President López Obrador continues to prioritize fiscal austerity

President Lopez Obrador

President Ándres Manuel López Obrador. Photo: Marco Ugarte, Associated Press.

07/07/19 (written by kheinle) — Fiscal austerity continues to be a major priority for the López Obrador administration as it moves into its second half of its first year in office. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s campaign promise was to decrease governmental expenses and run a more financially sound office. Recouped funds from such efforts are now being reinvested into low income areas through social programs, crime and violence prevention, infrastructure, pensions for senior citizens, and scholarships for students, writes Reuters.

President López Obrador’s approach to cut government spending has been multi-pronged, as described below.

Government Salaries

One of President López Obrador’s first steps in office was to limit the salary of the president. He immediately cut his income to 40% of that of his predecessor, President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). President López Obrador now takes home $108,000 pesos per month ($60,000 USD annually).

The president also praised a ruling from the Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN) in January 2019 that limited what members of the public sector and judiciary can earn. The law (Ley de Remuneraciones de los Servidores Públicos) reduces Supreme Court justices’ salaries by 25%. This is in line with President López Obrador’s campaign commitment that no public sector worker shall earn more than the president unless in special circumstances. For its part, the Supreme Court noted that its decision was “part of a new policy of austerity” that emanated from its then-recently elected Chief Justice who began his term in early January 2019.

Presidential Residence

Former and current Mexican presidents at the National Palace

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (left) and former President Enrique Peña Nieto walk through the National Palace. Photo: Associated Press.

President López Obrador is also cutting government expenses by downsizing his place of residence. Over the summer of 2019, the president plans to relocate for a second time since taking office in December 2018. At that time, he moved from the former presidential residence into his family’s town house on the south-side of Mexico City. The old presidential residence has since been converted into a center for the arts.

Now the president will live in an unused office apartment in the historic National Palace in downtown Mexico City. The move will not only save funds by consolidating efforts, but will also help him avoid the challenging daily commuter traffic in and out of Mexico City. “The president, who holds a 7:00 am news conference every weekday morning [in the National Palace], already sleeps over at the office sometimes,” writes The Associated Press.

President López Obrador has committed to keeping the National Palace open to tourists and to preserving the historic Diego Rivera murals onsite. 

Auctioned Items

In addition to cutting salaries and downsizing residencies, President López Obrador is also working to bring in more government funds. One of the ways in which he is doing so is by auctioning off high-end government items and resources. In June, the president outlined his plan, for example, to sell the presidential airplane, the value of which is estimated at $150 million (USD). Proceeds from the sale will be used to offset the rising costs required to implement Mexico’s plan to curb immigration, which has been a hot topic of late between Mexico and the United States. More than 50 other governmental helicopters and planes are also being sold, according to Animal Político.

Photos of properties for auction

Properties listed for auction by the López Obrador Administration. Photo: El Servicio de Administración y Enajenación de Bienes (SAE).

The López Obrador administration also began auctioning off properties and luxury items seized from drug trafficking organizations, cartel leaders, and even politicians. A live auction held in June saw 27 properties up for bid, including “houses with swimming pools and escape tunnels, a ranch surrounded by hectares of land and a luxury apartment with a grisly history,” writes Reuters. Almost $3 million (USD) was raised off of the nine properties that actually sold. An auction held the month before that featured a Lamborghini and similar assets netted the government $1.5 million (USD).

Funds raised are being committed to supporting marginalized and low-income communities, such as those in the State of Guerrero that benefitted from June’s auction. “[Buyers] will know that in addition to acquiring a good, they will also be doing good, that is, they will be helping those who need support because of the situation of poverty and marginalization they suffer,” the president said.

President López Obrador’s focus on fiscal austerity continues to play out in his first year in office. By decreasing government expenses and increasing revenue directed towards supporting social good and the common people, he is working to fulfill his populist campaign promise.

Sources:

Associated Press. “Mexico’s president-elect Amlo to take 60% pay cut in austerity push.” The Guardian. July 16, 2018.

“Mexico president-elect hails passage of public sector pay cuts.” Reuters. September 14, 2018.

“Mexico’s Supreme Court agrees to lower salaries after spat.” The Associated Press. January 8, 2019.

“AMLO pleased with Supreme Court’s decision to cut salaries.” Justice in Mexico. January 14, 2019.

“Presupuesto para plan migratorio saldría de la venta del avión presidencial: López Obrador.” El Financiero. June 12, 2019.

Ávila, Yuriria. “El Sabueso: Los datos engañosos de AMLO sobre la venta del avión presidencial.” Animal Político. June 18, 2019.

“Gobierno recauda menos de lo esperado en subasta de mansions de narcos.” Forbes. June 23, 2019.

Oré, Diego. “Narco safe houses, ranches and luxury apartments auctioned in Mexico.” Reuters. June 23, 2019.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. June 24, 2019.

“Mexican president to move from home to office apartment.” The Associated Press. June 27, 2019.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. June 28, 2019.

Homicide Rates and Clandestine Graves Highlight Mexico’s Systemic Challenges

06/26/19 (written by kheinle) — The first six months of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s sexenio (2018-2024) have proven to be the most violent such period for a president in Mexico’s recent history. Mexico’s ongoing struggles to combat crime and violence were highlighted of late with the release of data on the increasing homicide rates and clandestine graves throughout Mexico.

Intentional Homicide Rate Continues to Rise

Map of homicide victims by municipality in 2018

This map depicts the distribution of homicide victims by municipality in 2018, as reported by the National Public Security (SNSP). Source: Justice in Mexico, 2019.

According to Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP), 17,498 people were murdered between December 2018 and May 2019; an average of almost 3,000 per month. Despite a slight drop in the number of intentional homicides reported in April (2,724 homicides) compared to previous months, May saw an increase to the highest tally yet for 2019 with 2,903 killings, or the equivalent of 96 per day. February, however, continues to have the highest number of homicides per day on average in 2019 (102 homicides/day) thanks to similar numbers reported (2,877 homicides) over fewer days in the month (28 days).

The mid-year data also revealed that just over half of Mexico’s 32 state and federal entities saw increases in the number of homicides registered since the start of the López Obrador administration. According to SESNSP’s data, when compared to the same period of time the year before (December 2017 – May 2018), the most significant or “worrisome” increase in homicide rates occurred in Nuevo León. As reported by Animal Político, Nuevo León’s homicide rate increased from 5.3 homicides per 100,000 individuals to 9.2 homicides per 100,000 individuals. The 72% increase far surpassed the rises in Tabasco (50.7%), Mexico City (43.2%), Sonora (43.1%), and Morelos (42.5%). Meanwhile the states with the largest decreases in homicide rates during that time period were Baja California Sur (78.3% reduction), Nayarit (69%), and Guerrero (30.8%).

Map of Mexico and violence

Photo: El Universal.

The media’s role in disseminating information on homicides is also of note. A recent report by El Universal with support from Google News Initiative found that the Mexican media in ten different states have decreased the amount of coverage given to homicides reported in 2019 compared to previous years. In particular, Baja California Sur, Chihuahua, and Nayarit have published the least information proportional to number of homicides committed in 2019. The states of Aguascalientes, Colima, Guerrero, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Puebla, Quinata Roo, Tamulipas, and Zacatecas round out the list of ten. The authors looked at official homicide data spanning from 2005 to 2019 vis-à-vis the press’ reporting on such killings.

Justice in Mexico’s annual report released in April 2019, “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2018,” also took an in depth look at SNSP’s 2018 data. The authors found, for example, that although Baja California had the highest number of intentional homicide cases in 2018 (2,805), Guanajuato had the largest annual increase in total homicides, nearly doubling its recorded number from 2017. To read more about Mexico’s crime and violence at the federal, state, and local levels in 2018, check out Justice in Mexico’s full report here.

Clandestine Graves and Desaparecidos

In addition to Mexico’s record-breaking levels of homicide, the nation continues to grapple with the existence of clandestine graves and associated disappearances (desaparecidos).

Forensic experts move a body found in a clandestine grave on a farm in Guadalajar, Jalisco in April 2019. Photo: Francisco Guasco, EFE.

Forensic experts move a body found in a clandestine grave on a farm in Guadalajar, Jalisco in April 2019. Photo: Francisco Guasco, EFE.

In mid-June, researchers with Mexico City’s Universidad Iberoamericana confirmed the existence of 1,606 clandestine graves throughout Mexico. According to their report, “Violence and terror: findings on clandestine graves in Mexico 2006-2017” (“Violencia y terror: hallazgos sobre fosas clandestinas en México 2006-2017”), the states in which the most sites were located were Guerrero, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Zacatecas. The graves documented are from 2006 and 2017, a period of time that spans almost two presidents’ full sexenios (Felipe Calderón, 2006-2012; Enrique Peña Nieto, 2012-2018). According to the Associated Press, the graves found “may just scratch the surface of the true numbers behind what the [Universidad Iberoamericana] study called a ‘building phenomenon.’”

The reported graves contained nearly 2,500 bodies, of which the predominant majority are tied to the ongoing battles between drug-trafficking organizations (DTO) and organized crime groups (OCG). The researchers also clarified that their data was not comprehensive because eight of Mexico’s 32 states and federal entities did not submit data or documentation to their research project, claiming that no graves had been found within their entities during the specified timeframe.

Contextualizing the data, the report out of Universidad Iberoamericana emphasized the role that Mexico’s high levels of impunity have in perpetuating the existence of secret graves. “It is reflective of the level of social decay and dehumanization that the country has reached,” the researchers wrote. Jan Jarab, representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Mexico, also weighed in on the findings. “This horror map of clandestine graves can only be combatted with strategies addressing impunity,” he said.

Such disappearances like the victims’ remains found in the graves have long been a critical issue in Mexico. According to the government’s national search commission, there are more than 40,000 persons estimated missing in Mexico.

Impunity vis-à-vis the NSJP

México SOS Director Alejandro Martí speaks at a conference. Photo: La Otra Opinión.

México SOS Director Alejandro Martí speaks at a conference. Photo: La Otra Opinión.

Mexico’s systemic challenges with crime, violence, impunity, and the ways in which they manifest themselves in society (i.e., clandestine graves) were recently at the center of criticism leveled by human rights activist Alejandro Martí toward the government. According to Martí, who is the head of the organization México SOS, Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) carries some of the responsibility in perpetuating impunity. “The fundamental problem of the [NSJP] is the corruption,” he said. “And corruption produces this terrible impunity, which I have said for years. Impunity is a result of all the wrongs of Mexico.”

Martí also called out elected officials – particularly governors – and the police for the pervasiveness of corruption within their systems. He reminded the media with which he spoke that “half of the group of kidnappers who killed my son were police,” referencing his son’s murder in 2008 that led him to become an activist. Martí leveled his criticisms during a press conference promoting Mexico’s 8th National Forum on Security and Justice (“8° Foro Nacional de Seguridad y Justicia”) held June 7-8.

Whether the New Criminal Justice System does indeed bear some of the responsibility, as Martí alleges, it is clear nonetheless that the López Obrador Administration faces systemic challenges when addressing Mexico’s notorious levels of crime and violence. Homicide rates, clandestine graves, disappearances, and impunity are but a few.

Sources:

Calderón, Laura et al. “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2018.” Justice in Mexico. April 2019.

Dávila, Patricia. “Corrupción en Nuevo Sistema de Justicia produce esta terrible impunidad’: Martí.” Proceso. June 2, 2019.

Román, Esteban. “En 10 estados guardan silencio sobre homicidios.” El Universal. June 13, 2019.

Krumholtz, Michael. “Researchers confirm 1,600 secret graves in Mexico since 2006.” Associated Press. June 20, 2019. 

“México enfrenta abismo de desinformación para encontrar a sus desparecidos.” Agencia EFE. June 20, 2019.

Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. “Víctimas de Delitos de Fuero Común 2019.” Centro Nacional de Información. June 20, 2019.

Angel, Arturo. “Con 17,500 asesinatos, el primer semestre de AMLO es el más violento de los últimos sexenios.” Animal Politico. June 21, 2019.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. June 21, 2019.

Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de Derechos Humanos. “Violencia y terror: hallazgos sobre fosas clandestinas en México 2006-2017.” Universidad Iberoamericana. June 2019.

Efforts to Combat Corruption in Mexico Exemplify the Depth of the Problem

06/11/19 (written by kheinle) — One of the defining pillars of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (2018-2024) presidential campaign platform was his commitment to root out corruption in Mexico. Just six months after taking office, his administration has made some advances in several cases against high profile individuals and/or government officials. However, such efforts, as described below, also demonstrate just how pervasive the problem of corruption is in Mexico.

Judicial Branch

Allegations recently came forth that implicate members of the judiciary, including those at the highest level of the Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN).

District Courts

Map of Mexico

Information shared with the Federal Judicial Council in late 2018 showed the documented cases of corruption, irregularities, and serious offenses in Mexico’s courts. Source: El Universal, Elaboración Propia.

First, news came out in early June that Mexico’s Federal Judiciary (Poder Judicial de la Federación) had documented cases of serious abuses by judges and magistrates throughout Mexico from 2014 to 2018. El Universal reported that the cases involved crimes of corruption, collusion, ties with organized crime, nepotism, and sexual harassment, among others. The charges led to 49 district judges and 39 magistrates being sanctioned for their “irregularities” in the courts. Another 15 judges and magistrates were ultimately dismissed from the bench for having committed serious offenses.

Information on the alleged abuses were turned over to Mexico’s Federal Judicial Council (Consejo de la Judicatura Federal, CJF) at the end of 2018. The investigations found the states of Jalisco, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Veracruz, and Zacatecas were involved. Jalisco, in particular, has since garnered the most attention from Supreme Court Justice President Arturo Zaldívar Lelo de Larrea to address the problem. This has included disciplinary action against justice system operators and reassignment of positions, among others. Justice Zaldívar reported success with the focused efforts. “Particularly in the state of Jalisco,” he said on May 3, “which is one of the circuits that we had learned had been dealing with all sorts of problems, we have begun to overhaul the circuit. We feel it is important to issue reassignments in order to have new blood.”

Supreme Court

Accusations of corruption within the courts then extended to the Supreme Court not a few weeks after. On June 6, the Director of the Mexican Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad Inteligencia Financiera, UIF), Santiago Nieto Castillo, announced that the Mexican Senate had requested his agency to look into suspicious money transfers made to the overseas accounts of sitting SCJN Justice Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza (2015-present). An Op-Ed piece by Salvador García Soto in El Universal on June 5 reported that between 2016 and 2018, the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency documented a total of $2.4 million (USD) deposited into Justice Medina Mora’s HSBC UK account. The U.S. Treasury Department reported similar transfers in the amount of $2.1 million (USD) into his HSBC USA account during the same time period.

One day after García’s piece was published, the Senate initiated proceedings for the UIF to begin its investigation. After the news broke, President López Obrador reminded Mexicans that Justice Medina is not guilty simply because suspicious activity was reported, and that his government was looking into it.

PEMEX and Altos Hornos de México

Mexican Supreme Court Justice and former Mexican president

Supreme Court Justice Medina-Mora (right) with former President Enrique Peña Nieto (left). Source: Zeta Tijuana.

Just before the allegations against Justice Medina-Mora came out, The Wall Street Journal reported that the López Obrador administration launched its first high-profile case against corruption in late-May. The case involves former CEO of Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Emilio Lozoya Austin, and former head of Altos Hornos de México, Alonso Ancira Elizondo. Pemex is Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company, whereas Altos Hornos de México is one of the nation’s largest steelmakers.

Both men are alleged to have engaged in making illegal payments through their former companies, either with unlawful earnings in Lozoya’s case or through shell companies in that of Ancira Elizondo. According to Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF), which is overseeing the investigations, “multiple operations were identified in the domestic and international financial system that were carried out with resources that allegedly do not come from lawful activities and which are presumed to have derived from acts of corruption.” The López Obrador administration has since frozen the bank accounts and assets of Lozoya and Ancira while the investigations unfold. “The Mexican government’s policy is zero tolerance for corruption and impunity,” said the UIF Director Nieto Castillo.

The López Obrador Administration

President López Obrador has held up his campaign promise and made corruption one of his biggest focuses since taking office. The high-profile cases against Pemex’s Lozoya Austin and Altos Hornos de México’s Ancira Elizondo, the dismissal of 15 district judges and magistrates, and the launch of the investigation into sitting SCJN Justice Medina-Mora, however, demonstrate the magnitude of the work President López Obrador has ahead.

In Justice in Mexico’s annual report, “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Analysis Through 2018,” the authors provided recommendations for ways the López Obrador Administration and others could combat corruption in Mexico. “Mexican civic organizations, international agencies, and foreign governments can help Mexico crackdown on corruption,” they argue. “For example, foreign governments can investigate corruption claims and, where appropriate, deny travel privileges or freeze the assets of Mexican nationals wanted on corruption charges.” It continued, “International foundations and non-governmental organizations can partner with Mexican anti-corruption agencies and organizations to provide much needed funding and technical assistance.”

To read the full report, click here.

 

Sources:

Calderón, Laura et al. “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Analysis Through 2018.” Justice in Mexico. April 2019.

Lastiri, Diana. “Jalisco ‘foco rojo’ de la corrupción en Poder Judicial.” El Universal. May 16, 2019.

Esposito, Anthony. “Mexico takes aim at former Pemex CEO in fight against graft.” Reuters. May 27, 2019.

Harrup, Anthony and Juan Montes. “Mexican Investigators File Corruption Charges Against Pemex Ex-CEO.” The Wall Street Journal. May 27, 2019.

“Alonso Ancira Elizondo, el dueño de Altos Hornos que detenido en España.” Milenio. May 28, 2019.

Guthrie, Amy. “Mexico freezes oil exec, steel accounts in corruption probe.” The Associated Press. May 28, 2019.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. May 29, 2019.

Lastiri Diana. “Destituyen a 15 jueces por acoso y corrupción.” El Universal. June 4, 2019.

García Soto, Salvador. “Opinión: Las transferencias millonarias del ministro Medina Mora.” El Universal. June 5, 2019.

Álvarez, Carlos. “Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera analizará depósitos a ministro Eduardo Medina Mora.” Zeta Tijuana. June 7, 2019.

Around the States: Oral Trials

06/02/19 (written by kheinle) — Oral trials (juicios orales) were one of the landmark features of Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NJSP). The introduction, incorporation, and institutionalization of such a critical component in the judicial system has required a significant amount of resources, including human capital, training, infrastructure, and financial investment. Three years since the NSJP was formally launched in June 2016, Mexican states and Mexico City (Ciudad de México, CdMx) continue to invest in developing the efficiency and effectiveness of oral trials. The successes of such efforts in several entities are described below.

Mexico City (CdMx)

Source: Justice in Mexico.

According to the Superior Court of Justice of Mexico City (Tribunal Superior de Justicia de la Ciudad de México, TSJCDMX), more than 7,600 hearings are held each month in the nation’s capital. This is in large part thanks to the 160 judges who oversee the proceedings and the 122 oral trial courtrooms in operation that are equipped with videotaping functionality.

The Executive Director of TSJCDMX’s Judicial Administration (Gestión Judicial), José Eligio Rodríguez Alba, commented on the positive impact that technology has had on the courts’ operations. “We utilize three technology systems,” he said. “The first is the system of judicial administration, which coordinates the various hearings throughout the different zones. There is also the central notification system, which helps to keep those involved in the proceedings informed of matters [pertaining to their case]. And lastly, we have video recording capabilities that capture all of the testimony, which impacts judicial expediency.”

Rodríguez Alba emphasized the impact that this system of shared work has had on oral trials. Allowing judges to focus solely on the courtroom proceedings by removing the administrative duties from their plates, he said, have made the courts and oral proceedings more efficient.

San Luis Potosí (SLP)

Source: Justice in Mexico.

Judges and magistrates from the State Judiciaries of San Luis Potosí and Quintana Roo (Poderes Judiciales de los Estados, PJE) attended a training the week of May 20, 2019, titled “Competency-based Oral Resolutions and the Test of the Accusatory Penal System” (“Resoluciones orales basado en competencias y la prueba en el Sistema penal acusatorio”). The course, which was held in San Luis Potosí, was facilitated by representatives from Canada’s National Judicial Institute and the University of Ottawa.

The training focused on strengthening the oral trial system by making the proceedings more accessible to and better understood by the people of Mexico. It worked with judges and magistrates to use less technical language when overseeing courtroom proceedings and more common language instead. “To be able to communicate in simple language when speaking with community is what this new system of justice and oral trials are seeking to do,” said Magistrate Lucero Quiroz Carbajal of Mexico State’s Supreme Court of Justice (Supremo Tribunal del Estado de México, STEM) at the event. “The people will be able to understand the motives and reasoning for why a verdict was given towards a person, based on the legal determination.”

San Luis Potosí is recognized for its advances in implementing the oral trial system. Magistrate Quiroz noted that was part of the decision-making behind hosting the training there in May.

Veracruz

Source: Justice in Mexico

Eliseo Juan Hernández Villaverde, consultant to the president of the Superior Court of Justice of Mexico City (TSJCDMX), facilitated a training in Veracruz in mid-May titled “Civil Orality” (“Oralidad Civil”). Attendees included judges, magistrates, and public servants who work in civil and family law in Xalapa and Coatepec. Members of the State’s Superior Court of Justice (Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Veracruz, TSJV) also attended.

As part of the training, Hernández Villaverde referenced the success the courts have had in Mexico City with oral trials. This includes, he said, the 26 civil law judges and ten family law judges active in oral trials. He also shared the court’s plans to prepare 50 civil and 50 family law judges within the next year. At the end of the training, Hernández Villaverde encouraged participants in their own states to “be open to breaking the procedural [traditional] paradigm. We need more judges that have the courage to disrupt such paradigm and…that have the confidence in developing the judicial operators with the skills, ability, and technicalities of the oral trial system.” This, he concluded, would in turn expedite judicial proceedings.

Sources:

“Imparten conferencia sobre oralidad civil a servidores públicos del Poder Judicial.El Democrata. May 18, 2019.

Escalante González, Bertha. “Poder Judicial rumbo a la consolidación del NSJP.” El Sol de San Luis. May 20, 2019.

Redacción. “Poder Judicial y el Instituto Nacional de la Judicatura de Canadá inician curso.” El Exprés. May 20, 2019.

Notimex. “Tribunal de Justicia local realiza más de siete mil audiencias al mes.” 20 Minutos. May 26, 2019.

“TSJCDMX, crea 122 salas de oralidad con sistema de videograbación.” Contra Réplica. May 26, 2019.

Fifth journalist killed in Mexico in 2019

Journalist killed in Quintana Roo.

Francisco Romero Díaz was killed on May 16, 2019 in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo. Source: Notimundo.

05/21/19 (written by kheinle) — Mexico is on pace to be the world’s most dangerous country for journalists in 2019, according to Reporters Without Borders. Five media workers have been killed in Mexico in just the first five months of the year, the most recent coming in the early morning of May 16. Authorities found the body of Francisco Romero Díaz in the popular Playa del Carmen beach town in Quintana Roo. Romero was a reporter with Quintana Roo Hoy and oversaw an online Facebook page called Ocurrió Aquí through which he posted on local stories, politics, and harassment against journalists. He was the fourth journalist killed in Quintana Roo in the past 12 months, reports El Universal, and the sixth nationwide since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in December 2018, according to advocacy organization Article 19.

The 28-year-old reporter and his family faced ongoing threats in response to his coverage of crime and violence. The threats were serious enough that Romero had enrolled in a federal protection program for at-risk journalists, which gave him access to body guards and to a “panic button,” among other tactics, to ensure his safety. The night of his death, however, Romero had reportedly dismissed his guards for the evening, but then received an early morning phone call about a tip on a story at the local club, to which he responded. Authorities found his body soon thereafter with at least two gunshot wounds.

Committee to Protect Journalists’ Mexico Representative Jan-Albert Hootsen responded to Romero’s death. “This brutal murder of Francisco Romero Díaz is a direct consequence of the unabating violence in Quintana Roo and Playa del Carmen, a state and city popular with tourists, but lethal for journalists,” he said. “Mexican authorities must do everything in their power to bring the culprits to justice…”

Violence Against Journalists in Mexico

Mexico has long been one of the most dangerous countries for members of the media to work. In 2018, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), four journalists were killed in Mexico, tying it with the United States in fourth place on their list of most journalists killed. Only Afghanistan (13 journalists killed), Syria (9), and India (5) had more. Justice in Mexico’s Memoria dataset, however, adopts a less conservative measure than CJP, considering cases of both media workers and journalists who may have been victims of intentional homicide for a variety of motives not limited to their reporting. According to that dataset, 16 such individuals were killed in 2018 — four times higher than CPJ’s tally.

The New Criminal Justice System

Despite the danger that Mexican journalists face, the government recently took a step forward in its efforts to protect this vulnerable population. On May 15, a Special District Judge (Juez de Distrito Especializado) in the Center for Federal Criminal Justice (Centro de Justicia Penal Federal) in Xalapa, Veracruz sentenced an individual for threatening a journalist. According to local sources, the defendant, Joaquín R. P., threatened reporter Edgar Juárez Gómez via social media, telephone calls, and text messages in response to a story that Juárez Gómez had published about the defendant’s brother being held in detention. The six-month sentence handed down was the first of its kind for such crimes to be given in Veracruz under the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP).

To read more about the dangers that journalists face in Mexico, check out Justice in Mexico’s annual report released in April 2019, “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico.”

Sources:

“54 Journalists Killed.” Committee to Protect Journalists. Last accessed March 24, 2019.

Calderón, Laura et al. “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. April 2019.

Barranco Déctor, Rodrigo. “Por primera vez en Veracruz, sentencian a sujeto por atentar contra periodista.” La Silla Rota. May 15, 2019.

“Por amenazar a periodista veracruzano, lo sentencian a 6 meses de prisión.” Noreste. May 15, 2019.

J.M.C. “Asesinado un periodista en Playa del Carmen, el sexto en México en 2019.” El País. May 16, 2019.

“Reportan al quinto periodista asesinado durante el 2019 en México.” El Universal. May 16, 2019.

“Reporter shot and killed in Mexican tourist resort.” Reuters. May 16, 2019.

“Mexican reporter Francisco Romero Díaz shot dead in Playa del Carmen.” Committee to Protect Journalists. May 17, 2019.