexus between the family of the then-state general attorney and a transnational organized crime group. Apparently, this was the final straw for those who ordered his murder.

Armando’s assassination affected more than his family and friends. It stunned a whole generation of journalists who had met or worked with him, as well as  the city he lived in and wrote so passionately about. Indeed, all of us who knew Armando still miss his wonderful energy to this day.

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