Latin America

Killing of Mexican journalist renews anger at Veracruz governor

A photo of murdered photojournalist Ruben Espinosa sits among flowers and candles in front of his casket inside a funeral home in Mexico City Monday. Espinosa, 31, who worked for the investigative magazine Proceso, was one of 37 journalists from Veracruz who’ve fled their state since 2000.
A photo of murdered photojournalist Ruben Espinosa sits among flowers and candles in front of his casket inside a funeral home in Mexico City Monday. Espinosa, 31, who worked for the investigative magazine Proceso, was one of 37 journalists from Veracruz who’ve fled their state since 2000. AP

No one yet knows the identity of the assailants who broke into an apartment in a middle-class neighborhood of the capital and shot photojournalist Rubén Espinosa Becerril and four women in the head with a 9mm handgun.

But the anger of Espinosa’s colleagues is focused on one man: Gov. Javier Duarte of Veracruz, leader of a state that is a killing ground for journalists.

Espinosa had fled his home and his work in Veracruz in early June, arriving in Mexico City and asking for help from journalist advocates, saying he’d been followed and threatened. Months earlier, he’d angered Duarte with an unflattering photo of the governor on the cover of Mexico’s main newsweekly, Proceso.

Espinosa’s slaying marks the first time a journalist who sought refuge in the capital has been hunted down and killed.

Espinosa had angered Duarte with an unflattering photo on the cover of Proceso, Mexico’s main newsweekly.

The assailants were brazen. Nine security cameras were posted at nearby streetcorners and at the entrance to the apartment building in the Navarte district of the capital where the mass slaying took place Friday, perhaps in evening hours. The bodies were found late that night. It’s unclear what images, if any, the cameras caught of the killers.

In a statement Sunday, Duarte decried the shooting as “aberrant” and voiced “full faith” that authorities in Mexico City “will clear this case up as fast as possible.”

But to many journalists and human rights groups, Duarte’s declaration was cynical, given the indifference his government has shown to clearing up the murders of 13 journalists working in Veracruz since he came to office in late 2010. Three other journalists have vanished in the state. In only one case has a suspect been detained.

Veracruz, where two antagonistic crime groups, Los Zetas and the New Generation Jalisco Cartel, have a strong presence, is by far the deadliest region for journalists in Mexico and one of the worst in the world.

One of the women found slain with Espinosa, Nadia Vera, was a 32-year-old social activist who’d been unrelenting in her criticism of Duarte.

The Mexican branch of a press freedom group, Article 19, said Espinosa was among 37 journalists who have fled Veracruz in fear for their lives since 2000.

At a mass rally for Espinosa and the four other victims Sunday afternoon, a prominent placard read: “Duarte Government – Murderer of Journalists.”

As relatives prepared for Espinosa’s funeral Monday, fellow journalists posted a recording of a meeting Duarte held June 30 with reporters and editors in the oil city of Poza Rica, in which he warned them that he knew which news reporters in the state had criminal links. His tone was both supplicating and menacing.

“We all know which of you have links or are mixed up with criminals. I ask you to behave yourselves,” Duarte says on the recording. “We will shake the tree, and many rotten apples will fall.”

Duarte, 41, is a member of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has governed Veracruz for the better part of a century. The state, on the Gulf of Mexico, is serves as a key smuggling corridor from Central and South America for both drugs and human trafficking. The division between gangsters and politicians often seems blurry.

How many murdered journalists do we have now? And nothing has happened.

Nadia Vera, slain activist

Espinosa’s photo that landed on the cover of Proceso magazine in February showed the burly governor sporting a cap with a law enforcement insignia, looking authoritarian. The headline read: Veracruz, A State Without Law.

When the issue hit newsstands, teams fanned out across the state and bought up all copies, a tactic common under governors who face criticism in national media.

Duarte has routinely suggested that journalists killed in his state were linked to organized crime gangs and slain by rival groups.

“They are pushing the version that organized crime is behind the murder of the correspondent for Proceso magazine. . . . This is another despicable act,” Silvia Núñez Hernández, the publisher of the AGN Veracruz news agency, wrote Monday on her organization’s news portal.

One of the women found slain in the Navarte apartment, Nadia Vera, a 32-year-old dance company promoter and social activist, was unrelenting in her criticism of Duarte in an interview on the rompeviento.tv site posted last November.

“How many murdered journalists do we have now? And nothing has happened. . . . This has something to do with this character who is governing us,” Vera said. “The narcos are the ones who are ruling in our state, right?”

Another of the victims, identified in news reports as Yesenia Quiroz, 18, was from Mexicali, along the border with California, according to a statement by the prosecutor’s office. A third victim, a Colombian, was 29. The fourth was a 40-year housekeeper in the apartment. Several had been stripped and apparently tortured.

Espinosa spoke to the rompeviento.tv site July 9 after he fled Veracruz. He explained how a group of men, some with military-style short haircuts, had tailed him across the state capital, Xalapa, all day June 6, in one case taking his photo.

“I had to leave because of this intimidation,” Espinosa said of his decision to flee to Mexico City. “It wasn’t direct but it was out of common sense.”

After Espinosa’s killing, attacks on media outlets in Veracruz continued.

Gunmen sprayed the outside of a weekly, Presente, in Poza Rica early Sunday morning with gunfire, leaving at least 19 pockmarks, and set three vehicles afire that were parked outside. No one was injured in the attack.

Tim Johnson: @timjohnson4

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