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June 7th, 2011
05:15 PM ET

Producer's Notebook: Interviewing 'the bravest woman in all of Mexico'

El Paso, TEXAS (CNN) - As Marisol Valles Garcia sat down for an interview with CNN correspondent Ed Lavandera, I was struck, by how uncomfortable and nervous she was while talking about the life she led as a police chief in her hometown of Praxedis, G Gurrero, Mexico.

Related: 'Bravest woman in Mexico' seeks asylum in United States

The 21-year-old woman, who was dubbed the “bravest woman in all of Mexico,” agreed to meet with us in El Paso, Texas. To escape death threats she says she was getting daily after accepting the job as police chief last October, she fled her country and the only life she knew with her one-year-old son, husband and family. She is seeking asylum in the United States, saying that had she stayed in Mexico, she’d be dead.

As she sat uncomfortably during the interview, she rubbed her legs together as she talked about the fear people live with in an area run by drug lords. A place, she says, where murders, decapitations and shootings became a normal way of life. She says she fears she¹ll never be able to return home and that her preference would be to remain in Mexico as she’s struggling with the fact that she may never be able to see family and friends that she has known her entire life.

After the interview we took Garcia and her husband along with her attorney to lunch. She talked about the things she wanted to accomplish in her hometown as police chief. She says she is so concerned about the youth who don’t have very many options outside of working for the drug cartels. She says that she wanted to put programs in place to give children hope that there was more out there for them than a life filled with crime and drug running for the cartels that rule the area.

As we were talking, Garcia said something that stuck with me the rest of the day. She said she was frustrated to see how much control the drug lords have in her town - how even local stores who would provide milk, eggs or bread to the neighborhoods had to shut down because they couldn’t afford to pay off the cartels to do business in the town. I guess I didn’t realize how even the basics in life, like walking to the local grocery store, had become compromised as a result of the lawlessness that has taken over many parts of Mexico.

Garcia seemed frustrated that she had to leave, but is convinced that she or her family would have paid the ultimate price for the media attention she was bringing to the area. Media were swarming the area wanting to interview the woman who took a job no one wanted - a job where her predecessor was decapitated only months before she took over. She says she was angering the cartels by speaking bluntly about some of her challenges. She says she felt the military seemed to be working hand-in-hand with those who controlled the area.

When we asked if she felt that Mexico would ever return to the place that she knew growing up as a child, she shook her head. She wanted to believe that Mexico would get better, but with the amount of violence, drugs and money that have taken over the country, she couldn’t see a way back to the life most people in the area so desperately want.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • 360º Follow • Mexico
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