09/27/11 — The decapitated body of Maria Elizabeth Macias, 39, the editor of Primera Hora, a daily newspaper based in Nuevo Laredo in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, was found early Saturday morning. The body was found next to the Christopher Columbus monument in Nuevo Laredo. Macias was kidnapped Friday night.
An unnamed supervising editor of Primera Hora said the killing was not related to Macias’ job at the paper, which, in the face of intimidation and threats by drug gangs, had stopped reporting on drug violence two years ago. With local newspapers being threatened for reporting on crime, many Mexicans have turned to social media and online forums like “Nuevo Laredo en Vivo” to report cartel activity. These sites include contact information for anonymous tips to the police and military and for Laredo residents to warn each other about drug cartel shootouts and roadblocks. It is believed that Macias’s murder was a retaliation for her postings on an anti-crime website, “Nuevo Laredo en Vivo.” Her murder has created fear that citizens can still be safe in the violent border city of Nuevo Laredo. The message found next to Macias’ decapitated body referred to the nickname she purportedly used on the site, “La Nena de Laredo,” or “Laredo Girl.”
Macias’s body was found on a Christopher Columbus monument, the legs and trunk were thrown on the lawn, and the head in a pot, which also held a computer keyboard, mouse, cables, headphones and speakers, and the following message: “Nuevo Laredo en Vivo and social networking sites, I’m The Laredo Girl, and I’m here because of my reports, and yours,” the message read. “For those who don’t want to believe, this happened to me because of my actions, for trusting the army and the navy. Thank you for your attention, respectfully, Laredo Girl…ZZZZ.” The letter “Z” refers to the Zetas cartel, whose notoriously known for its brutal beheading trademark. Tamaulipas has been at the center of a bloody turf war between the Zetas Cartel and their rivals, the Gulf cartel. Nuevo Laredo has faced violence for the last two years by the violent Zetas drug cartel. The gruesome killing is the third this month in which Nuevo Laredo citizens were killed by a drug cartel for Internet activity. On September 14, a man and a woman were found hanging from an overpass in Nuevo Laredo with a similar message threatening, “this is what will happen” to internet reporters. They were the first retaliation for reporting on social networking activities of organized crime in the city.
Despite Macias’s death, Nuevo Laredo en Vivo community members have kept posting and reporting criminal activity, and have said that they will continue reporting. In response to the murder, a number of journalist and human rights groups have given statements channeling disdain for current policy, which does not treat journalist’s executions as a federal crime, and criticizing the Calderón administration for its lack of support of citizen’s right to freedom of expression without intimidation in both traditional newspapers that self-censor and online forums.”As Mexican citizens, including journalists and media, are increasingly turning to new technology in the face of rampant censorship, drug cartels are using violence to control information on the Internet,” Carlos Lauria, the Americas senior program coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, wrote in a statement, “The stability of Mexico’s democracy will ultimately depend on the restoration of the media’s ability to report the news without fear of reprisal.”
Amnesty International Mexico has reported that since eight journalists have been killed in 2011 alone, there is a severe vulnerability of the people and that the government must take action against cartel strategies to intimidate social network users. Macias is the fourth woman journalist to be killed this year in Mexico, Reporters Without Borders said in a statement. “There seems to be no way out of this horror,” it said. ‘The country is immersed in an all-out war…just writing the word ‘narcos’ or ‘trafficking’ can cost you your life. What will be left of freedom of information while the barbarity continues?”
The Inter-American Press Association (La Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa, SIP) said Monday that the government of President Calderón has no political will to end the violence faced by journalists in the country, to administer justice, and to ensure press freedom. “The lack of action and guarantees has created a clear culture of self-censorship that is eating away at journalism and the public’s right to be informed.” The president of SIP called out President Calderón’s inaction, citing a 2010 meeting with SIP in which the Calderón promised to redouble efforts to ensure the safety of journalists and promote reform.
The National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH) of Mexico reported that ten journalists had been killed in the country following the murders of two female journalists on August 31, meaning Macias is the eleventh killed this year in Mexico. CNDH also reports that at least 74 have been killed in total since 2000.