05/04/12 – Five days after Proceso journalist Regina Martínez was found murdered in the state of Veracruz, the bodies of three more journalists were discovered on Thursday, May 3, in the same state. Authorities were alerted to four suspicious black bags in a canal in the town of Boca del Rio in which the mutilated bodies of three photojournalists were found. The victims have been identified as Guillermo Luna Varela, Gabriel Huge, Esteban Rodríguez, and a fourth victim, Irasema Becerra, who was the girlfriend of Luna. All of the victims’ bodies showed signs of torture and dismemberment, which the Attorney General’s Office of Veracruz (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado, PGJE) indicated were signs of organized crime. For this reason, the state has called on federal authorities to assist in the investigation.
The three photojournalists all covered violence, drug trafficking, and organized crime related stories in their work. Luna and Huge, who worked for Veracruznews and Notiver, respectively, were still employed in their positions at the time of their murders. Rodríguez, however, had stopped working as a photographer for local Veracruz newspaper AZ last year after receiving death threats. He left the area for some time, but he had recently returned to Boca del Rio before the incident on Thursday. Some reports indicated that Becerra, the fourth victim, was also an administrative employee for a local Veracruz newspaper, although state and federal authorities have not yet verified that information.
The journalists’ bodies, which were found on World Press Freedom Day, add to the increasingly high number of murdered journalists in Mexico. Reporters Without Borders documented 83 journalists killed in the country over the past ten years, and 14 more missing. According to Al Jazeera, however, other organizations cite different statistics. “Mexico’s Human Rights Commission [Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH] says 74 media workers were slain from 2000 to 2011,” reported Al Jazeera, while “the Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] says 51 were killed in that time.” Regardless, Mexico is nevertheless notorious for being one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists to work, with the CPJ ranking it in fifth place for 2011 only behind Pakistan, Iraq, and Libya, and tied with Brazil.
With the growing threat against journalists and the inability of the government to protect members of the media–despite the legislation passed in late March that makes crime against journalists a federal offense–there have been strong reactions to the murders in Veracruz this past week. An estimated 1,000 people–mostly journalists, reporters, and photographers–took to the streets in a couple cities throughout Mexico on Friday, including Ciudad Juárez, Monterrey, and Mexico City, to demand justice be brought against the perpetrator(s) of the violent crimes and to call on the government to fully investigate the incidents. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International (AI), also expressed their concern, pressuring authorities to immediately and efficiently protect journalists and their families at risk. AI pointed to the eight journalists killed in Veracruz alone since 2010, a staggeringly high number, along with the claim that the government knew last year of a circulated list of journalists’ names that had been threatened as evidence of the government’s failure to protect its people. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, CIDH) responded similarly, urging the Mexican government to implement efficient and effective measures to stop violence against journalists and to end the sphere of impunity that exists around such crimes. Reporters Without Borders concurred, suggesting that to end impunity, “What is needed is a complete overhaul of the judicial system in a country that is devastated by its ubiquitous drug cartels, [and] by collusion between the cartels and many officials.”
State and federal authorities have quickly responded to this week’s events. The governor of Veracruz, Javier Duarte de Ochoa, condemned the recent string of killings, saying, “On behalf of the government of Veracruz, I profoundly regret these murders; we renounce these atrocities that plague all Veracruz citizens.” He also announced that the state would create two organizations to better protect the people–one to assist all victims of crime and one to specifically safeguard journalists. “Giving certainty and tranquility to the journalists in the free exercise of their work is an obligation and commitment of my government,” continued Governor Duarte, adding, “taking care of whoever has suffered crime is an obligation and conviction of my administration.” For his part, President Felipe Calderón said the federal government will collaborate with the Veracruz government to address and strengthen the security situation there.
The investigation of the three photojournalists’ deaths is still under the control of state authorities, but the federal Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) has sent ten expert investigators to assist, especially given the presumed ties to organized crime in the murders. According to Milenio, the PGR representatives are skilled in “fingerprinting, photography, video, forensic science, forensic medicine, and criminal investigations.”