Mexico, Brazil and Puerto Rico take home 2019 ‘Javier Valdez’ Latin American awards for investigative journalism

One of the biggest celebrations and recognitions of the best of investigative journalism in Latin America took place in the capital city of Mexico in November of this year.

The 2019 edition of the ‘Javier Valdez’ Latin American Prize for Investigative Journalism recognized journalists from Quinto Elemento Lab (Mexico), Globo TV (Brazil) and the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) of Puerto Rico, for excellence in journalism.

The award was given in the framework of the Latin American Conference of Investigative Journalism (Colpin, for its initials in Spanish) 2019, organized annually for 18 years by the Press and Society Institute (IPYS) of Peru along with Transparency International, in alliance with other institutions and organizations of the host country.

The Mexican Institute of Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (INAI) and freedom of expression organization Article 19 Mexico participated in this edition. The conference took place in Mexico City from Nov. 7 to 10 at the INAI headquarters.

The first place winner of the “Javier Valdez” awards was Mexican journalistic organization Quinto Elemento Lab, for its report “El país de las dos mil fosas” (The country of two thousand graves).

This investigation revealed the discovery of two thousand illegal burials in 24 of the 31 states of Mexico, during the government's war on drug trafficking (2006 and 2016). A group of 20 people, including journalists, programmers and visual artists worked on the investigation under the coordination of Marcela Turati, Mago Torres and Alejandra Guillén. According to Quinto Elemento Lab, during the realization of this report a new pit was located on average every two days.

The second place of the “Javier Valdez” prize was a tie among two works in the same media outlet, TV Globo of Brasil, for the journalistic works: “Exposing Joao de Deus: the international healer who deceived the world), by Camila Appel and Pedro Bial; and “The other side of Joao de Deus", by James Alberti and Maurício Ferraz, Evandro Siqueira, Wagner Suzuki and Guga Pacheco.

Both reports inquire into the life of the healer Joao de Deus, who in previous decades was linked with philanthropic practices, according to IPYS, and is now accused of being a rapist, murderer and being involved in drug trafficking and illegal mining. After the publication of the reports, the healer was imprisoned and faces trials for various crimes.

Third place was awarded to the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) of Puerto Rico, for its report "Los Rickyleaks." In this series of journalistic reports, CPI published the leak of a Telegram chat of then-governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló.

In this chat, Rosselló had conversations with his allies and government officials that revealed an alleged network of trafficking in influences and conflicts of interest within the government. After this report, Puerto Ricans went out to the streets to protest and Rosselló was forced to resign.

The awards are named for Javier Valdez, a renowned Mexican journalist who reported thoroughly on drug trafficking in the region and who was shot and killed in Sinaloa on May 15, 2017.

The jury of the awards was made up of Lise Olsen (USA), Giannina Segnini (Costa Rica), Ewald Scharfenberg (Venezuela), Fernando Rodrigues (Brazil) and Santiago O'Donnell (Argentina). Within the finalists, they also selected 12 investigative works that received honorable mention. They included:

  • Nicaragua – “Laureano Ortega y el millonario negocio de la ópera” (Laureano Ortega and the millionaire opera business) from Artículo 66.
  • Cuba – “El programa Mais Médicos” (The program Mais Médicos), from Diario de Cuba.
  • Venezuela – “La fuga del oro venezolano” (The flight of Venezuelan gold), from Runrunes.
  • Ecuador – “La receta del arroz verde” (The recipe of green rice), from MilHojas.
  • Uruguay – “Los archivos del lavado” (The washing archives), from Sudestada.
  • Colombia – “Operación silencio” (Operation silence), from Semana.
  • Mexico – “Operación Safiro” (Operation Sapphire), from Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad (MCCI) and newspaper Reforma.
  • Bolivia – “Viaje al mercado negro del jaguar” (Journey to the black market of the jaguar), from RAI-MongabayLatam.
  • Dominican Republic – “Tráfico impune” (Unpunished Traffic), from Diario Libre.
  • Guatemala – “Las Olimpiadas de la corrupción” (The Olympics of Corruption), from No-Ficción.
  • Panamá – “El caso Pandeportes” (The case of Pandeportes), from La Prensa.
  • Brasil – “La tierra de los ahorcados” (The land of the hanged men), from Veja.

More than 190 works from 16 countries applied for the awards. The winners receive US $25,000 thanks to the sponsorship of the Organization of American States (OAS).

During the Latin American Conference of Investigative Journalism (Colpin) of 2019, Ismael Bojorquez, director of RioDoce, gave a meaningful speech to Javier Valdez, in front of the journalist's wife, Griselda Triana, who could not hold back tears.

"And I wanted to tell Javier that this country that he left us two and a half years ago is even worse," Bojorquez said. "And tell Javier, ‘There’s no way!’ as he said. The city [Culiacán] is worse now, but also to tell Javier that what he did committed us all, us and you too. (…) He committed all of us who believe that with this great job, and beautiful job, things can still be changed.”

At the close of the conference, IPYS, INAI and Article 19 Mexico established an alliance to continue promoting investigative journalism in Latin America.