REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY — Miguel Angel Granados Chapa, an award-winning Mexican journalist who spent decades trying to push his homeland toward greater freedom of expression and democracy, has died. He was 70.
Granados Chapa died Sunday afternoon, according to the daily newspaper Reforma,which had run his well-read Plaza Publica column since the early 1990s. Granados Chapa was reported to have been diagnosed with cancer several years ago. Reforma suspended the Plaza Publica column intermittently in recent months because of his declining health.
On Friday, after a journalistic career that spanned more than 40 years, Granados Chapa bade farewell to readers of his column. “This is the last time we meet,” he wrote. “With this conviction, I say goodbye.”
Granados Chapa, who employed an erudite writing style and an ethicist’s eye to skewer the petty motivations of Mexican presidents and lesser politicians, was among the country’s most-respected journalists. He won the national journalism prize three times and in 2008 was awarded the coveted Belisario Dominguez Medal, granted to Mexicans who have achieved eminence in their fields.
Granados Chapa’s long journalistic career paralleled — and may have helped spur — Mexico’s shift from one-party authoritarianism to a developing, if imperfect, democracy. He portrayed his professional work as a struggle to make Mexico’s opaque system more transparent, and described his Plaza Publica column as kind of civic meeting place. “Like what happens in the Zocalo,” he once said, referring to Mexico’s City’s main square.
Granados Chapa, who was also trained as a lawyer, watched Mexican journalism grow freer of government control over the years, but lamented what he called its sensationalism and tendency to cover issues superficially. He has spoken out in recent years as attacks on Mexican reporters have risen amid soaring drug-related violence.
Though also a radio commentator, Granados Chapa was best known for his work as a print journalist, with stints at many of the country’s main newspapers, including Excelsior, Unomasuno, La Jornada and El Financiero, and the muck-raking Proceso magazine.
In the 1990s, he served as a citizen member of the federal election commission that won credit at the time for helping usher in free elections that would result in the fall of the country’s long-dominant rulers, the Institutional Revolutionary Party. In 1999, he lost a race for governor of Hidalgo, his home state.
“It’s true that Miguel Angel Granados Chapa’s merits don't save the country, but without question they made the country stronger, more worthy and more humane,” columnist Lydia Cacho [link in Spanish] wrote in Monday’s El Universal newspaper.
President Felipe Calderon issued a statement lauding Granados Chapa as a “vigorous defender of freedom of expression, and also a tireless journalist who with his critical and objective pen contributed to strengthening our democratic life and culture.”
Granados Chapas was born in 1941 and attended the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where he studied law in the morning and journalism in the afternoon. Early in his career in the 1960s, he was kidnapped and beaten by right-wing thugs.
In the 1970s, after stints at several newspaper, Granados Chapa was swept out as deputy editor of an increasingly outspoken Excelsior newspaper as part of a broader housecleaning at the paper orchestrated by then-President Luis Echeverria.
He moved on to run the feisty Proceso magazine and later shifted to other publications. He was known throughout as a voice for journalistic independence. He took pride in openly rejecting free trips and other benefits offered Mexican journalists by government officials, calling the practice “deplorable.”
Reforma columnist Sergio Sarmiento noted that Granados Chapa had won almost every honor available to Mexican journalists. “We have lost a precise, intelligent and honest voice,” he wrote, “that of one of the best journalists in the history of the country.”
-- Ken Ellingwood