Reporters Without Borders

Death of a journalist who combined professionalism with strong humanistic convictions

Death of a journalist who combined professionalism with strong humanistic convictions

Published on Thursday 3 September 2009.
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Journalists in Spain, France, Latin America and elsewhere are mourning the death of a colleague who paid for his dedication with his life. Franco-Spanish documentary filmmaker Christian Poveda was shot dead early yesterday in El Salvador, where he had for some time been covering the extremely violent gangs known in Central America as “maras,” which have killed other journalists in the past. His film on the maras, “La Vida Loca,” (Trailer: http://www.lafemme-endormie.com/vid...) is to be premiered in France on 30 September.

Fellow journalist Alain Mingam, a member of the Reporters Without Borders board, said this about his close friend today:

“Christian was the son of Spanish Republicans who sought refuge in France. It was from his origins that he derived the strong humanist convictions to which he always remained faithful. He was a reporter in Chile, under the Pinochet dictatorship, in Nicaragua and El Salvador. He was very committed and involved in his subjects without taking sides. His humanistic convictions went hand in hand with a great deal of professional rigour.

“He had an original approach and an incredible ability to penetrate the worlds he was filming, whether AIDS or anti-fascism in France or the Salvadorean maras. For him, the way a film was edited was more important that any comments you made. This was how he restored humanity to people like the ‘mareros’ regardless of how monstrous their actions were. Christian’s personal involvement in his subject even resulted in his being approached by gangs who saw him as a possible mediator.”

Poveda’s name must nonetheless now be added to the long list of victims of violence between the two main mara groups, “Mara 18” and “Mara Salvatrucha,” which is estimated to have cost 3,700 lives last year.

Aged 54, Poveda was found dead near his car on the road from Apopa to Tonacatepeque, in Rosario, a rural area just to the north of the capital, San Salvador. He had been shot in the head. Police said he was on his way from filming in La Campanera, just to the east of the capital.

A life of danger

Christian Gregorio Poveda Ruiz was born in France on 12 January 1955. He established his reputation as a photo-journalist with a report about the Polisario Front’s war in Western Sahara. Many more reports followed, as well as documentaries that were screened in festivals and broadcast by TV stations.

He began going to El Salvador for the first time in the 1980s to cover the 1980-92 civil war, as a photographer for Time magazine as a correspondent for French news media and international news agencies. He returned to El Salvador in the 1990s, this time covering the armed gang phenomenon. He also covered wars in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.

La Vida Loca

Poveda spent 16 months with the gangs in the east San Salvador of La Campanera in order to make La Vida Loca, which was broadcast for the first time in 2008 and focuses on “Mara 18.” Its images are crude and disturbing – gang members gunned down in the street, the corpses of teenagers, relatives weeping over coffins, young women with their faces covered with tattoos.

According to the local media, Poveda witnessed seven murders in the course of making the film. Three of the seven victims were people who figure prominently in the documentary. Other Mara 18 members who appear in the film were arrested while it was being made.

La Vida Loca also takes a critical look at the strong-arm methods used by the police against the young gang members. While recognising that they sow terror, it portrays gang-members as victims of broken homes who nonetheless fascinate. It also tries to show how young Salvadoreans are pushed into crime by social and economic conditions which, in his view, are too often ignored.

“We must try to understand why a child of 12 or 13 joins a gang and gives his life for it,” Poveda said in an interview for the Salvadorean online daily El Faro. Already broadcast in Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Germany and Hungary, La Vida Loca has never been screened in El Salvador.

(Photo of Christian Poveda: AFP)

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