Northern Mexico is home to the three most dangerous states in the country for journalists to ply their trade in. The story of Jaime Gonzalez — the first journalist killed during the term of President Enrique Peña Nieto — shows that in this region, refusing to publish stories about organized crime can be as dangerous as doing so.
Before becoming a journalist, Jaime Gonzalez Dominguez was a cook, an actor, a security guard, and a fire breather. In 2013 he founded a news portal in the city of Ojinaga, Chihuahua. The city was under the control of the Juarez Cartel. Jaime did not respond to their demands. On March 3, 2013 they shot him 18 times.
SEE ALSO: Juarez After the War
Journalism interested Jaime for the same reasons his other jobs had: partly because he was looking for new experiences, and also because moved around a lot. In Torreon, where he spent a good part of his youth, he had taken theater classes. The biggest role he played, say his friends, was his own life.
This article is an extract, translated and reprinted with permission, from a report by freedom of expression watchdog Article 19. See report here. This is the second journalist’s story InSight Crime has printed from the report. See the first here.
In 2009 and 2010 he worked as a cook and photographer, first in Mazatlan and later in Torreon, where he gained some recognition. In 2011, he returned to Ojinaga, his birthplace. The first job he got there was as a security guard in the university. By that time he already had three children to care for.
In a town as small as Ojinaga, with around 26,000 inhabitants, everyone knew him. They knew of his passion for journalism and had nicknamed him “Ojinaganews.” Eight years earlier, he had tried to create a newspaper that only lasted six months. In 2012, when he decided to try web journalism, he had experience and advertisers. The majority were friends.
The website was named Ojinaga Noticias (Ojinaga News). Maybe he thought that since his nickname was already so popular in his town, it would be best to name his website that, but translated to Spanish.
Along with the news website, Jaime encountered another new vocation in the form of fire breathing. He began a project called “behind the myth of a fire breather” where he would tell in first person the details of being a human dragon. With his death, this project, as well as a calendar of the most beautiful girls in the region, remained incomplete.
The website was fed by information from national and international agencies, but also contained local and regional political notes and police stories. Much of this news was events, interviews, and press conferences that Jaime and his news team attended.
SEE ALSO: Juarez Cartel News and Profile
Ojinaga has a long history linked to drug trafficking. For several decades it has been a stronghold of the Juarez Cartel. In the 1980s, its streets were ruled by one of the most-wanted drug traffickers of his generation: Amado Carrillo Fuentes, known as “El Señor de los Cielos” (The Man of the Skies) for the fleet of planes that he accumulated to traffic cocaine into the United States.
Throughout the time the online newspaper was running, Jaime received various threats. In these messages, sent through social networking sites, he was told to publish “all” the stories involving the police in that area.
Knowing that it was information that would put him at risk, Jaime decided not to publish anything to do with occurrences such as police corruption and drug trafficking. What he published in the police section were smaller-scale local crimes. On Tuesday, February 19, 2013, for example, he reported that in Camargo a homemade bomb had been thrown at a house without anyone getting injured. The previous day he had reported the death in Ojinaga of a young girl who suffered from epileptic seizures. On February 26, one of the last police articles published on the website told of the homicide of a minor in Jimenez, in the south of the state.
“They murdered him because he didn’t want to publish information related to drug trafficking,” one of the journalist’s friends said. According to the friend, who has asked to remain anonymous, Jaime received warnings from organized crime elements on at least two occasions. Since he lived in a small community controlled by such a powerful criminal organization, the journalist opted for self-censorship and decided not to make the threats public.
Following the intimidations, Jaime thought about selling the online newspaper and move to Mazatlan, Sinaloa. This may have been one of the reasons that led him to re-launch the website on February 18, 2013. Around that time, a number of his friends and advertisers had been telling him to “not back out, to continue reporting.” Even so, he feared being hurt.
He was attacked on March 3 at 6 PM, after leaving his house to walk to meet an old friend at a seafood restaurant. As soon as they began to chat, someone fired at him from a van.
According to Chihuahua’s Prosecutor General’s Office, Jaime was shot 18 times with a bullet known as a “matapolicias” (“police-killer”): a 5.77 x 38 caliber capable of piercing the bulletproof vests used by police in northern Mexico. They riddled his body with 15 bullets and he was hit three more times in the head.
Carlos Gonzalez, the spokesperson for the Prosecutor General’s Office, said that they had not managed to find a motive for the murder. Staff at the Victims Support Department visited Jaime’s family and colleagues various times, but the killing had made it clear there was cause to be afraid. At the Speaking with the Prosecutor General’s Office, no one claimed to know him well. No one knows what he could possibly have done to deserve 18 shots.
The then-coordinator of public relations for the Chihuahua state government, Juan Ramon Flores, said that although the life insurance established in 2010 under the Comprehensive System for the Protection of Journalists was still in existence, Jaime’s relatives were not able to claim it. The families of four other journalists killed in Chihuahua during this period are in the same situation.
Chihuahua is one of the most dangerous states in all of Mexico for practicing journalism. This is not only evidenced by the 11 journalists murdered since the year 2000, but also by the high rate of impunity during criminal investigations. Together with Tamaulipas and Veracruz, it is one of the three most violent states for journalists: they account for 14 percent of all murders over the past 13 years.
The information compiled by ARTICLE 19 identified four journalists killed in Mexico during 2013 because of their investigative work. The figure is similar to the number of journalists murdered in 2007, during the first year of former President Felipe Calderon’s government.
The death of Jaime Gonzalez represented the first killing of a journalist during the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto, whose party — the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) — returned to power for the first time in 12 years in 2012.
The murder did not just shatter the spirits of the friends, acquaintances and contributors, who saw Jamie as an honest and hard-working journalist. It also laid bare the inefficiency of Mexico’s justice system, which once more proved itself unable to solve crimes committed against those whose mission it is to keep society informed.
*This article is an extract, translated and reprinted with permission, from a report by freedom of expression watchdog Article 19. See report here. This is the second journalist’s story InSight Crime has printed from the report. See the first here.