New law to protect journalists in Mexico proving to be ineffective against cartels - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

New law to protect journalists in Mexico proving to be ineffective against cartels

Balbina Flores Martínez, Mexico correspondent for the international press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders received threats against her live on March 12.  (Still from the documentary Reporters Against Silence)

This is the third and final part of  our series called Reporters Against Silence.

More than seven years after its creation, the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Committed against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) under the Mexican’s Attorney General ‘s Office (PGR) has not shown effectiveness in investigating cases of journalists who were killed or disappeared,  says Balbina Flores Martínez, Mexico correspondent for the international press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders.

FEADLE hasn’t acted swiftly even though a reform was passed by the Congress in May 2012 to give the organization jurisdictions over cases that were previously investigated exclusively by the state prosecutors, she says.

The journalist death roll continues:

  • About 80 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992, according to figures provided by several organizations that seek to protect journalists.
  • In 2012, alone, 15 journalists were murdered and in 2013 the number reached 10.
  • Mexico ranks 152 of 180 countries in terms of press freedom, similar to countries such as Iraq and Congo level, according to the world rankings compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

The latest victim was Gregorio Jiménez who was abducted on Feb. 5 and his body was found a week later buried along with two others in the municipality of Las Choapas in the Veracruz state.

And the situation is only getting worse. For example, the home of the Director of ARTICLE 19 Mexico and Central America Dario Ramirez was broken into on March 16.

The break in came just 48 hours before the free expression group he represents released its annual report, which highlights the harassment and violence journalists and human rights advocates face daily in Mexico.

The home intrusion at the Mexican branch of ARTICLE 19 is the fifth serious security incident  in the past 12 months, including a death threat against Ramirez.

The March threats didn’t stop with Ramierz.

Less than a week before Ramirez’ incident Flores received a series of telephone calls on March 12.  She was warned  that someone had been hired to “harm her,” according to the report she filed with the FEADLE.

Flores has been an outspoken defender of Mexican journalists and has been pushing for investigations of cold and new cases involving missing and murdered journalists.

The killing of ‘El Choco’

One of those cases is that of Armando Rodríguez, known to his friends as “El Choco.”

FEADLE has submitted six theories about who killed Rodríguez.

The latest scenario suggests the murderer of El Choco is dead. He allegedly was killed during a riot in jail and his name was either Julio Torres or Julio Gomez. That same version states that the mastermind was the head of the La Linea Cartel, led at the time by Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez, alias “El Diego,” who has not confessed to the crime and is serving a life sentence in the United States.

This version also mentions another possible perpetrator, a former  police officer who was murdered in prison where he was serving time on a theft conviction. The release said the former policeman was killed a month after testifying against El Diego.

Since Article 73 of the Constitution came was reformed in 2012, federal prosecutors have sought information in about 150 attacks on journalists, including the case of El Choco. It has officially received information about 15 cases involving abuse of authority and injuries occurred in Chihuahua, Veracruz, Puebla, Mexico City, Oaxaca and Tabasco.

El Choco’s case was the first one to be investigated.

Rodriguez murder case

Armando Rodriguez was executed  in his car Nov. 13, 2008. Two gunmen fatally shot him three times at close range in his car when he was about to  take his 5-year-old daughter to school. He was a crime reporter for  El Diario de Chihuahua.

Six years have gone since Rodriguez was killed and more questions exist than answers, according to Blanca Martinez, his wife.

“My understanding is that some people have been arrested for other reasons and accused of murdering my husband afterwards, but there has been no statement saying that these people were responsible for the murder of my husband,” Martinez said. “Armando was killed for his work, I know that,” she added.

Martinez said her husband “received threatening messages on his phone telling him to stop writing.”

El Diario gives up covering crime

Rodriguez is not the only reporter who died working for El Diario de Juarez. Prior to his death the newspaper suffered the death of journalist Víctor Manuel Oropeza. And in 2010 its photographer Luis Carlos Santiago was assassinated. These attacks led to the newspaper to announce on Sept. 19, 2010 it would no longer cover issues related to organized crime.

So much time  has elapsed since the murder of Rodríguez that many consider it unlikely that the investigation will bring about satisfactory results.

“Unfortunately, in the case of Armando Rodriguez the Federal intervention might have come a little too late,” Article 19 legal office program officer Ivan Baez said.

“There is a lot of supporting information that hasn’t been confirmed and some other information that has been manipulated. It is likely that under the principle of presumption of innocence the prosecutors will lose the Rodriguez case,” Baez said.

The negligence and impunity with which the investigations were conducted by the local prosecutors is to blame in the case,  Flores said. “It is impossible to go back and recover lost evidence in many of the cases.”

“We have accumulated over 86 inquiries corresponding to the journalists who have been killed and where justice hasn’t been done,” Flores says. “Over time, the relatives are losing their hope of justice.”

“I do not expect much from the authorities. I realize with great sadness, disappointment and frustration that they do not comply with what is their obligation to do, which is to give us security and justice,” Flores added.

Organized crime groups such as Los Zetas acting with the complicity of local authorities and some federal police officers are the main cause of insecurity for journalists in the country, Flores says. 

“A generation died with Armando Rodriguez, and with him a way of doing journalism in Juarez,” Baez said. “Impunity kills, it is a sort of double murder because not only murderers kill the person but the lack of response is a way of killing the person again,”  

Alex Ormaza contributed to this report.

Read and watch the Reporters Against Violence video from Part 1  and Part 2.

About the author

Alex A. Ormaza and Julieta G. Pelcastre are two veteran journalists who have more than two decades of experience covering international news for various publications. Contact the author.

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