“Any journalist could be a target”

In El Paso, Texas, where residents can get their local news from outlets like the El Paso Times, a newspaper founded in 1881, journalism is just another job.

Drive nine miles across the border into Mexico and journalism is something else entirely: the kind of work that can get you killed. As has already been the case this year for journalists like José Luis Gamboa in Veracruz and Margarito Martínez and Lourdes Maldonado in Tijuana, victims of what other journalists say is a wave of violence that drug gangs and public officials corrupt are using to silence journalists across the country.

In fact, there have been so many killings in recent weeks and months that hundreds of journalists have gathered in Mexico City in recent days to take part in a protest calling on the government to do more to help. It was part of a series of nationwide protests against the dozens of murders that have, in fact, made the country the deadliest country in the world for journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders.

According to the advocacy group Article 19, 145 journalists have been killed in Mexico between 2000 and 2021. Among the victims is Israel Vázquez, a 31-year-old journalist who, in the last hours of his life last year, was working on a report on human remains found in a church in the city of Salamanca. As he was about to go live for a Facebook show, two gunmen drove by and shot him dead.

Dutch journalist Jan-Albert Hootsen, representative of the Mexico City-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), told me he was present at the rally of journalists in the capital last month to protest atrocities like this. there, and that the protest was “one of a kind” – the likes of which he had never seen before.

“There is fear, uncertainty and doubt among journalists,” Hootsen said. “Many do not know if there will ever be justice in the killings of their colleagues and therefore believe that the killings will almost certainly continue and the frequency with which they occur will likely increase.”

The reality, he continued, is that Mexican governments “often make token gestures to shake off the immediate pressure, then kind of let the noise die down and go about their business. The federal government certainly doesn’t seem very interested in doing anything.

The most recent murders underscore this concern. Gamboa – who founded and edits several news websites in addition to posting information on his Facebook page – was stabbed to death in mid-January. Also last month, Martínez, a 49-year-old photojournalist who covered police and crime, was shot dead outside his home in Tijuana. Maldonado, who had written for several major Mexican media outlets, was also found outside her home, shot dead in her car.

In his case, a rare breakthrough came this week: Mexican authorities actually announced the arrest of three people believed to be linked to the crime.

Yet the killing continues. Heber Lopez, director of the news site NoticiasWeb, was shot dead in Oaxaca on February 10, the fifth murder of a journalist in Mexico in just over a month.

“A friend of mine, who has nothing to do with journalism, called me almost crying and begged me to let her buy me a bulletproof vest,” reporter Aline Corpus told me. GP in Baja California. That moment, that conversation, crystallized for her just how bad things had gone.

“We believe that the best way to protect journalists would be a conscientious society that defends freedom of expression. But in Mexico, we are far from it.

To further complicate the picture and aggravate the fears of journalists like her, the feeling that the government does not seem sufficiently motivated to reverse the trend. In this sense, data from the US State Department shows that 94% of crimes committed in Mexico are never reported or investigated.

“Killing is cheap in Mexico,” freelance photojournalist Guillermo Arias told me. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a journalist or not, very few people pay for it. All because of a deeply corrupt justice system that has been built up (over) years and now seems nearly impossible to fix.

Roberto Toledo, in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, was another of the journalists killed so far this year. According to CPJ, he was a cameraman and video editor for the Monitor Michoacán news site.. He was shot at the end of January.

To be a journalist in Mexico, reporters like Arias will tell you, is to reconcile the passion for reporting with “a constant struggle for a living wage and the deep feeling that you may become the next victim in a long list.” Just because. Either way, Arias plans to start his day tomorrow the same as today:

He will wake up, God willing, and if he has no pending assignments, he will start checking timely news. He will listen to what is happening on the radio. He will browse news sites. And then, he says, the news will lead him where he needs to go. “Since I took my first images when I was a teenager, something in me has changed. In a way, the ability to show life happening through images gives me purpose.