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April 5, 2011

Journalist who left Ciudad Juarez after death threats
speaks of his family's life in Vancouver, Canada,
where he works as a janitor to make ends meet

By David Gaddis Smith

Exiled Mexican crime reporter Luis Nájera began his speech in San Diego on Tuesday by talking about three journalists he had closely worked with, all of joelsimon cynthiacardenas luisnajerawhom have been slain. They were editor Roberto Mora, who was his editor at El Diario de Monterrey; Armando Rodríguez, whom he worked with in the 1990s while investigating the first of a wave of deaths of women in Ciudad Juárez; and Enrique Perea, with whom Nájera (far right in photo) also worked in Juárez.

 

freedom of expression logoJoel Simon (left), Cynthia Cárdenas and   
 Luis Nájera spoke Tuesday in San Diego  

After the then-Grupo Reforma journalist was told that he was on a drug traffickers' list of journalists, and that two on the list had been killed, Nájera and his wife decided to flee to Vancouver, British Columbia, with their three children 2 1/2 years ago. There, making a living has been anything but easy. "I am a refugee," he said in his speech at the Institute of the Americas forum on Freedom of Expression (whose logo showing print media in handcuffs is at left). Nájera also said, "On Friday, I was on my knees, cleaning bathrooms in Canada."

He said, "People like me have had to abandon everything because of threats." He said his family left Canada with five changes of clothing, three suitcases and "a lot of fear."

Last year, he was granted refugee status. He said his experiences in Canada include: "Fourteen months unemployed, receiving aid from the government and the church to be able to eat and pay the rent, waiting for hours in freezing temperatures holding the hand of my 3-year-old-girl to enter the soup kitchen ... filling out forms and more forms from 10 in the morning until 11 at night, with my hungry family waiting for me, and upon leaving the office only being able to buy a dinner we had to divide up because we only had $20 in the most expensive city in the country."

He also said, "A month ago, my wife's father died suddenly, and because of our refugee status it was impossible to return to Mexico, so that my wife, the only daughter in her family, could not console mother at the moment both needed each other the most."

Nájera said his wife, trained to work in human relations, has been working as a house cleaner, helping supplement his janitorial work.

Nájera was thankful to see Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, who helped him out in his time of need. Simon regretted that the organization was not able to provide financial support to "help Luis create a new life in exile," saying the organization's resources must be spent to help journalists at times of emergency when they are in imminent danger, "like when we were able to help Luis."

Cynthia Cárdenas, legal adviser in Mexico for the Article 19 Global Campaign for Free Expression, said her organization has helped some journalists who are feeling the heat to get funding to take coursework in Mexico City, which she said was the safest place in the country for journalists, until matters cooled down. She and others said the government needs to do a much better job of protecting journalists.

In 2010, Nájera received the International Press Freedom award from Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.
November 2010 story about him in TheTyee.
2009 story about him in the Toronto Star.

Frontera's stories about Tuesday's conference and this week's Inter-American Press Association conference in San Diego