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Attacks on the Press in 2006 - Mexico

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2007
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2006 - Mexico, February 2007, available at: [accessed 20 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.

Gunmen stormed the offices of the Nuevo Laredo daily El Mañana in February, firing assault rifles, tossing a grenade – and setting the tone for another dangerous year for Mexican journalists. The shocking assault, which seriously injured reporter Jaime Orozco, spurred the federal government to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate crimes against the press. The 2006 blotter was long: U.S. documentary filmmaker Bradley Will was murdered during civil unrest in the southern state of Oaxaca in October; Veracruz crime reporter Roberto Marcos García was slain in November; and Monclova journalist Rafael Ortiz Martínez went missing in July after exposing widespread problems related to prostitution. CPJ is investigating five other journalist murders to determine whether they were work-related.

Along with this alarming physical toll was the rising toll taken on news coverage itself. In the northern states, frequent attacks inspired further self-censorship among journalists covering drug trafficking and organized crime. In the crime-ridden border city of Nuevo Laredo, the powerful drug cartels essentially silenced the press on sensitive issues, CPJ found in a special report, "Dread on the Border," published in February.

In a series of interviews with CPJ's Sauro González Rodríguez, journalists in Nuevo Laredo said that identifying drug traffickers by name was off-limits, and that editors combed through articles to ensure no name slipped by. Threats were routine, the journalists said, and the danger so immediate that many did not work after dark or in the early morning. The journalists described a climate of widespread corruption in which drug cartel members routinely offered bribes, and some colleagues worked outright for criminal groups.

At El Mañana, Editor Ramón Cantú said he would further curtail the paper's already meager coverage of organized crime. El Mañana began censoring its pages in March 2004, when Editor Roberto Javier Mora García was stabbed to death.

Violence and fear had a devastating overall affect on Nuevo Laredo, a city of 300,000. A turf battle between competing drug traffickers claimed more than 160 lives in the first 10 months of 2006 alone; abductions over the past three years were said to number in the hundreds, according to press reports. The numbers, though shocking, may be understated because of self-censorship. Gunfights in downtown streets sometimes go unreported, according to the San Antonio Express-News, and even state police and the attorney general's office stopped making public comments on drug-related crimes.

In a bitterly contested presidential election in July, conservative Felipe Calderón, who enjoyed strong support from incumbent Vicente Fox, narrowly defeated leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the former Mexico City mayor. López Obrador, who unsuccessfully sought a recount, had a contentious relationship with the media. He accused the press of ignoring his campaign, and he alleged that a coalition of business leaders had unlawfully funded negative campaign ads on national television.

Fox ended his six-year term with a mixed record. He was widely criticized for his failure to implement major societal reforms; violence against the press became a grave problem as drug trafficking and crime escalated, especially in the north. But Fox was also willing to confront the violence as a national problem by creating a special prosecutor's office and by speaking out himself. His press freedom legacy was also burnished by the enactment of a public information law that allowed access to vast amounts of once-secret government records.

The appointment of a special prosecutor had been long anticipated. Fox pledged in a September 2005 meeting with CPJ that he would seek to establish the position in response to a wave of violence against the press in the northern states. CPJ had lobbied vigorously for the appointment after finding that northern Mexico had become one of the most dangerous places for journalists in Latin America. CPJ research showed that six journalists had been murdered in direct reprisal for their work since Fox took office in 2000; CPJ was investigating the circumstances surrounding the slayings of 10 other journalists during that period.

David Vega Vera, a well-known lawyer and human rights advocate, was named special prosecutor in February 2006. His office immediately took over investigations into crimes against journalists in 32 states, assembling data on press attacks and providing legal assistance and counseling to journalists who were assaulted or threatened. Vega, who issued a report every three months, received 108 cases between February and November, including assaults, threats, kidnappings, criminal defamation suits, and abuse of authority complaints. Although the special prosecutor's office did not produce any breakthrough results, it remained active throughout the year.

Press cases involving drugs and organized crime were handled by José Luis Vasconcelos, deputy prosecutor with the attorney general's organized crime division. In an interview with CPJ, Vasconcelos said the federal government faced an enormous challenge in breaking "the cycle of impunity" in such cases.

Mexican journalists themselves said they were skeptical of the special prosecutor's ability to effectively pursue cases, given Mexico's dysfunctional and overburdened criminal justice system. Yet the appointment signaled that the federal government recognized that attacks on the press had become a national issue – and that national action was needed.

One encouraging sign came via international police action. Arturo Villarreal, one of two alleged masterminds in the June 2004 murder of Tijuana newspaper editor Francisco Ortiz Franco, was arrested on August 14 as part of a sweep by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents. Villarreal, known as "El Nalgón," and the reputed Tijuana drug boss Francisco Javier Arellano Félix were apprehended on a fishing boat off Mexico's Baja California peninsula and later brought to San Diego. Mexican authorities sought Villarreal's extradition.

At home, the new prosecutor took action to protect a journalist facing legal harassment in a tangled case that sparked scandal and headlines. Lydia Cacho Ribeiro, a columnist and human rights activist arrested in December 2005, faced criminal charges of defaming Puebla-based clothing manufacturer José Camel Nacif Borge. In her 2005 book Los Demonios del Edén (The Demons of Eden), Cacho alleged that a child prostitution ring operated in Cancún with the complicity of local police and politicians. She accused Nacif of having ties to an accused pedophile, an allegation the businessman denied.

The case took an unusual turn in February, when news outlets reported the contents of taped telephone conversations between local businessmen and Puebla state officials, including Gov. Mario Marín. Based on those leaked tapes, the special prosecutor began investigating whether there was a conspiracy to attack or jail Cacho. A spokesman for Marín denied that the governor was involved in any plot against Cacho and said the recordings violated Mexico's privacy laws. The origin of the tapes, left anonymously for news organizations, was not clear.

The special prosecutor's office questioned several people, including Marín. In March, Mexico's Supreme Court of Justice named a commission to investigate allegations that Marín had violated Cacho's constitutional rights. And in October, a judge in the state of Quintana Roo moved the defamation case against Cacho to Mexico City. The venue change was important to Cacho's legal defense because defamation is no longer a criminal matter in the capital city.

In a major advancement for press freedom, the Mexico City assembly unanimously adopted a measure in April that eliminated "honor crimes" such as slander and libel from the municipal penal code and directed such cases to civil court. National legislation to decriminalize defamation stalled in the Senate, but Deputy Carlos Reyes Gámiz, who introduced the federal bill, said that the Mexico City law took precedence in the capital. In the same session, the Mexico City assembly unanimously adopted a measure allowing journalists to withhold information about confidential sources from law enforcement, judicial, and government authorities.

In the south, months of unrest nearly paralyzed Oaxaca, and members of the news media were trapped in the middle. Authorities used tear gas to break up a demonstration by striking teachers in June, which prompted leftist activists to take to the streets in a bid to oust Oaxacan Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. Government and private radio stations were seized by leftist protesters; the facilities of the daily Noticias, Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca were attacked by masked gunmen; shots were fired at a university radio station that backed efforts to oust Ruiz; and several journalists were beaten and harassed while covering the unrest.

The conflict peaked in October with the killing of Will, an independent documentary filmmaker and reporter for the news Web site Indymedia. Will was shot on October 27 while documenting clashes between activists and government agents. Will had been covering the conflict in Oaxaca for at least six weeks, shooting footage for a documentary. Two local officials were detained in connection with Will's killing, but they were released within weeks.

Killed in 2006 in Mexico

Bradley Will, freelance, October 27, 2006, Santa Lucía del Camino

Will, 36, an independent documentary filmmaker and reporter for the news Web site Indymedia, was shot at 5:30 p.m. on October 27, while covering clashes between activists of the antigovernment Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) and armed assailants.

Oswaldo Ramírez, a photographer for the Mexico City-based daily Milenio who was with Will and other Mexican journalists, told CPJ that armed men fired at the protesters. Will, who was standing nearby, was hit in the neck and abdomen.

Will had been covering the conflict in Oaxaca for at least six weeks. He had interviewed witnesses and activists, and shot footage of protests for a documentary on the conflict, the local human rights group, Red Oaxaqueña de Derechos Humanos, said in a statement.

The conflict in the colonial city started May 22, when a strike by the local teachers union sparked a wave of antigovernment protests. After Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz ordered police to disperse protesters with tear gas on June 14, leftist, indigenous, and student groups joined the protests, which became violent. APPO protesters had been calling for the ouster of Ruiz since the confrontation began. Several journalists covering the unrest were beaten and harassed by protesters and by police in civilian clothes, CPJ research showed.

Two local officials were detained in connection with Will's killing, but they were released within weeks. Mexican press reports said photographs and video footage documented the killing.

Roberto Marcos García, Testimonio and Alarma, November 21, 2006, Mandinga y Matoza

García, a reporter for the Veracruz-based publication Testimonio and local correspondent for the Mexico City weekly Alarma, was found murdered near the town of Mandinga y Matoza.

Traveling by motorcycle from Veracruz to the nearby city of Alvarado, García was run down by a stolen car with Mexico City plates at 1 p.m., the Mexican press reported. Unidentified assailants shot García while he was on the ground, twice in the head and at least four times in the chest, according to press reports and a CPJ source.

Marco Antonio Aguilar Yunes, a regional deputy prosecutor, told the U.S.-based Univisión that authorities found bullet casings from at least two guns at the scene and recovered the attackers' car.

García had reported for 13 years on violent crime and drug trafficking in Veracruz, a colleague told CPJ. García's last report, published a week before his death in the bimonthly Testimonio, detailed the activities of a gang of thieves who stole containers coming into the port of Veracruz, the colleague said. Other reporters in Veracruz said that García had previously received death threats on his cell phone.

State police arrested José Cortés Terrones, known as "El Loro," on December 1. Two weeks before the killing, Cortés allegedly warned García that two men angry with his crime reporting were going to kidnap him, the Veracruz daily El Dictamen reported. Cortés acknowledged he knew García but denied any involvement in the murder, local press reports said.

Cortés' arrest led to the detention of another suspect, Sergio Muñoz López, known as "El Drácula." Local press reports alleged that Muñoz was among a group of people who severely beat García three years ago in a work-related attack.

Colleagues told CPJ that they believe the killing was connected to García's crime reporting. Veracruz's top state prosecutor, Emeterio López Márquez, told CPJ in December that journalism and other motives were being considered.

Jaime Arturo Olvera Bravo, freelance, March 9, 2006, La Piedad (motive unconfirmed)

Olvera, a freelance photographer and former correspondent for the Morelia-based daily La Voz de Michoacán, was shot outside his home in La Piedad in the central state of Michoacán.

Olvera left his home around 8 p.m. with his 5-year-old son. While they were waiting at a bus stop, an unknown assailant approached Olvera and fired at close range, according to local press reports. A bullet struck Olvera in the neck, and he died at the scene. His son was unharmed.

Olvera worked for La Voz de Michoacán until April 2002 when he resigned to become a salesman for a processed meat company, the paper reported. But Olvera continued working as a freelancer, providing photographs and crime tips to local media, the Mexico City-based El Universal said.

Enrique Perea Quintanilla, Dos Caras, Una Verdad, August 9, 2006, Chihuahua (motive unconfirmed)

The body of Enrique Perea Quintanilla, a longtime police reporter who became editor of a crime magazine, was found at 2 p.m. on the side of a road about 9 miles (15 kilometers) south of Chihuahua, Eduardo Esparza, a spokesman for the Chihuahua state prosecutor, told CPJ. Perea was shot once in the head and once in the back with a .45-caliber gun.

Perea was editor of a monthly magazine, Dos Caras, Una Verdad (Two Sides, One Truth), which specialized in reporting on closed murder cases and local drug trafficking. He had worked for 20 years as a police reporter for the dailies El Heraldo and El Diario until becoming the magazine's editor in 2005, his former colleague and editor at El Heraldo, César Ibarra, told CPJ.

Esparza said the journalist was last seen leaving his office in his car at 11 a.m. on August 8, but the car was found abandoned in Chihuahua's center that night. Perea's two sons reported the journalist missing.

Esparza said the state prosecutor's office believed the murder was the work of organized crime. While the motive was not immediately clear, he said, Perea's journalism was one of the investigation's leads.

Misael Tamayo Hernández, El Despertar de la Costa, November 10, 2006, Ixtapa (motive unconfirmed)

A security guard at the Venus Motel near the southern city of Ixtapa found Tamayo's body at 7:30 a.m., local police Cmdr. Mario Cruz Gallardo told CPJ. Motel staff said that Tamayo, editor and owner of the daily El Despertar de la Costa in the nearby city of Zihuatanejo, arrived at the motel at about 1:30 a.m., according to local press reports. The car in which he was believed to have arrived left the motel parking lot two hours before the body was found, El Despertar de la Costa reported.

Tamayo had left his office at 9 a.m. the day before, November 9, to have breakfast with the manager of a local bus company, said his sister, Rebeca Tamayo. The editor called the office at 10:30 a.m. to give instructions to a reporter looking into a story on water quality in a nearby town. Tamayo didn't return to work that day, and he did not answer cell phone calls from colleagues. At 3 a.m. on November 10, Tamayo's family notified authorities that he was missing.

Ruth Tamayo, another sister, said the local coroner told her that a preliminary autopsy found that her brother died from a massive heart attack. In an interview with CPJ, Ruth Tamayo said she viewed the body and saw what appeared to be three small puncture marks in one arm. Both Ruth and Rebecca Tamayo work at the family-run El Despertar de la Costa.

Tamayo's family and colleagues said that he was critical of local government corruption and criminal activities. Tamayo's sisters told CPJ that their brother had received a threatening call from an unidentified individual two months prior to his death, but Tamayo did not take the threat seriously.

José Manuel Nava Sánchez, El Sol de México, November 16, 2006, Mexico City (motive unconfirmed)

Nava's body was found around 9 a.m. by a cleaner in his Mexico City apartment, according to local press reports. Columnist for the national daily El Sol de México and former director of the Mexico City-based daily Excélsior, he had been stabbed at least seven times in the neck and chest. Local authorities told reporters that a number of valuable items were apparently missing from the journalist's home.

Nava had been Excélsior's director from February 2002 until December 2005, when the paper was bought by Grupo Imagen, owner of several Mexican radio stations. Until then, Excélsior had been run by employees as a cooperative. Before taking over as director, Nava had been Excélsior's Washington correspondent for 16 years.

In September, Nava began writing the daily column "Nuevo Poder" (New Power) for El Sol de México, said Guillermo Chao, information director for the Mexican Editorial Organization, which owns the daily. Nava's columns focused on political and social analysis, Chao told CPJ.

On November 6, Nava published a book titled Excélsior, el Asalto Final (Excélsior, the Final Assault), which criticized government officials, Excélsior employees, and business people for their roles in the demise of Excélsior as a cooperative, the local press reported. Nava accused several individuals of dishonesty, The Associated Press quoted Octavio Colmenares, a spokesman for the book's publisher Libros para Todos Editorial, as saying. Both Colmenares and Chao said that they knew of no threats against Nava.

Authorities believe Nava knew his murderer and that he was killed for personal reasons, according to a spokesman for the special prosecutor for crimes against journalists. The spokesman told CPJ in December that investigators had put aside theories related to Nava's book.

Adolfo Sánchez Guzmán, Orizaba en Vivo, November 30, 2006, Mendoza (motive unconfirmed)

Sánchez, 31, a reporter for the Mexican news Web site Orizaba en Vivo, was found shot to death on the banks of the Blanco River near Mendoza in the southeastern state of Veracruz on November 30.

On November 28, Sánchez and three friends left his home in Orizaba, just east of Mendoza, said Rodolfo Mendoza, administrative director of Orizaba en Vivo. Local authorities found the journalist's car abandoned the next day.

His body was found with two gunshots to the back of the head. Sánchez had bruises and stab wounds to the chest, a police source in Mendoza told CPJ. Nearby was the body of another man, César Martínez López, alias "El Pollo," who had also been shot in the head, the source said.

The reporter's family and colleagues did not know of any threats against Sánchez, who normally covered regional politics, Rodolfo Mendoza told CPJ. Two suspects were detained on December 4. Investigators said the men targeted Martínez because they thought he had stolen their truck, The Associated Press said.

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