Monitoring press freedom and international affairs from Mid-Missouri Public Radio and the Missouri School of Journalism

Project Exile: Corruption coverage causes Mexican reporter's flight

8 April 2016

"Never did I imagine that all the darkness in my life would transform into light."

Héctor Salazar had worked in various Mexican government communications jobs for years before he decided to follow his heart into journalism. In 2003, he began writing for the newspaper El Nivel in his home state of Morelos in central Mexico.

He wrote weekly political articles that sometimes touched on controversial themes, such as cronyism in government hiring and the influence of money from drug cartels on political campaigns. That led to a series of threats. In one incident, shots were fired at his mother's home. In another, he was briefly kidnapped.

Hector Sálazar (courtesy)

Hector Sálazar (courtesy)

Fearful for his safety, he left his hometown of Yautepec and came to the United States in 2007, where he stayed illegally in Denver after his visa expired. After a year in the U.S., he was detained during a traffic stop and spent 15 days in prison and was put in the process for deportation.

With the help of a Colorado immigration lawyer, he challenged his deportation in immigration court and eventually won asylum in the U.S. Now 49, he lives in Denver and is a talk radio host on a Spanish-language AM radio station.

Salazar spoke with Global Journalist's Dorothy Sedovic about being chased out of Mexico for his reporting and his struggles to establish himself in the United States.

Global Journalist: What sorts of articles got you in trouble in Morelos?

Salazar: For example, I talked about the fact that people weren't being promoted legally in government. Officials would help their colleagues and give them jobs. They practically sold jobs, accepting money in return of positions. I wrote about suspected illegal money used for campaigns and by the local government. Money given by drug-traffickers and criminals. There was an internal election in 2005 by the [left-wing] Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in Morelos that was corrupt and completely fraudulent. So I reported on it in newspaper articles and on television.

GJ: Tell us about one of the threats that you received.

Salazar: One day, the editor came to me and told me that a card arrived with a return address of someone I knew. This person had sent me a threatening letter. It was psychopathic, the kind of letter that I have only seen in movies. It was a horrible thing, with cutout pictures of naked women and words saying it was my mother. I never thought I would see this.

GJ: How did you get established in the United States?

Salazar: In December of 2007, I made the decision to come to Denver...I regularly come because I have family in Denver. I normally come for 15 days but on the last day I made the decision to stay for three months until things calmed down. But I kept writing my articles.

[As the drug war escalated] the situation in Mexico changed drastically...When it came to the decision to return, I began to see all the disappearances of journalists and all the violence in Mexico....I began to analyze the situation and weigh the risks if I returned. In 2008, I began to look for press jobs [in the U.S.] but did not get any. But I always walked around with my resume beneath my arm. If I saw a newspaper office I would park and go in.

...So I had to work like many immigrants do, working multiple jobs to sustain myself. These included handing out flyers and cleaning windows. I had brought my family with me so I worked to support my wife and my daughter.

Then in October 2008, someone from 1150 AM came to talk to me. They wanted to propose something for me. So I went and saw them and their offer was simple...I wanted to return to media and radio was always a passion of mine as a student.

GJ: You were detained by police in the U.S. after a traffic stop and jailed pending deportation hearings. How did you end up winning asylum?

Salazar: An immigration lawyer named Shawn Meade told me: 'Look Hector, you don't have much chance of staying in the United States. You have only been here for a year and you do not have any children born here nor a wife who is a citizen. You have nothing Hector."

And one morning he asked me why I left and I told him my story...he was surprised and asked me if I could prove it.

I never would have thought that all these instances would serve to help me gain political asylum. I could prove it all and I brought out my articles, and threatening letters and the card [with the cut out pictures].

My final court date was December 21, 2011. It took four hours. The judge read the final verdict, saying that because of my story and all the proof I was to be given political asylum. Never did I imagine that all the darkness in my life would transform into light.


Monitoring press freedom and international affairs from Mid-Missouri Public Radio and the Missouri School of Journalism.
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