Last week, Manuel Torres González, another journalist in Veracruz, was killed. Is Governor Javier Duarte de Ochoa partly responsible?
By Julie Morse
Mexican journalists protest for the murders of colleagues. (Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)
Last week, Manuel Torres González, a journalist from in Poza Rica, Veracruz, Mexico, was shot and killed in the city’s downtown while walking home after covering an electoral campaign event. Torres had worked with several news outlets including El Noreste, TV Azteca, and Diario de Poza Rica, and, at the time of his death, he reported for Noticias MT. He was the 19th journalist to be murdered in the state of Veracruz since 2000, and the 12th to be murdered since Governor Javier Duarte de Ochoa stepped into power in 2010.
Between 2009 and January 2016, the international human rights organization Article 19 registered 239 verbal and physical aggressions against Mexican journalists in Veracruz, the majority of which were carried out on behalf of public officials. In addition, four journalists have gone missing between 2003 and 2015, and three have been attacked with explosives or firearms. And those figures aren’t improving: Since January 2016, Article 19 counted 17 aggressions in Veracruz, the highest number of any state. “Veracruz has become the most deadly state for journalists in one of the most dangerous countries for journalists worldwide,” said Carlos Lauría, a senior program coordinator for the Committee to Project Journalists, in a press release.
Many blame Duarte for the uptick in slain journalists. In the wake of most of these murders, Duarte—who’s been rumored to have connections to organized crime—has acted on the defensive. In June 2015, at a lunch for journalists in Veracruz, Duarte delivered a harrowing warning:
Crime has its bridges, connections with public notaries, businesses, public officials, and also some that are contributors, employees of the media, who are also at risk in these situations…. Behave, we all know who walk on the wrong side of the tracks…. We all know who, in some way or another, have links with these groups…. We all know who have ties and who are involved with the underworld. Be good, please! I beg of you. At the end of the day, hard times will come. We’re going to shake the tree, and many missing apples are going to fall.
For those living in this sparkling, historic state on the Gulf of Mexico, Duarte’s words managed to only further permeate the climate of fear. Instead of offering protection, he suggested that journalists shouldn’t be surprised by the danger now seemingly inherent to their work.
Of all the slain journalists in Veracruz, the murder of Gregorio “Goyo” Jiménez stands out as one of the most transparent. Jiménez was a journalist in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz. Writing under the pen name El Pantera (“The Panther”), Jiménez reported on kidnappings and violent crime for Liberal del Sur and NotiSur newspapers.
Jiménez knowingly traversed through treacherous territory. Days before he was murdered, Jiménez wrote a story about the recent murder of Ernesto Ruiz Guillén, the leader of the Confederation of Mexican Workers. Almost immediately after publishing the story, Jiménez was kidnapped, killed, and buried in the same spot as Ruiz. Veracruz’s attorney general, Luis Ángel Bravo Contreras, blamed Jiménez for his own murder. In a statement, he declared that it was the “publicizing of his journalistic work” that led to Jiménez’s eventual death. Bravo’s words, which received a good deal of media backlash, have became a symbol of the government’s prevailing attitude toward journalist killings.
In the case of Torres, the Veracruz attorney general’s office released a similar message in regards to his murder, in which he was referred to as an “assistant to the local councilman,” rather than a journalist. Human rights watchdog Article 19 commented on the most recent statement, saying, “Minimizing the journalistic work of reporters killed in Veracruz, or in the case of Martin Torres and his evident concealment — has become a reoccurring practice of the Veracruz Attorney General office, both in its research and communication.”
Veracruz will elect a new governor in June. According to the Cabinet of Strategic Communications, a candidate from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) — the “centrist” party — is not expected to win. Duarte is a member of the PRI, as is Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, whose administration has notoriously turned a blind eye to countless cases of torture and forced disappearances. Party affiliation, however, isn’t the sole indication of how a leader will behave when in power. Mexico honed its reputation as a hotbed for corruption and organized crime many years ago. There’s no telling whether whoever Veracruz elects as its new governor will be able or willing to protect the state’s journalists.