Remembering Alfredo Quijano

ICIJ's Alfredo Quijano, who chronicled crime and corruption on the US-Mexico border, died of a stroke last weekend. He is remembered by his colleague Alfredo Corchado.

I knew Alfredo Quijano for more than 25 years, and few journalists have taught me more.

 We covered stories from Mexico’s political transition to the rights of Mexican immigrants crossing into Texas, and obviously, Mexico’s drug violence. It was during this period that I really got to know him on a more personal level. I admired his quiet dignity, unassuming ways and dedication to the profession, especially during one of the most difficult times for anyone living on the border.

For two decades, Quijano led the newspaper Norte de Ciudad Juarez’ coverage of crimes, leading investigations on border security, drug trafficking, political corruption and asking the question: who is killing hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez? As he guided coverage in Juarez, he often set the example for American journalists like me.

Often times he’d walk across the border into El Paso and we’d meet to discuss the situation in Juarez. He wasn’t just necessarily concerned for his safety, or worried about the latest threat against any of his reporters, or that his newspaper would force him to embrace censorship, something other newspapers across the country were doing. He simply wanted to sit down for a beer, relax and not worry about looking over his shoulder. He simply wanted to have a quiet moment to clear his head, focus on the imminent dangers, the fate of his reporters and make the right decisions.

We’d sit for hours and he’d take my notepad and sketch out the latest theory that I’d had developed and proceeded to play devil’s advocate, subtly forcing me to think of this, or that.

Once, I investigated a story about a group called La Linea, armed enforcers for the Juarez Cartel. I asked Quijano, or “Tocayo,” as we called each other, over the phone about it. He responded that he really could use a beer on the U.S. side, code word for “you’re on to something but not here.”

We met and I talked endlessly about my reporting. He had the same expression the whole time, a calm demeanor, pride in his eyes, quiet adrenaline. He finally said, “I see you’re doing your work,” and proceeded to fill in the gaps.

He was generous in that way, constantly thinking about the story and not necessarily who got the credit. I once asked him about that and he said it was more important to get the story out, only then could a society in the throes of democracy have the necessary information to move forward, make correct decisions. Plus, he added, “If we write that, they might burn the building down and no one will get any information.”  

Norte would run our stories. When one of those stories came out a man drove up to his office and left a box with the names of more people. Quijano called and joked that we were getting closer, perhaps too close, he said. Slow down.

I got the news last Saturday and sat down and cried. We never said goodbye, but his legacy will stay with me forever.

 

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