On May 21, 2012, Zane Plemmons Rosales, a Mexican American photojournalist, was at a hotel in Nuevo Laredo when a gunfight broke out. According to the hotel clerk, "At 10 there was a shootout in front of the hotel, so he had put a camera over his neck and told her 'I'm a reporter. I am going to go take some photos. I will be back.' At 3 a.m., two masked and armed men came in. They demanded his room key, grabbed his things and left." Zane had been covering drug cartels for a paper in his native Sinaloa called El Debate and had received death threats a few months earlier while doing freelance work. Zane’s story is the story of nearly all kidnapped or murdered journalists throughout the world, but especially in Latin America, where inequality is compounded by a drug trade that feeds the addictions of U.S. citizens. Photojournalists and field reporters, confronted with threats from organized crime syndicates, low level thugs, politicians and CEOs, continue hunting for stories and typing words in a furious wave of energy and desperation, knowing that a bullet may erase their story forever if they do not hit send on an email or back up their research on a hard drive. Yet the desire to empower the powerless and give voice to those who live in the shadows propels journalists forward, in spite of the dangers, because they know that the work they do is not about them, but about furthering justice in the world.
Zane was just such a person, but when I first met him I had no idea. He was merely an applicant to my fledgling publishing company responding to an ad seeking editors. When we spoke he told me about his love for literature, for stories that shook people and made them see the world in a new light. When Zane told me about his life as a journalist, I was amazed, especially given how good-humored and easy going he appeared to be. One would expect that a person who regularly butted heads with cartels and corrupt politicians would be more intense and somber, but Zane was quick to laugh. While others would have emphasized intensity, he emphasized passion—for life, for helping others, and for art. I only knew Zane for a month before he disappeared, but it was long enough to know the quality of person he was, and to deeply respect and admire him.
After his disappearance, several news outlets in South Texas and a couple national ones covered his story, but within months he had been forgotten. We kept his case alive at Aignos by creating a book that would be a tribute not only to his legacy but to the legacy of all writers, journalist or not, who risk their lives to share their knowledge with people. There is No Cholera in Zimbabwe not only furthers Zane’s own causes, but also those of the roughly 230 journalists who have been killed since his disappearance, as well as the scores of others who have disappeared. Cholera allowed writers from fourteen countries on every continent, save for Antarctica, to talk about the most pressing issues facing our world: corruption, poverty, femicide, neglect, human trafficking, mental health, religion in America, LGBTQ rights, censorship, and the lack of justice given to those who abuse their power. Many of the authors who participated live in countries where speaking out can have lethal repercussions, yet they contributed anyway, because telling the truth was more important than hiding in the shadows.
While Zane’s case has gone cold, with neither American nor Mexican officials finding any new leads to his whereabouts, his family presses on. He is one of hundreds of Latin American journalists lost in the web of violence and corruption who spent their lives fighting. Their efforts have not been in vain, however. Their effect on others will last, it will burrow a hole into the consciences of all those who read their works. As Zane’s sister, Megan, wrote in her dedication to her brother that opens There is No Cholera in Zimbabwe, “Zane was zealous in his endeavors to expose the underside of the horrible drug wars in Mexico and the atrocities the people of Mexico live with each and every day of their lives. He placed himself in danger so many times, we would plead with him to be careful, but this was an assignment that he had to complete. How would we know that Zane would actually embody the name Champion. To anyone that knew Zane he was soft spoken, but a prankster enjoying a good joke on a friend or family member. He was full of life and had a zest for the excitement he could get into. I have many fond memories of Zane as a child that continue into his adulthood. These memories will serve to keep Zane close to my heart; with all these is the respect and appreciation for his life, his determination and the hopes that you who read this book realize the high costs our journalists pay to bring you this information. God bless you Champ, we love and miss you.”
For more on the dangers faced by investigative journalists on the U.S./Mexico border, please visit here.
Jonathan Marcantoni is the author of Traveler’s Rest and The Feast of San Sebastian. He is the co-founder of Aignos Publishing and has been featured in El Nuevo Día, El Post Antillano, Fronteras on Texas Public Radio, Jazz y Letras, Across the Margin, and el Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano. With fellow author Chris Campanioni, he has launched the YouNiversity Project, which gives students from around the country the opportunity to learn about the publishing industry and how to pursue a career as a writer. He is an active Army soldier and husband and father of three girls. He lives in Colorado Springs, CO.
Image via LA Times blog.