The bodies of three current or former journalists, some of whom had reportedly covered organized crime-related stories, were discovered in the Mexican state of Veracruz on international press freedom day, underscoring the dangers the country’s media faces from crime.
The three dismembered bodies were found inside plastic bags, dumped in a canal in the town of Boca del Rio, Veracruz. Two of them — Guillermo Luna and Gabriel Huge (a nephew and uncle) — had been working in the area as photojournalists. The third victim, Esteban Rodriguez, had worked as a photojournalist until last year before fleeing the state, later returning to work as a welder. Luna’s girlfriend Irasema Becerra, who worked for newspaper El Dictamen though not as a journalist, was also murdered, reports El Universal.
The killings come just five days after the body of Proceso journalist Regina Martinez was found beaten to death in Xalapa, Veracruz. She had recently written a number of stories relating to organized crime.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Veracruz is now the most dangerous state in Mexico to be a reporter, with seven journalists killed in the last 14 months alone.
InSight Crime Analysis
The rise in violence in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006 has been accompanied by a spike in murders of journalists. Though they offer slightly different estimates on numbers killed, both the CPJ and the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) have declared Mexico to be the most dangerous place in Latin America for journalists.
Organized crime is not the only threat to journalists — corrupt politicians and police have also had their interests in silencing the press. But criminal groups arguably pose the most violent threat to freedom of speech in Mexico.
The Mexican government passed a law earlier this week that makes the killing of journalists a federal crime. However, the country still has a long way to go to effectively protect journalists and combat impunity enjoyed by those who attack them. As analyst Douglas Farah has noted, while Mexico may be experiencing similar levels of violence against the press as Colombia did in the 1990s, it has so far been slower in taking the necessary measures to protect journalists. Whereas Colombian journalists of that era managed to band together and form a unified front against threats, this has not happened in Mexico due to the lack of government support, according to Farah.
This has meant the Mexican press in many cases has been cowed into self-censorship, opting not to cover stories for fear of retaliation from corrupt officials or drug gangs.
Veracruz state, a stronghold of the Zetas drug gang, experienced one of its most violent years in 2011, with murders linked to organized crime rising four-fold from the previous year, to 542. The Zetas have previously been linked to pressure on the media and the killing of journalists.