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Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Mexico

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2005
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Mexico, February 2005, available at: [accessed 23 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

While journalists in the capital, Mexico City, report freely on government, crime, and corruption, reporters in the U.S.-Mexico border region risk grave danger in covering sensitive topics, such as drug trafficking. Two border journalists were killed for their work in 2004.

Francisco Ortiz Franco, 48, an editor and reporter with the tabloid weekly Zeta, was gunned down in front of his children in broad daylight near downtown Tijuana on June 22. Federal authorities took over the investigation in August after evidence linked the killing to organized crime.

Investigators said they believe that members of the powerful Arellano Félix cartel killed Ortiz Franco because of stories he wrote about them, but not enough evidence had been assembled by year's end to obtain arrest warrants.

CPJ Deputy Director Joel Simon and Americas Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría traveled to Tijuana for a week in September to interview police, prosecutors, analysts, and journalists about the slaying. CPJ later issued a special report, "Free-Fire Zone," describing how pervasive corruption and feuding between rival cartels had endangered the press.

Just weeks after the Tijuana killing sent shock waves through the Mexican press corps, another border journalist was killed in retaliation for his work. Francisco Arratia Saldierna, 55, a columnist for four newspapers who wrote frequently about organized crime and corruption, died after being brutally beaten in the city of Matamoros, near the Texas border, on August 31.

Mexican authorities said Raúl Castelán Cruz, an alleged drug-ring member, confessed to participating in the Arratia murder. While federal authorities charged Castelán with weapons possession on October 12, state prosecutors formally accused him of murder on December 27.

Outraged by the killings, Mexican journalists in more than 10 states took to the streets in simultaneous national rallies against violence on October 11. They urged authorities to investigate the murders thoroughly and to ensure that reporters can work without fear. In a letter to President Vicente Fox, they also demanded "guarantees for full freedom of expression and exemplary punishment for the crimes and attacks against journalists." The government proposed a task force to study the issue, an initial step that journalists hope will lead to concrete changes, such as making attacks against journalists a federal crime.

Although the murders were a major setback, many analysts still believe that press freedom has improved since Fox's election in 2000 ended more than 70 years of one-party rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). A landmark federal law guaranteeing access to government information continued to shine a brighter light on public affairs in 2004, a year after it took effect.

For their part, the Mexican media have become more transparent and less corrupt in the last five years, journalists say. But some of the old practices remain: Poorly paid journalists still accept bribes from politicians, and government officials still dole out tax incentives and government advertising in exchange for positive coverage.

In many states, criminal defamation laws are still used to silence criticism – and in the southern state of Chiapas, the situation worsened. The Congress in Chiapas approved changes to the Penal Code that reclassify defamation as a felony and lengthen prison terms to as much as nine years.

A 6-year-old murder case appears to have concluded with a conviction. On April 27, the Jalisco State Supreme Court reinstated the convictions and ordered the rearrests of two Huichol Indians, Juan Chivarra de la Cruz and his brother-in-law Miguel Hernández de la Cruz, in the slaying of San Antonio Express-News correspondent Philip True.

True, Mexico City bureau chief for the Express-News, was killed in December 1998 while working on a story about the Huichol Indians, an indigenous group that lives in a mountainous area stretching across Jalisco, Nayarit, and Durango states. The case had gone through several appeals and reversals before the Supreme Court's decision. The two men were at large at year's end.

2004 Documented Cases – Mexico

JANUARY 3, 2004
Posted: March 3, 2004

Irene Medrano Villanueva, El Sol de Sinaloa

Medrano, a reporter with the daily El Sol de Sinaloa, based in the state capital of Culiacán, in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, received several death threats after she wrote a series of reports on the proliferation of child prostitution in Culiacán.

From August to October 2003, Medrano wrote a series of reports alleging that some local brothels and massage parlors were employing minors. The articles also and criticized local municipal authorities for not going after brothels and massage parlors that employ minors.

On December 6, 2003, Medrano published the series' last report, claiming that minors were being recruited in public and private schools to work as prostitutes. Her stories contained testimony from the victims and information from the National System for the Integral Development of Families, the government agency for the protection of minors and families, which also criticized local authorities for not taking action against the abuses.

The same day the last report was published, the threats began. An anonymous caller phoned the newspaper and told a security guard that Medrano was going to die. Later that evening, an anonymous man called the journalist at her home and told her that she had signed "her death sentence."

On December 8, 2003, after finding that the word "death" had been painted on her car, Medrano filed a complaint with the Sinaloa Public Prosecutor's Office (PGJE). That evening, an anonymous caller phoned the journalist at home and told her that she was an informer who had caused her own death sentence. The PGJE then assigned Medrano a police agent to escort and protect her for five days.

On December 13, 2003, while Medrano was driving to work in the company of the police agent, a car without license plates came from behind, hit her car three times, and fled. On December 14, after discovering that her car's windshield had been smashed, she called the state police, who inspected her car the next day to search for evidence. Medrano was again assigned a police agent.

Feeling pressured, Medrano told CPJ, she then took a few days off from work. While she was driving to return to work on December 28, 2003, Medrano tried to stop in front of a stop sign, but her brakes did not respond, and, as a result, she crashed into a taxi. She then took her car to an auto shop, where a mechanic told her that her car's brake lines had been tampered with.

In early January 2004, the threatening phone calls intensified. On January 8, PGJE agents installed caller ID and a recording device on her home phone to trace the threatening calls. On January 12, after an initial call from a public telephone, another threatening phone call was registered. According to Medrano, PGJE agents told her that the calls came from the office of Jesús Enrique Hernández Chávez, the mayor of Culiacán. Because the investigation into the threats is still in its preliminary inquiry phase, the PGJE is not allowed to disclose any information except to the parties involved.

On January 16, Medrano denounced the threats in a press conference she held with the support of Sinaloa's two main journalists' associations. On January 19, Hernández Chávez came to the PGJE offices in Culiacán to deliver his testimony in writing regarding the threatening phone calls made from his office. The mayor is not a suspect in the investigation, but officials have questioned him since the calls originated from his office, according to local news reports. The January 17 issue of the Sinaloa newspaper Noroeste reported that Hernández Chávez called for a thorough investigation and for those responsible for the threats to be punished. He also expressed his support for Medrano's work, according to Noroeste, but did not make any statement to the press regarding the incident, saying he refused to speculate.

Nonetheless, the threatening phone calls continued, and Medrano's car was tailed by another car in late January, the journalist told CPJ on February 3.

MARCH 19, 2004
Posted: April 6, 2004

Roberto Javier Mora García, El Mañana

Mora, editorial director for the Nuevo Laredo-based daily El Mañana, was stabbed to death in front of his house. CPJ continues to investigate whether his murder is related to his work as a journalist.

Local authorities discovered Mora's body next to his vehicle, which was parked in front of his house, just before dawn on March 19. According to local press reports, Mora had arrived home from work at around 2 a.m. that day. He was stabbed more than 25 times. Police said that none of Mora's belongings were taken.

Although Mora had not received any threats, many of his colleagues believe that the murder may be related to El Mañana's coverage of drug trafficking and corruption in Nuevo Laredo. The city, located on the U.S.-Mexico border, is notorious for its drug gangs and is plagued by violence.

Investigators have said that it is too early to determine if Mora's slaying was related to his work, though robbery was considered unlikely.

Mexican President Vincente Fox has ordered federal authorities to work with state and local law enforcement agencies on this case. No arrests have been made.

MAY 12, 2004
Posted: June 9, 2004

Manuel de la Cruz, Cimacnoticias and W Radio

De la Cruz, correspondent for the news agency Cimacnoticias and W Radio in the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, in the southeastern state of Chiapas, was robbed and beaten by police. The journalist, who frequently covers drug trafficking and human rights issues in the region, believes that the attack was related to his work.

At around 1:30 a.m., as de la Cruz was leaving his girlfriend's home, two plainclothes officers detained him. After he identified himself as a journalist, the police officers laughed at him and insulted him, the Mexican press reported.

After stealing the journalist's money from his wallet, the two police officers beat de la Cruz. Five other agents on duty joined their colleagues in attacking the journalist. They later took him to a nearby park, where they met another 20 police officers. One of the officers, called Commander Medina by the others, attempted to sexually abuse him, de la Cruz said.

When de la Cruz resisted, he was beaten again and sprayed in the face with tear gas. An officer who identified himself as Enrique Ángel Ocaña told the journalist that he had a report accusing de la Cruz of defying police authority and assaulting the police. According to local press reports, the same officer later freed him.

De la Cruz told CPJ that the police never explained why they attacked him. Beatriz Jiménez, a reporter for Cimacnoticias in Mexico City, said the attack could have been motivated by de la Cruz's coverage of drug-related issues and of the illegal smuggling of immigrants across the Mexican-Guatemalan border.

Following the attack, de la Cruz filed criminal charges against the police officers with the Attorney General's Office in Chiapas, as well as a complaint with the State Commission on Human Rights. On May 21, a judge ordered the arrest of four police officers accused of beating de la Cruz and said he will continue to investigate other officers who participated in the attack.

JUNE 22, 2004
Posted: June 24, 2004
Updated July 19, 2004

Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco, Zeta

Ortiz Franco, a lawyer and co-editor of the Tijuana-based weekly Zeta, was gunned down by unidentified assailants in the border city of Tijuana, in Baja California state.

The journalist had just left a physical therapy clinic with his two children when masked gunmen in a vehicle pulled up to his car and shot him four times in the head and neck, according to local news reports. Ortiz Franco died at the scene. His children were unharmed.

One of the founders of Zeta in 1980, Ortiz Franco wrote editorials and worked on many investigative reports. He also served on a panel created by the Mexican government and the Inter American Press Association to review official investigations into the murders of Héctor Félix Miranda, Zeta's co-founder, and Víctor Manuel Oropeza, a columnist with the Diario de Juárez newspaper.

In a June 25 column, Zeta publisher J. Jesús Blancornelas said the weekly believes the slaying was in retaliation for Ortiz Franco's journalistic work. He suggested drug traffickers might have been behind the killing.

Zeta has covered corruption and drug trafficking in Tijuana for many years, with its award-winning reports prompting threats and attacks against its journalists.

In November 1997, members of the Tijuana drug cartel wounded Blancornelas, and killed his friend and bodyguard, Luis Valero Elizalde. In April 1988, Miranda was fatally shot by two men working as security guards at a racetrack owned by Jorge Hank Rhon, an influential businessman and politician.

The Baja California Attorney General's Office is following leads connected to Ortiz Franco's work as a journalist and lawyer, according to local news reports. The Mexico City-based daily El Universal reported that law enforcement experts concluded the slaying was similar in method to that used by organized crime.

Baja California Attorney General Antonio Willehado Martínez Luna said on June 28 that a hotline was set up for anonymous tips, and a reward of one million Mexican pesos (about $90,000) was offered for information leading to the capture of Ortiz Franco's killers. He appointed Alonso Méndez as a special prosecutor in charge of the investigation, according to local news reports.

Mexican President Vicente Fox Quesada has condemned the murder.

JULY 12, 2004
Posted: August 16, 2004

Gerardo Ponce De León Moreno, Crítica

Unidentified individuals tried to set fire to the house of Ponce, a political columnist with the Hermosillo-based weekly Crítica, in Sonora State, by igniting a container of gasoline in the front of his property. No one was injured in the attack, which caused minor damages to the journalist's car.

Ponce became aware of the attack when he was leaving his house on July 13. The journalist found an anonymous note saying that this was a first warning. "The next time we will attack you," said the note, according to Ponce.

The columnist told CPJ that the threatening letter warned him to stop writing "nonsense" or face the consequences. "It said that they are watching me and my family, they know all our movements," Ponce stated.

In his column, "Marquesina política" (Political Marquee), written under the pseudonym Dr. Pin Shivago, Ponce usually comments about local politics, security issues, and corruption. The journalist believes that the attack is related to his work.

A day after the attack, Ponce filed a complaint with the Sonora Public Prosecutor's Office. The journalist gave the investigators a copy of his columns from November 2003 to July 9, 2004.

JUNE 25, 2004
Posted: August 26, 2004

Álvaro Delgado, Proceso

Delgado, an investigative reporter with the leading news weekly Proceso, received threatening e-mail messages following his investigative reports into a right-wing group that had allegedly infiltrated the government.

On the evening of June 25, Delgado received a threatening e-mail message with an attachment at his Proceso e-mail address, he told CPJ. The attached file consisted of a drawing of a skeleton holding a bloodied knife, similar to those painted by renowned Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada. The drawing contained the message "The skeleton will come to you. Delgado, aren't you afraid?" Delgado immediately asked the sender if it was a joke, to which the sender replied, "What do you think?"

Delgado linked the threats to his investigative reports on El Yunque, a right-wing group with an anti-communist and anti-Semitic agenda. At the time of the threats, Delgado said, he had written an article for Proceso accusing some organizers of a June 27 march against crime of having ties to El Yunque. Delgado said he later expanded on the allegations during several radio shows.

On June 30, Delgado said, he received another e-mail message from the same address. In this second message, the sender criticized the Mexican press in general for its accusations against El Yunque. On July 21, he said, he received a third message from the same address, offering to sell him information on El Yunque.

In June 2003, Delgado published the book El Yunque, la ultraderecha en el poder ("El Yunque, the far-right in power"). In the book, Delgado alleged the group had infiltrated the ranks of the ruling Partido de Acción Nacional and that many of its members now held high-ranking posts in state and federal governments. In recognition of his book and investigative reports on the subject, Delgado was honored with a 2003 National Journalism Award.

Delgado reported the e-mail threats to Mexican authorities, who opened an investigation. On July 7, government officials told Delgado that the e-mails had been generated from a Mexican account that was linked to a U.S.-based server. Authorities continue to investigate the origin of the threats.

Delgado told CPJ he has received several e-mail messages with insults and threats since his first investigative reports on El Yunque appeared in Proceso in December 2000.

AUGUST 31, 2004
Posted: September 2, 2004

Francisco Arratia Saldierna, columnist for four newspapers

Arratia, 55, was beaten to death in the city of Matamoros, near the United States border. The Committee to Protect Journalists is investigating whether the murder was tied to his reporting.

Arratia wrote a column called "Portavoz" (Spokesman) that appeared in four newspapers throughout the state of Tamaulipas-El Imparcial and El Regional, in Matamoros, and Mercuirio and El Cinco, in Ciudad Victoria, the state capital. It also appeared in the Internet publication "En Línea Directa."

He was also a schoolteacher and ran a used car business in this border region near Texas.

According to Mexican news reports, Arratia had an argument with a group of unknown individuals who came to his business in a red vehicle around 1:30 p.m. On his way home, a half hour later, Arratia was intercepted and kidnapped by the group, the Mexico City-based daily El Universal reported.

Around 3 p.m. Matamoros police received an anonymous call saying a severely beaten man was outside the offices of the Red Cross. According to local reports, Arratia had been tortured before being dumped from a moving vehicle.

The columnist had his fingers broken, his palms burned and his chest injured. Arratia was taken to a nearby hospital and died three hours later.

In his column, Arratia wrote frequently about political corruption, organized crime, and education. Police made no immediate arrests and did not speculate as to a motive.

NOVEMBER 28, 2004
Posted: December 1, 2004

Gregorio Rodríguez Hernández, El Debate

Rodríguez was gunned down in front of his family in a cafeteria in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, home to some of Mexico's top drug traffickers. The Committee to Protect Journalists is investigating the slaying to determine whether it was connected to his journalistic work.

The 35-year-old photographer worked for the Mazatlán edition of the newspaper El Debate. Armed men approached a table in the cafeteria in the town of Escuinapa where he was eating with his wife and sons, 3 and 6, and opened fire, according to The Associated Press and local news reports. He was shot at least five times, news reports said. No arrests have been made.

El Debate Editor Laura Bejar told the AP that Rodriguez took police, sports and community pictures for the newspaper. Bejar said he often shot photographs dealing with drug trafficking, but his work should not have endangered his life.

Yovana Gaxiola Aldana, a reporter for El Debate and correspondent for the Mexico City daily El Universal, told CPJ that El Debate published a story last week about a fight between a local doctor and two reputed drug traffickers he refused to treat. As journalists speculate about the motive for the killing, some have questioned whether that report could have sparked a reprisal, said Gaxiola, who described herself as a friend of Rodríguez.

Sinaloa State Attorney General Oscar Fidel González Mendivil said he had assigned more than 10 agents to investigate the slaying. In response to a request from El Debate, correspondents for the paper in Escuinapa will receive protection, González Mendivil said.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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