Jo Tuckman, who for many years reported for the Guardian in Mexico, has died aged 53.
Jo had been undergoing treatment for cancer since falling ill last year, and died at her home in Mexico City on Thursday afternoon, surrounded by close friends.
“She just had this incredible commitment to Mexico and to Latin America,” said Marion Lloyd, a friend of two decades and travelling partner from “a million reporting trips” around the region.
“She absolutely loved Mexico – and even when she got sick and people said: ‘You should go back to England for medical care,’ she said: ‘No, this is my home.’”
The Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner, said: “Jo was a sensitive and tenacious reporter and a much-loved colleague who will be missed by readers around the world.
Rachel Sieder, a Mexico-based anthropologist and friend, said: “She was a dogged journalist, a good writer and an anthropologist who was endlessly fascinated in everybody’s stories.
“She treated everybody she wrote about – even those she didn’t like – with respect, and she gave people dignity when she wrote about them.”
Will Grant, the BBC correspondent for Mexico, Central America and Cuba, remembered “a vivacious, bright, properly smart woman, who genuinely got Mexico” and whose book, Democracy Interrupted, was essential reading for foreign correspondents arriving in the country.
“She wrote with real humanity, real empathy and understanding for what Mexicans were going through,” Grant said. “She got angry at abuses, of which there are many in Mexico.”
Jo was also a mentor to a generation of young freelance journalists and respected within Mexico for her reporting on politics and human rights.
“As a person she was a delight,” said the Mexican journalist Jenaro Villamil, who remembered dissecting his country’s politics with her over coffees in Mexico City’s picturesque Plaza Río de Janeiro. As a journalist “her background in sociology gave her the ability to see things with much greater depth in Latin America, and of course Mexico, than others could”.
Villamil added: “I always felt that her book … was one of the best sociological texts about Mexico’s failed democratic transition.”
Martin Hodgson, the international editor of Guardian US, said: “Jo was a great friend and brilliant foreign correspondent: she had a deep understanding of her adoptive country but never lost her capacity to be surprised, outraged and enchanted by it.”
Jo was born in London on 23 May 1967 and studied social anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. Her interest in Latin America was first sparked by a trip to Peru.
After graduating, she earned an MA from the University of London’s Institute of Latin American Studies before moving to Guatemala, where she cut her teeth as a journalist in the mid-1990s, and then Spain, where she worked for the Associated Press.
She arrived in Mexico in 2000, a pivotal moment in the country’s history, as it transitioned to democracy after seven decades of one-party rule.
Over the next two decades Jo covered a huge range of stories, from the death of Gabriel García Márquez in Mexico City, to the Zapatista rebels and Subcomandante Marcos’s forays into erotic literature, Mexico’s intractable drug conflict and the plights of under-fire journalists, the internally displaced, and Central American and African migrants struggling to reach the US.
“She really was one of the best journalists Mexico had who wasn’t from here. She was one of a kind and she just leaves a really, really big hole,” said Deborah Bonello, a friend and journalist.
“Mexico has seen some pretty dark chapters over the last 15 years and she really cared. Her work for the Guardian wasn’t a job [to her],” Bonello added. “She just sort of had to know how things came about and unfolded – whether that be the mezcal-making process or Mexico’s democracy.”
In 2012, Jo’s reporting triggered a political earthquake in Mexico when the Guardian published a string of stories which appeared to confirm longstanding allegations of hidden agendas behind media coverage of the country’s politicians.
Lloyd, a former Boston Globe correspondent, said: “She had a really profound understanding of Mexican society and politics. She was one of the few foreign journalists who really understood the inner workings of Mexican politics … She wasn’t really just a foreign correspondent – she was also kind of a local correspondent.”
Jo also worked as the Latin America bureau chief for Vice News.
In one of her final Guardian stories, Tuckman interviewed Evo Morales after he was forced into exile in Mexico City – receiving Bolivia’s displaced former president and his burly Mexican security detail in her kitchen, a place friends remember as an oasis of Englishness filled with unwashed mugs, a large table and the smell of toast.
“She had him over to her house and told this hilarious story of him drinking out of dirty cups,” Grant remembered. “It was just Jo to a T.”
Sieder said she would remember her friend as a charming and huge-hearted listener. “She had such a beautiful, genuine smile, a million-megawatt smile. We used to call it ‘the Jo smile’ – and we will miss her.”
Jo is survived by her father, sister and two children.