Julio Scherer Garcia, one of Mexico’s most important and influential journalists of the past half-century, died Wednesday, according to Proceso, the newsmagazine he founded. He was 88.
Scherer helped expose many of Mexico’s greatest scandals for decades, probing a secret army unit to combat guerrillas, a multimillion-dollar Swiss bank account of a president’s brother and official involvement in the assassination of a journalist.
His tough independence stood out at a time when independent reporting critical of the government was rare in Mexico, and he inspired and trained a new generation of the country’s journalists.
As editor of Excelsior, then Mexico’s leading newspaper, from 1968 to 1976, Scherer took on the omnipotent ruling party over corruption and human-rights abuses, and he questioned the government’s version of an army massacre of students. He so irked President Luis Echeverria that the government maneuvered to push him out of the newspaper in 1976.
Just months later, Proceso published its first issue with the help of journalists who left Excelsior with Scherer. In the decades since, the weekly newsmagazine has become the country’s most consistent source of investigative journalism.
Proceso announced on its website that Scherer died early Wednesday from septic shock following two years of illness. He had made his last visit to the magazine’s offices in October and penned his last piece in December on the occasion of the death of his friend, fellow journalist Vicente Leñero.
Scherer, born in Mexico City on April 7, 1926, wrote nearly two dozen books, often analyzing the terms of Mexico’s presidents. In 1971, he won the Maria Moors Cabot award, the oldest international journalism prize.
In 1994, the Zapatista rebels invited Scherer to participate with a Catholic bishop and the Nobel laureate Rigoberto Menchu as intermediaries in a dialogue with the Mexican government.
Scherer demurred. “My condition as a journalist obligates me to impartiality, difficult to sustain as both mediator and chronicler of the events we experience. I must then comply exclusively with the rules of my profession.”
Seven years later, when the Zapatistas’ charismatic leader was on verge of talks with then-President Vicente Fox, the masked rebel commander sat down for an interview with Scherer.
Scherer scored another coup in 2010, when he interviewed Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, a leader of the Sinaloa cartel and one of Mexico’s most-wanted drug lords.
Just reaching the interview site, a rustic two-room house in the mountains, was a multi-day affair. Proceso reported that Zambada said he had always wanted to meet Scherer and opened up about his life as a fugitive, admitting, “I’m terrified of being incarcerated.”
Last year, Scherer’s daughter Maria Scherer Ibarra wrote in the magazine Letras Libres that her father had repeatedly refused colleagues’ requests to let them write his biography.
“My father has insisted, and with reason, that his work speak for him: his interviews, his reporting.”
Sherman writes for the Associated Press.