MEXICO CITY — Another journalist was fatally shot in Mexico on Tuesday, the eighth to be murdered so far this year in an unprecedented string of killings that has made Mexico the most dangerous place in the world for the press.
Reporters and photographers have been murdered this year in Mexico at the rate of nearly one a week, despite government claims that the situation is under control.
Prosecutors in the western state of Michoacan said journalist Armando Linares was shot dead in a home in the town of Zitacuaro. His murder came six weeks after the murder of a colleague, Roberto Toledo, of the same media outlet Monitor Michoacan. It was Linares who announced Toledo’s death on January 31 in a video posted on social media.
Zitacuaro is one of the towns closest to the wintering grounds of the monarch butterfly in the mountains west of Mexico City.
The area is plagued by illegal logging and drug gangs, local governance disputes, and deforestation linked to the expansion of avocado production. Logging has damaged the pine and fir forests where the butterflies spend the winter after migrating from the United States and Canada.
Linares served as director of the Monitor Michoacan website, which continued on Tuesday to show an article he had written about a cultural festival celebrating monarch butterflies.
There was no immediate information about a possible motive in the murder.
Toledo, a cameraman and video editor for Monitor Michoacan, was shot on January 31 as he prepared for an interview with Zitacuaro.
At the time of Toledo’s death, Linares told The Associated Press that he had received several death threats after enrolling in a government program to protect journalists.
When asked who he thinks was behind the threats, Linares said: “They are posing as an armed group, they are posing as a criminal gang. We cannot verify whether or not it is true that it is this armed gang.
Criminals in Mexico often pretend they are part of a drug cartel in order to instill fear in their victims, whether they are or not.
“We have organized crime, like the rest of the country, and Monitor has worked on a lot of issues like illegal logging, given that we’re close to the monarch reserve,” Linares said in early February. “We’ve written a lot about illegal logging and also about many issues like corruption in municipal government.”
Drug cartels in Mexico often make money by protecting illegal logging or extorting protection payments from avocado growers.
“The nightmare continues for the press in Mexico,” wrote the media group Reporters Without Borders in its social media accounts.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador reacted angrily to global criticism of the killings.
In February, López Obrador said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had been misinformed, after Blinken wrote “I join those calling for greater accountability and protection for Mexican journalists.”
López Obrador claims the government is investigating all murders and suggested that Blinken received misinformation from other US agencies, mentioning the CIA, FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration.
“They cheat on him,” he said. “We do not tolerate anyone’s impunity.
And last week, López Obrador responded angrily to criticism from the European Parliament over the murders of journalists in Mexico, accusing the Europeans of having a “colonialist mentality”.
The Mexican president criticized EU support for Ukraine and called members of the European Parliament “sheep”.
“It is unfortunate that you are voting like sheep to join the reactionary and putschist strategy of the corrupt group opposed to the Fourth Transformation,” as López Obrador calls his administration, he wrote in an open letter to parliament.
The European Parliament last Thursday approved a resolution urging López Obrador to stop his harsh verbal attacks on journalists who criticize him and to ensure their safety.
News groups say López Obrador’s daily criticism of journalists, whom he calls “conservatives” and “mercenaries”, makes them more vulnerable to violence.
In February, the Inter-American Press Association called on the president to “immediately suspend assaults and insults, since such attacks from the top of power encourage violence against the press.”
The EU resolution “calls on the authorities, and in particular the highest levels, to refrain from publishing any communication that could stigmatize human rights defenders, journalists and media workers, exacerbate the atmosphere against them or distort their lines of investigation”.
Journalists are often targets of Mexican drug cartels, which seek to intimidate and manipulate coverage of their activities and their rivals. Local politicians and government officials are also frequently linked to the killings, according to the government, which has acknowledged that impunity for such killings exceeds 90%.
In early March, gunmen killed Juan Carlos Muñiz, who was covering crime for the online news site Testigo Minero in Zacatecas state.
Jorge Camero, the director of an online news site who was until recently a municipal employee in the northern state of Sonora, was killed in late February.
In early February, Heber López, director of the online news site Noticias Web, was shot dead in the southern state of Oaxaca.
Journalist Lourdes Maldonado López was found shot dead in her car in Tijuana on January 23.
Crime photographer Margarito Martínez was shot dead outside his home in Tijuana on January 17.
Journalist José Luis Gamboa was killed in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz on January 10.