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Murder in Mexico City Proves Freedom of the Press Still Elusive

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By: Nick Gonzalez, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs 

After he was forced to flee to Mexico City from the state of Veracruz, Proceso photojournalist Rubén Espinosa told the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists, “I don’t trust any State institution. I don’t trust the government, I fear for my colleagues and I fear for myself.”[1]

Around 9 p.m. on July 31, Espinosa along with four women were found dead in the Mexico City home of Nadia Vera, a graduate of the Universidad Veracruzana and vocal critic of Veracruz governor Javier Duarte. The 31-year old journalist appears to have been subjected to torture, sustaining severe injuries to his face. Evidence also suggests that the women were sexually assaulted. All five victims were shot in the head with a 9mm pistol.[2] The apartment was ransacked in the process. The scene is the latest in a string of violence against press freedoms that has activists mounting demonstrations in Veracruz, Jalisco, Oaxaca, and Mexico City. The protests center on the government’s poor efforts to protect human rights, the local governments’ suspected collusion with organized crime, and the need to protect free speech and other civil liberties that have all but vanished there.

The homicides are believed to be linked to Espinosa’s previous coverage of social movements fighting government corruption in Mexico. He had worked as a freelance journalist for the Cuartoscuro and AVS news agencies in Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz.[3] On February 15, 2014, the Mexican weekly investigative magazine Proceso ran a cover story using Espinosa’s photograph of Javier Duarte, who was seen donning a police cap. The headline read, “Veracruz: Lawless State.” According to Espinosa, the governor has not taken well to recent unfavorable press coverage, even to the degree of trying to prevent the Proceso article from being published. Later in the year, Espinosa had covered the protests in reaction to the notorious disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Escuela Normal. Many now believe that the students had been handed over by corrupt law enforcement officials to the criminal syndicate Guerreros Unidos.

Though the photojournalist was no stranger to threats, having reported similar instances since 2012, his recent stories particularly angered authorities. Fears of retribution were so great that Espinosa decided to flee Veracruz and take refuge in Mexico City. The day before he left, Espinosa led an official event for the placement of an honorary plaque for Regina Martínez, a journalist who was murdered in Veracruz on April 28, 2012.[4] About three months later, Espinosa met a similar fate.

On Tuesday of this week, prosecutors released a video showing the murder suspects casually leaving the scene of the crime—one man drove away in a red Ford Mustang, another walked away with a roller suitcase, while the third suspect crossed the street five minutes later.[5] It is said that officials are pursuing all lines of investigation. At least one arrest in connection with the murders has been made after authorities matched fingerprints from the crime scene to a criminal database.[6] When asked if Duarte would be ordered to issue a deposition, senior Mexico City prosecutor Rodolfo Ríos Garza said officials were in contact with both him and his attorney general.

According to Article 19, a freedom of expression lobbying group, Veracruz is the most dangerous state for journalists. They have documented 37 cases of forced displacement from Veracruz, while a recorded 17 journalists have been murdered since 2000, 12 of which occurred during Duarte’s administration.[7] The only arrest that has come to fruition is for the assassination of Regina Martínez. Many of the murders, however, have yet to be solved. Below are some of the names of the deceased:

Regina Martínez

Goyo Jiménez

Moisés Sánchez

Víctor Manuel Báez

Irasema Becerra

Guillermo Luna

Gabriel Huge

Esteban Rodríguez

Noel López Olguin

Miguel Ángel López

Misael López

Yolanda Ordaz

Armando Saldaña[8]

The Gulf Coast state, known to be rich in coffee and oil, is an important route for cartels that use the port in the city of Veracruz to move contraband.[9] The government is known to be complicit in the operations of crime bosses. Governor Duarte has in turn created an unwelcome climate for the press, ironically accusing reporters of being linked to organized crime. His administration is quick to blame the killing of journalists on personal vendettas or robberies, as has been the case in three of the most high-profile murders of reporters who had exposed government corruption.[10]

The killings, though unfortunately a familiar affair, are unique in at least one respect. Mexico City was once seen as a safe haven, a ceasefire zone of sorts, where one could hide out as a last line of defense. That line is now being redrawn. However, if self-exiled journalists cannot find security in the capital, they can find some degree of security in the rallying cry of a public weary of government corruption. Protestors argue that one should not have to live a life of perpetual fear and mistrust simply by virtue of their principles. It is up to the people of Mexico to speak out for those who through threat of reprisal cannot. Meanwhile, the federal and local authorities need to hear these voices, bolster their federal protection program for journalists, prosecute those responsible for past slayings, and comprehensively investigate this unforgivable crime.

By: Nick Gonzalez, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs 

Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated. For additional news and analysis on Latin America, please go to: LatinNews.com and Rights Action.

Featured Photo: Protest for Rubén Espinosa, a journalist who was murdered. From: Wikimedia Commons.

[1] http://www.latinnews.com/component/k2/item/65846.html?period=August+2015&archive=3&cat_id=798742%3Ajournalists-murder-sparks-press-freedom-fears-in-mexico&Itemid=6

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/02/mexican-photojournalist-killed-ruben-espinosa-tortured

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/04/journalists-mexico-press-freedom-photographer-ruben-espinosa-murder

[4] https://www.article19.org/resources.php/resource/38000/en/mexico:-forced-displacement-of-37-journalists-from-veracruz

[5] http://news.yahoo.com/mexico-prosecutor-video-suspects-journalist-killing-212521225.html

[6] http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/aug/05/ruben-espinosa-suspect-arrested-murders-mexico

[7] https://www.article19.org/resources.php/resource/38000/en/mexico:-forced-displacement-of-37-journalists-from-veracruz

[8] https://globalvoicesonline.org/2015/08/04/14-journalists-from-veracruz-mexico-have-been-murdered-during-governor-duartes-rule/

[9] http://news.yahoo.com/mexico-journalist-seeking-refuge-capital-never-felt-safe-040113739.html

[10] http://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2015/08/05/mexico-journalist-seeking-refuge-in-capital-never-felt-safe