It’s as if they’re taunting us.
The more we express outrage, the more we call for investigations and task forces, the more we meet with officials, and the more we bring worldwide condemnation, the more they kill.
On February 25, 2017, Mexican journalist Ioan Grillo published an op-ed in The New York Times decrying the violence against his colleagues. He counted at least nine slain in 2016.
Then came March:
- On the 2nd, Cecilio Pineda Brito, 38, a freelance social media crime reporter, was shot at least ten times by two gunmen on a motorcycle while waiting in a hammock at a car wash around 7 p.m., in Ciudad Altamirano, Guerrero. Pineda, who had two young daughters, had survived a previous assassination attempt.
- On the 19th, Ricardo Monlui Cabrera, 57, editorial director and columnist for the Cordoba, Veracruz-based El Politico, was shot three times by assailants on a motorcycle as he left a restaurant with his wife and son around 10 a.m., in Yanga, Veracruz. Monlui led the local journalists’ union and was spokesman for the National Union of Sugar Cane Producers.
- On the 23rd, Miroslava Breach Velducca, 54, correspondent for the national newspaper La Journada, was shot eight times in front of her home around 7 a.m., in the capital city of Chihuahua, Chihuahua. Breach, who reported on politics and crime, was about to take one of her three children, left unhurt, to school.
- On the 29th, Armando Arrieta Granados, 51, editorial director of Veracruz daily La Opinion, was shot four times as he returned to his home in Poza Rica, Veracruz. He had reported on politics, the national oil company Pemex, and crime. Hospitalized with gunshot wounds to the chest and a punctured lung, he was the only one of these four to survive.
On April 2, in response to the Breach murder, a newspaper with a 30-year history in the border town of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, shut down. “Adios!” read the front page of El Norte. “Everything in life has a beginning and an end, a price to pay,” wrote publisher Oscar Cantu Murguia.
“And if this is life, I am not prepared for any more of my collaborators to pay for it, nor with my own person.”
Despite the publisher’s lament, the killing went on. Just days later, on April 14th, police reporter Maximino Rodriguez was shot and killed in his car, parked in a store lot around noon in the tourist town of La Paz, Baja California Sur. His wife, who was with him, was unhurt.
Then, on May 15, came the one everyone feared: Prominent journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas, 50, editor of the weekly newspaper Riodoce in Culiacan, Sinaloa, was forced out of his car near his office and shot 12 times. (Riodoce means Twelfth River.) Valdez had been an outspoken advocate against organized crime and corruption and won an international press freedom award from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists in 2011.
Valdez’s body lay in the middle of the street, between a kindergarten and a restaurant, for 40 minutes. His friends and colleagues saw the official delay in retrieving his corpse as an additional warning. No one was arrested for the crime.
This litany of death and near-death isn’t even complete; The CPJ counts eight journalists murdered in Mexico so far this year, several more maimed, and it’s only August. Reporters have been attacked and killed in traditional drug growing and trafficking states, like Sinaloa, Guerrero, Veracruz, Michoacán, and Chihuahua, as well as in areas previously thought to be safer, like Baja California Sur and Mexico City.
Sadly, Mexico is now the most dangerous country in the world for the press, according to the CPJ, more so even than war-torn Syria and Afghanistan. Criminal gangs are jockeying for position amid arrests and trials of cartel leaders and corrupt officials, and murders of all kinds have spiked. This year has been the deadliest since 2011, and on pace to be the worst since the military-led crackdown on drug traffickers began in 2006.
In response to the journalists’ deaths, the Mexican government set up a special prosecutor’s office, and says it’s currently protecting nearly 600 members of the media who’ve been attacked or threatened. But given these recent killings, it’s clear whatever the government’s doing is inadequate. According to the CPJ, nearly 90 percent of these cases go unprosecuted. The special prosecutor’s office has only taken on two cases since its inception in 2010.
Recent revelations that the government has been cyber-spying on journalists (as well as activists, political opponents, and an international panel investigating the deaths of 43 students in Guerrero), also make the country’s weak rule of law all too apparent.
As guardians of good government, journalists in Mexico have long been forced to make the brutal choice between “plata o plomo,” corruption (silver) or death (lead bullets).
It’s hard to imagine the courage it takes for people like Valdez, and the others mentioned here, to make the right choice, knowing full well they will almost certainly pay the ultimate price. We owe it to them to keep fighting for the ideals they died for: honest government, respect for a free press, and an end to impunity in Mexico.
–August 28, 2017