Gatopardo interviews Lydia Cacho about The Red Note podcast

Lydia Cacho, the host and executive producer of The Red Note podcast, sat down with Mexico's Gatopardo Magazine last week to talk about the investigative journalism of the project's production team and its plan to continue their work with the forthcoming release of the documentary, Flowers of the Desert: Stories From The Red Note.

A complete English translation of Lydia's interview with Gatopardo is posted below.

You can also read the article in its original Spanish by visiting Gatopardo's website: La nota roja: El podcast sobre los feminicidios de Ciudad Juárez

The Red Note: The podcast about the femicides of Ciudad Juárez

Jimena Loreto Salcido / Revista Gatopardo

A series of ten episodes takes up the story of the disappearances of women who struck, starting in the 1990s, the Chihuahua border with the United States. 27 years away, the dead in Ciudad Juárez are not forgotten.

In 1993, in Ciudad Juárez, women began to disappear. Almost 30 years and hundreds of murders later, the silence and impunity surrounding these cases persists. Lydia Cacho Ribeiro was one of the first journalists to report the violence that was taking place there in northern Mexico. Today, in addition to being a social activist and writer, she is a specialist in research on gender violence, health, childhood and organized crime. In her most recent project, The Red Note, a podcast launched in September 2020 by Imperative Entertainment, she examines the history of the femicides that occurred in Ciudad Juárez, this city that, between 2008 and 2012, was considered the most dangerous place in the world and, at its worst in 2010, it recorded more than 3,000 murders. With the journalist in charge of the narration, each chapter tells the stories of women and girls who disappeared in those years, along with the voices of experts, researchers and journalists. They record powerful testimonies such as that of Norma Andrade, who in 2001 tried to get the authorities to help her locate her daughter, Lilia Alejandra, during the week she was missing: “The authorities don't know anything, we know what her body screamed, because of the evidence and autopsy, with everything and all the legwork we did, but what really happened? We do not know." Since its premiere, The Red Note has received multiple accolades. In La Nación in Paraguay it was named one of the six best podcasts in Spanish of the year on Spotify; Le Chat Magazine named it their # 2 podcast of 2020 and Podcasts en Español has also ranked it one of the best. In terms of recognitions, the iHeart Radio Podcast Awards, one of the most important podcast awards in the United States, nominated The Red Note as the best podcast in Spanish of 2020. This project, consisting of ten episodes, as well as its version in English, they were written and directed by Craig Whitney, along with Jason Hoch and Lydia Cacho as executive producers, Estefania Bonilla Hernandez as the lead producer, and producers Will Wallace and Laura Caufield. Bonilla was the one who sought out the journalist to participate as a narrator and quality-fact checker. She relied on notes and interviews that she had kept since 1993 to review the scripts and correct false or wrong information; then it was Whitney who invited her to be a co-writer and co-producer, a job of total immersion.

In the nineties, Cacho was working in the magazine Por Esto, from Quintana Roo, and in the radio program These Women in Cancun, a space where she began to speak about the disappearances and murders of women. Later, she began writing for Fem magazine and worked in the UN area now known as UN Women, training journalists from other countries to report and write with a gender perspective. In an interview with Gatopardo, she explains that “femicide and the disappearances of girls and women have always existed and it is essential to understand when it went from being a phenomenon of individual crimes to a systematized criminal practice with a particular focus on race, age, typology and gender; you cannot deactivate a phenomenon that you do not fully understand. This podcast contributes precisely to looking at the complete map and discovering how to defuse that time bomb in other places." The bomb she refers to the elements that make up the criminal phenomenon and indicates that it goes from misogynistic cultural and psycho-emotional motivations, to how police and judicial processes manufacture and perfect impunity. That is, although in Mexico ten femicides are reported daily, this is not an exclusive reality to the country but a global problem; For this reason, the podcast was published in English and Spanish, something important for Whitney who grew up in El Paso, Texas, and followed the increase in binational violence with fear. The director was also very interested in the yellow journalism, of "red note" or bloody. He began to make a kind of collection of some cases on the border and from there the name for the project was born. The team, despite being small, is made up of experts such as reporter Alicia Fernández, field liaison, Héctor Zubieta, production supervisor, Javier Umpierrez, sound designer, and Craig and Estefanía. “In Mexico there are reports and series that are easy to do since they simply document massacres or the actions of organized crime; But it is already complicated, and it is truly dangerous, when you investigate with a contrast methodology and go to all the original sources to unravel the fine fabric of people and institutions that make up the narco-state, and we did that,” says Cacho. She adds that this is not a podcast made from the comfort of a desk, but a true crime documentary series with data that would fit in three journalism books. In the first episode you can hear the attack with firearms that the team experienced when they were conducting interviews at the Municipal Institute of Women, in the center of Juárez. Verónica Corchado, director of the Institute, believed that the attack was due to members of organized crime in search of one of their partners who fled the violence, "attacks by the way very common in shelters in Mexico," says Cacho. On the other hand, the team thought that it could be the interviews with witnesses and experts that showed the involvement of the police in current and past crimes. The executive producer, Estefanía Bonilla, in an interview with Animal Político, stated: "The only thing I could say is that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time." Now, the team behind the podcast is working on a documentary, scheduled to be released in 2021 that, according to Cacho, combines the best of journalistic narrative with cinematographic, Flowers of the Desert: Stories from the Red Note. “Latin America has become the cradle of the best documentaries, as it was with the journalistic chronicle decades ago. Drinking from investigative journalism is essential to avoid fiction as many platform documentaries do now, because they are written by screenwriters who have never been on the battlefield and producers who consider their audience to be a bit of an idiot." She assures us that the documentary will answer the question that everyone asks: how is impunity built and maintained and why are families that lose their daughters so brave to do what the state is incapable of doing? "It is a historical documentary, not a bunch of infamies that leave the audience in anguish." The Red Note is a powerful symbol of how the United States and Mexico can come together to tell a shared story and build bridges over the cultural walls that could divide us. Cacho affirms that it will be impossible to eradicate feminicidal violence if we are not able to educate ourselves about the origin of misogynistic oppressions, the advances for the equality and freedom of women and the various wars that have been gestated so that the patriarchal oppression that remains it is based on politics and laws. In an interview for KBCS 91.3 FM's “The Morning Blend,” director Craig Whitney said that femicides in Juárez cannot be approached from the perspective of “who was it?” Since there are multiple factors that have allowed these crimes to occur. Cacho explains that no criminal phenomenon can, nor should, be approached from the simplification of a single social actor. She explains: “It is enough to see the current release of General Cienfuegos accused of his links with organized crime. People are furious because the impunity that the president of Mexico has granted them is equivalent to having released Chapo Guzmán with honors, but the important thing is to understand how all this network of ties and interests works so that they have freed him like this." And she emphasizes that that is why journalistic work is so important, "we put all the pieces of the puzzle on the screen for you to look at and say eureka!"

"There is no step back that stops the work of people, from all areas, who fight for equity to be a concrete fact and injustice ceases to be the norm to become the exception." The Red Note allows “to build the necessary arguments to fight against the destruction of legality and the potential construction of a better society. Giving up is not an option”, she concludes.