Mexico City – In 2017 I published a story detailing how former Chihuahua's state governor Cesar Duarte bought several properties in Texas while he was in office.
Duarte was accused of diverting about $320 million in government funds in 2016. By the time the story was published, he was on the run and wanted by Interpol.
I have never received a more direct threat for my work than the one I received after publishing that story.
There is no country more deadly for journalists than Mexico, and year after year it is only getting worse. This is in part because of rising violence in Mexico related to organized crime, but corrupt politicians are often to blame.
Jan-Albert Hootsen, the Mexico representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said violence against journalists in Mexico is made worse by deepening ties between criminal organizations and politicians.
(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
"The most dangerous situation for journalists is when they touch in any way the interests at the crossing of organized crime and politics," Hootsen told Insider.
The week after the story about Duarte made it to the front page of renown Mexican investigative magazine Proceso, a car was parked in front of my house in Ciudad Juarez for a full week. Inside, a man sat, night and day, with a revolver on his lap.
I didn't think he was actually there to harm me – otherwise he would have – but it was a demonstration of how easy it was for them to get to anyone in their way.
I notified the Committee to Protect Journalists at the time, and what happened "is a perfect example of the dangers for journalists when covering politics and crime," Hootsen said.
That same year, Miroslava Breach, an editor for a local newspaper in Ciudad Juarez and correspondent for the national daily La Jornada, was shot dead outside her house in Chihuahua City while taking her child to school.
Later investigations found that she was murdered for revealing how the Juarez cartel was appointing mayors in several municipalities in Chihuahua.
A former mayor was arrested and sentenced to eight years behind bars for ordering Breach's murder. Despite justice being done in that case, violence against journalists has only continued.
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This year alone, six journalists have been murdered throughout Mexico.
The latest was Jacinto Romero Flores, a reporter from the southeastern state of Veracruz, who covered politics for a radio station in the municipality of Zongolica. Flores was shot several times and killed while driving his car.
According to local press reports, Romero Flores received several threats on his phone after airing a story about police abuse against residents of the Texahuacan municipality.
Few weeks before the assassination of Romero Flores, ruthless crime group Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación publicly threatened a well-known television news anchor, Azucena Uresti, for her coverage of that organization.
In a video posted on social media by alleged members of the cartel, a man who identified himself as Ruben Oseguera, the head of the cartel, made a direct against Uresti.
"Wherever you are, I will find you and I will make you eat your words even if I'm accused of femicide," the man identified as Oseguera is heard saying as at least six men armed with assault riffles stand around him.
Mexico has been the deadliest country for journalists, outside of those at war, for some time.
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Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared the war on drugs in 2006, the number of journalists murdered and disappeared in Mexico have risen steadily, according to figures collected by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
2019 is the deadliest year on record, with 11 journalists slain. At least nine journalists were killed with firearms in 2020.
To date, almost 50% of those murders have no known motive or, if the perpetrators are known or suspected, there has been no sentence. (Duarte was arrested in Miami in 2020 on corruption charges.)
"We have to recognize that it is hard to know exactly where is the line of politics and narcos when it comes to the motives of these murders," said Hootsen. "Mexico has lost much of its rule of law, and the present administration is not doing a good job, if any, to support mechanisms to protect journalists."
Mexico has procedures that are meant to protect journalists. Most of them involve the state sending a state or municipal police officer to monitor a journalist's safety for 24 hours.
The Mexican government said in July that it had increased the number of journalists in its protection program by 80% since December 2018. In many cases, however, government protection has not stopped hitmen from killing their target.
"In many cases threats have been reported previously and those journalists have been incorporated to a state protection system and even then they have ended up murdered," Hootsen said.