Latin America

Why Mexico is one of the world’s most dangerous places for reporters

Since 2000, 90 members of the media have allegedly been killed by crime mafias “The goal is to silence journalists,” says expert Javier García

Family members of the late photojournalist Rubén Espinosa gather at the Museum of Memory and Tolerance in Mexico City last week.
Family members of the late photojournalist Rubén Espinosa gather at the Museum of Memory and Tolerance in Mexico City last week.C. JASSO (REUTERS)

On the night of January 2, a group of armed men wearing hoods broke into the home of the editor of a small community weekly in Medellín Bravo, Veracruz state, and pulled him from his bed.

Moíses Sánchez Crespo, who ran La Unión, was taken away by unknown assailants as his wife and children watched. They also stole his computer, camera and cellphone that night.

Since June 2014, about a dozen journalists have been murdered, mostly in Oaxaca and Veracruz

Sánchez’s body was later found with his throat cut. The hit was allegedly ordered by the town’s local police chief.

Sánchez, who wasn’t known outside his community, didn’t have any powerful friends. But his free magazine offered him an outlet where he publicly denounced the mayor and his aides for reported ties with drug traffickers.

Since 2000, some 90 reporters and journalists have been killed in Mexico in retaliation for their work. Mexico is one of the most dangerous nations in the world for a journalist (it places 148 out the 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index rankings).

More information

The situation has grown worse over the past year. Since June 2014, about a dozen journalists have been murdered, mostly in the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz.

There isn’t a common pattern, but it appears that journalists from small local publications, which have no powerful backers and little protection, are usually the targets by officials with links to crime mafias.

Kidnapping is usually a precursor to a killing, says Javier García, an expert with Freedom House’s Periodistas en Riesgo (Journalists at risk) project.

“The goal is to silence them,” García said.

About 90% of the cases go unsolved, as impunity in Mexico continues to be a big problem.

The local media in some Mexican towns avoid stories about crime and drug trafficking

In one of the most-publicized cases, unknown assailants killed photojournalist Rubén Espinoza and four others inside a Mexico City apartment during the summer. Along with his girlfriend, Espinoza had recently fled to the capital from Veracruz, where he worked, after reportedly receiving death threats.

While the case remains open, authorities said they are inclined to believe that it was simply a common crime.

Under these extreme conditions, there are some places, such as Tamaulipas and Veracruz states, where freedom of expression virtually doesn’t exist.

The local media avoids stories about crime and drug trafficking, and there is a lack of reporting in many areas. With each attack on a journalist, newspapers and television stations recoil and self-censorship is often imposed.

Up until February 4, Enrique Juárez had been the editor of the daily El Mañana de Matamoros. On that day he published a story with a front-page headline that simply read: Battles, 9 dead. The victims’ names were not given, nor was the attack attributed to any group.

But it appeared that the story still angered local traffickers.

Two hours after the newspaper hit the streets, Juárez was kidnapped outside his office and later tortured. He never returned to Matamoros.

When asked what he wishes for, the 51-year-old former editor simply replies: “To be a journalist.”

English version by Martin Delfín.

Rules
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS