Earlier this month, seven police and four gunmen were killed during an operation near a tourist site known as El Fuerte in Culiacán, Sinaloa. On July 22, five men were killed and three more wounded in the same area.
It was just another bloody week for this isolated state where the Mexican drug industry was born. Sinaloa is where marijuana has been grown and exported since at least the 1940s, where the first Mexican drug cartel bearing the same name was born – and now where the head of that cartel, Joaquin "el Chapo" Guzman, the world's most wanted drug lord, is believed to be hiding among supportive neighbors. Sinaloa is also a state that is under siege, as Sinaloa's main rivals, the Zetas, have begun to invade. The violence in Sinaloa, always bad, is getting worse: There are an average of a hundred homicides a month.
Most of these murders go unpunished, and unreported in the major media. Telling the truth about the violence in Sinaloa is an especially dangerous profession. Even within Mexico, a country that now bears the ignominious title of being one of the most dangerous in the Americas for journalists, Sinaloa is among the worst, a black hole where few bother to try and describe what is happening.
In a country where the media is often accused of being bought and sold by political parties, or cowed by criminals, Valdez is a rare breed: a dedicated reporter working for an independent outlet who spends most of his time reporting and investigating drug trafficking and organized crime. Unassuming in person, he is nonetheless considered by his journalism colleagues to be among the bravest of the brave in Mexico.
When asked how he deals with the stress of reporting such a dangerous issue in a city where life has little value, Javier confesses to finding solace in the cantinas dotted around the urban sprawl. He tries not to be seen in public too often with his children, but he continues asking questions.
"What do we do to live amongst so much violence and impunity?" says Javier. "I think here, to live is a form of death."