Slaying of Sonora Journalist Reignites Calls for More Protections

Protestors gather in response to Ricardo Domínguez López’s killing. Photo: Cristina Gómez Lima, La Jornada

08/05/21 (written by rramos) – On July 22, journalist Ricardo Domínguez López was killed by a group of armed assailants in the parking lot of a shopping center in Guaymas, Sonora. At the time of his death, Domínguez López was director of local media outlet InfoGuaymas and also served as president of the Metropolitan Association of Independent Journalists of Guaymas and Empalme (Asociación Metropolitana de Periodistas Independientes de Guaymas-Empalme). 

The slaying of Domínguez López drew widespread condemnation. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH) issued a press release denouncing the murder, and specifically called on Sonora authorities to investigate the possibility that Domínguez López was targeted because of his journalistic work. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador himself expressed condolences to Domínguez López’s family in his morning press conference the day after the killing, and reaffirmed the Mexican Government’s commitment to protecting journalists. 

Back in March 2021, Domínguez López expressed fears over threats and harassment that he claimed he had been receiving from criminal groups. In a formal complaint filed with the federal Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR), Domínguez López asserted that criminal elements were attempting to intimidate him and other journalists in Guaymas specifically because of their reporting. In the filing, he also lamented that although many media workers in the city had made numerous reports to various government agencies, journalists continued to receive threats, including from allegedly corrupt local officials such as the Guaymas public security commissioner

Recent Violence Against Media Workers 

The July 22 killing in Sonora follows a recent string of violent incidents targeting journalists and other media workers. On July 19, just days before Domínguez López was killed, radio broadcaster Abraham Mendoza died after being shot at point-blank range as he exited a gym in Morelia, Michoacán. Mendoza had become well-known in the Morelia area for his work on a radio news talk show in which he often criticized politicians, including some with ties to President López Obrador’s ruling National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, MORENA) party. Similar to Domínguez López’s murder, Mendoza’s killing also attracted widespread attention, including a statement from the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 

According to Animal Político, several other journalists throughout Mexico have also been murdered in 2021 so far, including cases in Coahuila, Mexico State, and Oaxaca. Along with homicides, disappearances represent another serious danger for media workers. This year alone in Domíguez López’s state of Sonora, two journalists—Jorge Molontzín and Pablo Felipe Romero Chávez—both went missing in March and have yet to be located. 

Reaction from Journalists

There have been some high-profile successes in resolving acts of violence against journalists recently. This includes the sentencing in June 2021 of one of the participants in the murder of Sinaloa journalist Javier Valdez and the February arrest of former Puebla Governor Mario Marín Torres in connection with the 2005 torture of investigative reporter Lydia Cacho. Nevertheless, the series of killings and disappearances of media workers this year has compelled journalists to demand greater protections, including more police protection for them and their families.

Days after the Domínguez López homicide in Guaymas, media workers from throughout Sonora, including photographers, camerapersons, reporters, and others also marched towards the offices of the state Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de Justicia del Estado, FGJE) in Hermosillo. There, the protestors delivered a document to Sonora Attorney General Claudia Indira Contreras calling for government officials to either redouble their efforts in investigating and prosecuting crimes against media workers, or resign. 

The exasperated response from journalists in the wake of these most recent aggressions appears to be justified. A 2020 report issued by the Reporters Without Borders found Mexico to be the deadliest country for journalists. According to the international non-governmental organization Artículo 19, at least 139 media workers in Mexico have been killed since 2000 for reasons related to their profession. Of these, 43 were murdered during the administration of current President López Obrador, according to data from the federal Secretary of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB). If authorities fail to heed calls for more meaningful actions to safeguard journalists and hold perpetrators of violence accountable, freedoms of expression and access to information may continue to be further jeopardized in the future. 

Sources:

“Periodistas desaparecidos en México.” Periodistas de a Pie. October 10, 2020. 

“Balance 2020: Periodistas Asesinados.” Reporteros Sin Fronteras. December 2020. 6.

Ahrens-Viquez, Ashley. “Ex-governor of Puebla arrested for the 2005 torture of journalist Lydia Cacho.” Justice in Mexico. February 9, 2021. 

Linares, Albinson. “Mexico is deadliest country for journalists, who also face government harassment.” NBC News/Noticias Telemundo. May 8, 2021. 

“Pasará 32 años preso El Quillo, uno de los asesinos de Javier Valdez.” La Jornada. June 18, 2021.

“Asesinatos de periodistas en México: resultado de la ausencia de una política pública integral de protección.” Artículo 19. June 21, 2021.

“Matan al periodista Abraham Mendoza cuando salía del gimnasio, en Michoacán.” Animal Político. July 19, 2021. 

Estrada, Jocelyn. “Asesinan al periodista Abraham Mendoza en Morelia, Michoacán.” Milenio. July 19, 2021. 

Jiménez, Adid. “Acribillan al periodista michoacano Abraham Mendoza en zona centro de Morelia.” La Prensa/El Sol de Morelia. July 19, 2021

“Asesinan al periodista Abraham Mendoza.” La Jornada. July 20, 2021.

“Asesinato de periodistas en México: Matan al reportero Ricardo López al Norte de Guaymas.” El Imparcial. July 22, 2021. 

“Periodista Ricardo Dominguez López de Info Guaymas es asesinado en centro comercial.” PolíticoMX. July 22, 2021. 

“El periodista Ricardo Domínguez López es asesinado en Guaymas, Sonora.” Expansión Política. July 22, 2021. 

Álvarez, Carlos. “Asesinan en su cumpleaños al periodista Ricardo Domínguez López, en Guaymas, Sonora.” Zeta Tijuana. July 22, 2021. 

Escobar, Amalia. “Asesinan en Sonora al periodista Ricardo López, director de Info Guaymas.” El Universal. July 22, 2021. 

“COMUNICADO DE PRENSA DGC/197/2021.” Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos. July 23, 2021. 

“Director-General condemns the killing of broadcaster Abraham Mendoza in Mexico.” United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. July 23, 2021. 

Aguirre, Ignacio. “AMLO se compromete proteger a periodistas tras el asesinato de Ricardo Domínguez en Sonora.” Línea Directa. July 23, 2021. 

Gómez Lima, Cristina. “Sonora: periodistas exigen garantías para trabajar.” La Jornada. July 24, 2021. 

“Periodistas de Sonora exigen justicia por asesinato de Ricardo López.” La Jornada. July 26, 2021. 

Martínez, Lorena. “Investigarán al comisario de Seguridad Pública de Guaymas por el asesinato de Ricardo López.” Expreso. July 26, 2021.

Martínez, Milton. “Director de seguridad de Guaymas es investigado en asesinato de periodista.” Proceso. July 27, 2021. 

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “Mexican journalist Ricardo López shot and killed in Sonora.” IFEX (International Freedom of Expression Exchange). August 4, 2021.

Rising Violence Along Baja California-Sonora Border Tied to Larger Organized Crime Disputes

04/08/21 (written by rramos) –

Continuous Increase in Homicides in Mexicali

Recent data from government agencies and civil society appear to indicate a considerable increase in homicides in Mexicali, the capital city of Baja California. On March 25, Juan Manuel Hernández Niebla, president of the Citizen Public Security Council of Baja California (Consejo Ciudadano de Seguridad Pública de Baja California, CCSPBC) told El Heraldo de México that homicides in Mexicali rose 32% in January and February of 2021 compared to the same period last year. Official figures released by the state Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General del Estado, FGE) three days earlier had shown an even larger jump, with reported homicides in the municipality increasing 43% in the first two months of this year compared to the same period in 2020. According to the FGE, a significant portion of homicides in 2021 so far have been concentrated in the Mexicali Valley region, which lies east of Mexicali’s urban core and is composed of various rural communities situated near Baja California’s border with Sonora. 

The steady growth in homicides in Mexicali in the early part of 2021 reveals a worrying trend that appears to have taken hold of the city within the past year. In December 2020, data from the National Citizen Observatory (Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano, ONC) showed that Mexicali had suffered a 36% increase in homicides during the first 10 months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. If the growth in murders seen at the beginning of this year continues, the city may experience another year-on-year increase in homicides by the end of 2021.

Photo: Radio Patrulla.

Cross-Border Criminal Activity in San Luis Rio Colorado

The uptick in violence is not confined to Mexicali. Located across the state border in neighboring Sonora, the municipality of San Luis Rio Colorado has also seen a rise in violent crime during the same period in which Mexicali has faced higher murder rates. Local media outlets reported in July 2020 that figures from the National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) showed a 6% increase in homicides in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. That year, San Luis Rio Colorado had suffered a dramatic spike of nearly 250% in the number of homicides recorded in the city.  

Due to the geographic proximity between the Mexicali Valley (where most of the homicides in Mexicali have been concentrated) and areas of San Luis Rio Colorado that have seen criminal activity, authorities have assessed that incidents of violence seen on both sides of the state border are likely interconnected.

Organized Crime Conflicts Driving the Surge in Violence

The upsurge in violence in both Mexicali and San Luis Rio Colorado appears to be driven by larger conflicts that have implications beyond the Baja California-Sonora border region. According to Zeta Tijuana, public security agencies in Baja California have determined that the sharp rise in homicides in Mexicali is due largely to two criminal groups, both with ties to the Sinaloa Cartel. One group has been identified as Los Rusos, led by Jesús Alexander “El Ruso” Sánchez Félix and Felipe Eduardo “El Omega” Barajas Lozano. The other group is Los Salazar, a longstanding branch of the Sinaloa Cartel known for its strong criminal influence in Sonora. 

Both Los Rusos and Los Salazar are themselves linked to the larger struggle within the Sinaloa Cartel between the sons of jailed kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, known collectively as Los Chapitos, and their father’s former associate, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada García. “El Ruso” and “El Omega” have been identified as members of the faction headed by El Mayo, while Los Salazar are widely reported to be associated with Los Chapitos. Media reports indicate that Los Salazar have been gradually entering Mexicali from San Luis Rio Colorado as part of Los Chapitos’ broader efforts to target Sinaloa Cartel operatives who have remained loyal to El Mayo. This has meant that Los Salazar have been locked in an ongoing clash with “El Omega” and “El Ruso” for control of Mexicali. For his part, “El Ruso” has at times been active in San Luis Rio Colorado as part of a continuous struggle with Los Chapitos. These cross-border incursions by both sides have turned the region between Mexicali and San Luis Rio Colorado into yet another theater of operations in the larger conflict between Los Chapitos and El Mayo. 

There are recent indications that the fighting that has straddled the border between Baja California and Sonora may intensify further. In early March 2021, government intelligence officials determined that Los Salazar had formed an alliance with Los Garibay, a local criminal group active in the Mexicali Valley. Authorities reportedly expect that this partnership will enable Los Salazar to more effectively compete against the forces of “El Omega” and  “El Ruso.” In particular, Los Garibay, with their familiarity of the local terrain in the Mexicali Valley, may provide assistance to Los Salazar in navigating the area’s numerous rural roads, thereby allowing Los Salazar to move between Sonora and Baja California more easily. With these recent developments, it is likely that high levels of violence will persist along the border between the two states. 

Sources

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