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HomeU.S.AHomicide in Mexico: journalists caught within the crosshairs

Homicide in Mexico: journalists caught within the crosshairs

Regina Martínez Pérez was thought-about an enemy of the state. The 48-year-old journalist had made highly effective foes investigating allegations of collusion between political leaders, safety forces and narcotraffickers within the Mexican area of Veracruz.

She was a supply of irritation for 4 consecutive state governors, highlighting violence, abuses of energy and cover-ups within the pages of Mexico’s foremost investigative information journal, Proceso.

Her tales highlighted horrific episodes such because the case of an aged indigenous girl who was overwhelmed, raped and left for useless by troopers, and the torture and bloodbath of passengers on an area bus.

Identified to her pals as La Chaparrita or “Shorty”, Martínez was a 4ft 11in chain-smoker who discovered solace tending her backyard. She was additionally a fearless investigator of gangland executions, police assassins, compelled disappearances, and corruption schemes.

“Her work was her life,” mentioned shut good friend and colleague Norma Trujillo. “She was actually fascinated with social points, human rights violations. She was near the folks. That was her superpower.”

The funeral of Regina Martínez in 2012. Rubén Espinosa, the photographer who took this image, was himself murdered in 2015. {Photograph}: Rubén Espinosa//Procesofoto

Martínez was murdered on 28 April 2012 in her modest bungalow within the state capital, Xalapa. She fought again, however was overpowered by an assailant who beat her badly and broke her jaw earlier than asphyxiating her with a dish towel.

Martínez was not the primary reporter to be assassinated in Mexico, however the killing of a high-profile correspondent for a nationwide journal marked the beginning of a wave of focused violence which has made ​it probably the most harmful nation on this planet for journalists, outdoors a warzone.

These most often focused are reporters like Martínez, who dare to research narco-politics – the online of affect and curiosity woven by corrupt officers and organi​sed crime.

Final month alone, three Mexican journalists had been shot useless inside 10 days, bringing the dying toll to not less than 119 since 2000, based on the Committee to Shield Journalists (CPJ). Of these killings, 90% ​have gone unsolved.

“The Regina case is vital as a result of it’s a earlier than and an after for the press,” mentioned Jorge Carrasco, Proceso’s editor-in-chief. “Once they kill a journalist, it’s like placing a bomb in a newsroom to trigger terror, to intimidate, to say​: don’t mess with us.”

Eight years after Martínez’s homicide, 25 worldwide information media organi​sations, together with the Guardian, took up her unfinished work, in an effort coordinated by Forbidden Tales, a worldwide community of investigative journalists whose mission is to proceed the work of reporters who’re threatened, censored or killed.

Since 2000, 119 journalists have been killed in Mexico, based on the Committee to Shield Journalists, making it probably the most harmful nation on this planet for members of the press, outdoors a warzone.

Now, 25 worldwide media retailers have come collectively to pursue the tales of their murdered Mexican colleagues.

Working collectively throughout 18 totally different nations over the course of 10 months, the consortium investigated the worldwide networks of Mexican drug cartels and their political connections world wide.

The collaboration was coordinated by Forbidden Tales, a worldwide community of investigative journalists whose mission is to proceed the work of reporters who’re threatened, censored or killed.

By concurrently publishing their tales, the members of The Cartel Challenge imply to ship a robust message to enemies of the free press: “Killing the journalist gained’t kill the story.”

Over 10 months, 60 reporters from world wide investigated her dying, the botched homicide inquiry ​that adopted, and continued her investigation into allegations of hyperlinks between politics and organi​sed crime in the course of the back-to-back administrations of Veracruz governors Fidel Herrera (2004-2010) and Javier Duarte (2010-2016).

The Cartel Challenge discovered that:

  • Earlier than her dying, Martínez was considered one of a gaggle of journalists focused by subtle espionage unit run by the Veracruz public safety ministry, based on well-placed authorities sources. The unit used surveillance know-how and an unlimited community of paid informants to watch and collect intelligence on folks perceived to be political opponents of the governor. Leaked paperwork present that over the previous three a long time, analysts maintained information on a whole bunch of targets, which listed members of the family, coworkers, favorite hangouts, political affiliations and even sexual preferences.

  • On the time of her dying, Martínez was getting ready to publish a bombshell investigation searching for to ascertain the position of native officers and safety forces in concealing the disappearance of 1000’s of individuals.

  • The homicide investigation by state officers was intentionally botched, and investigators ignored compelling proof that Martínez was murdered due to her work, in accordance the prosecutor who led a parallel federal inquiry. The second investigation was intentionally undermined, the prosecutor mentioned.

  • A technical investigation discovered proof {that a} coordinated misinformation marketing campaign promoted the official line that Martínez was killed in a botched theft​, utilizing bot accounts th​at circulated articles from a information outlet with ties to the state authorities.

Because the mission unfolded, violence in opposition to the media was unrelenting: in the course of the ​10 months of the investigation, not less than eight extra Mexican journalists had been murdered in reference to their work, based on CPJ.

A local weather of terror

Within the months earlier than her dying, Martínez was more and more afraid.

Coming back from a household go to in late December 2011, she reali​sed an intruder had simply left her dwelling. Her Christmas bonus was lacking, and the toilet was steamed up as if somebody had simply taken a bathe.

In an article revealed across the time, Martínez admitted that she lived in “a local weather of terror”.​

“I don’t sleep, and once I exit I’m all the time trying behind my again to guarantee that there’s no hazard,” she wrote. The piece ran with no byline.

When two cops and their households moved in throughout the road, Martínez informed pals that she felt that she was beneath surveillance. She was most likely proper.

Effectively-placed authorities sources informed the Cartel Challenge {that a} police espionage unit within the state maintained a community of a whole bunch – probably 1000’s – of waiters, shoeshiners, pizza distributors, taxi drivers, and drug sellers to spy on activists, political opponents and journalists.

Working from a constructing in Xalapa often known as ​the Bunker, intelligence specialists doled out money, presents and political favours. Bogus activists, journalists and media bosses had been additionally on the payroll, the sources mentioned.

The espionage started within the Nineteen Nineties, however native journalists say it intensified between 2010 and 2016 because the administration of the then state governor, Duarte, tried to discourage scrutiny by human rights teams and the federal authorities. Reporters and photographers complained about being adopted and harassed. Bribes, threats and bodily violence satisfied some to censor their work, native journalists mentioned.

Javier Duarte, governor of Veracruz 2010-2016, at a police academy graduation ceremony in 201.

Javier Duarte, governor of Veracruz 2010-2016, at a police academy commencement ceremony in 201. {Photograph}: Rubén Espinosa/Procesofoto

Colleagues of Martínez confirmed that on the time of her dying, she had been investigating an exponential rise within the variety of our bodies buried in pauper’s graves. She believed that public cemeteries had been getting used to get rid of victims of compelled disappearances.

Martínez informed an in depth good friend that it was probably the most harmful investigation of her profession.

“As a journalist for Proceso, Regina Martínez was mechanically thought-about an enemy, however any investigations exposing corruption or homicides and disappearances not within the official figures would have been a purple mild for the federal government,” mentioned Jorge Rebolledo, a safety advisor based mostly in Mexico Metropolis.

“The networks of energy in Veracruz are very sophisticated, the connection between organized crime and authorities is gray. It’s not straightforward to work out who’s unhealthy or good, which leaves journalists investigating these networks very weak, even at present.”

On the time of her dying, Martínez was among the many ​few journalists courageous sufficient to research studies of compelled disappearances, which well-placed authorities sources informed the Cartel Challenge had been routinely hid by authorities throughout each the Herrera and Duarte administrations.

The disappeared

Amid the drug-fuelled violence that has ​racked Mexico in latest a long time, tens of 1000’s of males, girls and kids have merely vanished. The official complete is 73,000, however the true variety of desaparecidos, the disappeared, is unknowable​. Successive nationwide and state governments have proved detached to the plight of victims’ kin, who are sometimes compelled to seek for the our bodies themselves.

1000’s of clandestine graves have been discovered throughout the nation – lots of them in Veracruz. In 2017, 250 human skulls had been discovered crammed into the most important ever such grave, not removed from the port metropolis which shares the state’s identify.

Legal networks with political safety have discovered that anybody might be disappeared: rival criminals, inconvenient witnesses, drug addicts and politicians.

A mass grave at the port of Veracruz, 2011.

A mass grave on the port of Veracruz, 2011. {Photograph}: Julio Argumedo

At the very least 50 younger girls who had labored as escorts at events attended by Veracruz state officers and members of the Zetas drug cartel had been disappeared over three nights in November 2011, based on proof from the official investigation seen by the Guardian.

A state investigation into the lacking girls was shut down after prosecutors unearthed proof suggesting senior officers had ordered cartel henchmen to silence the ladies, authorized sources mentioned.

Clues to the situation of a mass grave had been by no means adopted up, and the ladies’s our bodies have by no means been discovered. No suspects have been convicted and even arrested.

​When requested to remark, Duarte ​mentioned he didn’t have any data of those disappearances and the investigation that adopted.

In response to authorities sources, the response mirrored an official coverage in Veracruz to disclaim and downplay the size of violence – particularly femi​cides and compelled disappearances.

That coverage was threatened by journalists like Martínez.

“Discovering our bodies was like discovering turtle eggs, as a result of for those who scratched on the floor you’d discover our bodies and our bodies and our bodies,” mentioned a public official with in depth expertise in a number of administrations. “The issue began when she [Martínez] started to look into disappearances and mass graves.”

After Martínez’s dying, ​Duarte despatched an enormous floral wreath to her funeral.

Then, his authorities set about derailing the inquiry into her homicide, based on ​Laura Borbolla​, a veteran prison prosecutor who was dispatched from Mexico Metropolis to run a parallel federal investigation.

“The justice system in Veracruz is garbage,” mentioned Borbolla, in an interview with the Cartel Challenge. “All the pieces was organized by ​Governor Duarte. How the judges behaved​ … you reali​sed that there was main manipulation by the manager energy [branch] over the legislative energy.”

Regina Martínez’s grave in the Panteón Bosques del Recuerdo cemetery, Xalapa.

Regina Martínez’s grave within the Panteón Bosques del Recuerdo cemetery, Xalapa. {Photograph}: Forbidden Tales

From the very begin, state police and investigators mishandled proof and sabotaged the investigation, mentioned Borbolla, who found two male fingerprints on the crime scene which had been neglected by state forensic specialists and which had been by no means recognized. “By no means in my profession had I seen such an altered crime scene,” she mentioned.

Martínez’s work was not investigated as a potential motive. As a substitute, state officers mentioned that the homicide was a criminal offense of ardour or the results of a botched theft, despite the fact that valuables – together with gold jewelry, a TV and a model new CD participant – had been left untouched, based on case information seen by the Cartel Challenge. The reporter’s telephones, laptop, tape recorder and paperwork had been lacking, nevertheless.

One man was finally convicted of Martínez’s homicide: Jorge Antonio Hernández Silva, now 34, was a homeless ​intercourse employee with a drug behavior​, who insists he was tortured into making a confession. He’s serving 38 years for aggravated theft and murder. Police deny he has been mistreated.

“He’s the proper scapegoat,” mentioned defence lawyer Diana Coq Toscanini.

However Hernández’s fingerprints had been by no means discovered on the crime scene, the case information present. Borbolla, the federal prosecutor, was by no means allowed ​to interview​ the convicted man alone, and by no means succeeded in finding the only real witness who allegedly noticed him on the reporter’s home.

After Hernández was arrested, not less than 190 bot or pretend Twitter accounts disseminated ​stor​ies claiming the case had been resolved, the technical investigation by the Cartel Challenge and the Disinformation Desk, a Barcelona-based group, discovered. The proprietor of the information web site ​that ran ​one such story labored as a advisor for Duarte’s authorities at time.

“We could by no means know who killed Regina, however I do know who didn’t kill Regina. The [official version] by no means satisfied me… I’ve all the time had doubts as as to whether this was negligence or intentional,” mentioned Borbolla.

“The state all the time wished to divert consideration on to one thing apart from her work because the motive for the homicide​ … ​for us, that was all the time the road of investigation. And we had clues that allowed us to deduce that​.”​

Lots of Martínez’s friends imagine Duarte was behind her assassination. That is denied by Duarte, who additionally denied ​interfering within the investigation. “He made all of the proof and outcomes of the investigation obtainable to federal authorities,” mentioned his lawyer, Pablo Campuzano.

After Martínez was murdered, Veracruz grew to become probably the most harmful state in Mexico for journalists. In a area smaller than Scotland, 19 journalists have since been killed and dozens extra have fled.

Fleeing just isn’t all the time sufficient. ​Rubén Espinosa, a Proceso photographer, fled to Mexico Metropolis affected by PTSD in 2015 after being threatened and harassed. A month later, he was assassinated within the capital, together with 4 girls.

“Proceso paid a really excessive value for overlaying these points,” mentioned editor​ Carrasco, who left the nation briefly after receiving dying threats when he tried to research Martínez’s murder.

Jorge Carrasco, editor-in-chief of Proceso.

Jorge Carrasco, editor-in-chief of Proceso. {Photograph}: Forbidden Tales

On the finish of his time period, Duarte​ himself went on the run however was finally arrested in Guatemala and is serving a nine-year sentence after pleading responsible to prison affiliation and cash laundering. He then appealed, claiming a few of the proof used in opposition to him was obtained illegally and therefore in violation of his human rights. The appliance was rejected, however Duarte continues to enchantment.

His spouse, Karime Macías, has been indicted ​for misuse of public funds, which she denies. In 2019, Macías was arrested in London, the place she was reported to have claimed asylum whereas dwelling in Belgravia, and was granted bail whereas the court docket thought-about an extradition request.​

On the time of his arrest, Duarte ​was additionally accused by state prosecutors of ignoring and concealing compelled disappearances by the police, however this case has been stalled for greater than two years.

In response to questions from the Cartel Challenge about Martínez, Duarte tweeted from jail: “The journalists most crucial of my authorities and of me have all the time been revered in, a lot in order that their articles and studies had been and are revealed with none sort of censorship.​”

However the bloodshed and the corruption in Veracruz didn’t start – or finish – beneath Duarte.

Energy and politics

The state’s location on the Gulf coast and the huge port within the metropolis of Veracruz made it an vital contraband route, lengthy earlier than the emergence of the drug commerce.

It took on new strategic significance in the course of the rule of Duarte’s predecessor, Fidel Herrera – a person dubbed dubbed as one of many 10 most corrupt Mexicans in 2013 by Forbes journal.

Herrera, now 71, was a charismatic populist from the Institutional Revolutionary ​get together (PRI) which ruled Mexico between 1929 and 2000.

A number of sources and press studies mentioned Herrera ​purchased loyalty with money and presents for poor voters, political favours for native strongmen, marketing campaign contributions to get together colleagues, and profitable public contracts to favoured businessmen.

Herrera has all the time vehemently denied any wrongdoing, and no prices have ever been introduced.

map of Veracruz

However based on intelligence specialists and former legislation enforcement officers in Mexico, Spain and the US, Herrera courted prison alliances with the Zetas, who cut up from the Gulf cartel that had beforehand dominated Veracruz.

In 2011, a confidential report by the lawyer basic’s workplace was leaked to the press. Citing US Drug Enforcement Company information and 14 protected witnesses, the file described alleged two conferences between Herrera and Zeta bosses in 2008. The report additionally alleged that the Gulf cartel distributed a twice month-to-month payroll of 600,000 pesos ​($30,000) ​to Veracruz state police.

“The Zetas known as Herrera ‘Zeta #1’ as a result of he was the one who ran the state,” mentioned ​Arturo Fontes,​ a former FBI particular agent who now runs a personal safety and investigations agency, Fontes Worldwide Options. “Herrera was paid tens of millions of {dollars} by way of liaisons to the cartels to allow them to function with impunity … ​in Mexico, politicians depend on narcos for marketing campaign funds.”

Herrera has firmly denied any involvement with organi​sed crime, as soon as telling a tv interviewer: “My palms are clear. I by no means obtained a single illegitimate cent for my marketing campaign.”

Throughout Herrera’s time period of workplace, public works initiatives ballooned. On the similar time, Martínez revealed a string of articles exhibiting the state debt elevated by 67,000% between 2000 and 2011, which she mentioned was by no means adequately defined by the governors.

Authorities sources informed the Cartel Challenge that contractors had been awarded profitable public contracts, from which Herrera allegedly obtained a kickback​ in a scheme often known as el diezmo, after the ten% tithe previously paid to the church. “The cash might be delivered to the airport, a home, cafe, resort, in one other metropolis, wherever he ordered me to go,” based on a public official who mentioned he was sometimes required to ship suitcases of money to Herrera’s trusted associates.

In 2013, a former Zetas accountant informed a US federal court docket in Austin, Texas, that Herrera’s authorities awarded 22 profitable public contracts to a cartel-linked development firm, for which officers allegedly obtained kickbacks value 10-​16%.

The accountant, José Carlos Hinojosa, additionally informed the court docket he had despatched $12m for Herrera’s gubernatorial marketing campaign by way of the corporate’s proprietor, Francisco ‘Pancho’ Colorado Cessa, in 2003, who died in jail after being convicted of cash laundering.

Fidel Herrera, governor of Veracruz from 2004-2010.

Fidel Herrera, governor of Veracruz from 2004-2010. {Photograph}: Carlos Tischler/Procesofoto

“It’s all the time been way more engaging for politicians to current narcos like Chapo Guzmán as the nice masterminds, however in actuality, organi​sed crime is the center man. Those that actually management the whole lot and who profit most are highly effective political figures and senior safety power officers,” mentioned ​Rebolledo.

Throughout Herrera’s time period of workplace, Martínez produced story after story in regards to the governor’s funds, the tens of millions of taxpayer pesos he invested in his good friend’s failing soccer crew, and the general public cash he gambled on the inventory market even because the state’s public debt spiralled.

Herrera credited his appreciable private fortune – which reportedly contains personal jets, fancy vehicles, ranches, a resort and yacht – to luck: whereas nonetheless governor, he gained tens of millions of {dollars} within the nationwide lottery not as soon as, however twice. Duarte’s father-in-law additionally gained the lottery.

After Herrera’s time period resulted in 2010, Duarte was picked as his successor and it was extensively speculated that Herrera meant to proceed as de facto governor.

However Duarte rebuffed his political benefactor, and based on PRI sources, he lacked the ability to barter alone with native political bosses. They began making their very own offers with cartels, triggering a bloody turf conflict. Public debt, corruption, murders and compelled disappearances all soared throughout the state.

All through that interval, Martinez’s reporting challenged official dying tolls and alleged collusion between native politicians, police and prison teams.

Calderón sends within the military

Mexico’s “conflict on medicine” started in late 2006 when the president on the time, Felipe Calderón, ordered 1000’s of troops onto the streets in response to an explosion of horrific violence in his native state of Michoacán.

Calderón hoped to smash the drug cartels together with his closely militarized onslaught however the method was counter-productive and exacted a catastrophic human toll. As Mexico’s navy went on the offensive, the physique rely sky-rocketed to new heights and tens of 1000’s had been compelled from their properties, disappeared or killed.

Kingpin technique

Concurrently Calderón additionally started pursuing the so-called “kingpin technique” by which authorities sought to decapitate the cartels by concentrating on their leaders.

That coverage resulted in some high-profile scalps – notably Arturo Beltrán Leyva who was gunned down by Mexican marines in 2009 – but additionally did little to deliver peace. The truth is, many imagine such techniques served solely to pulverize the world of organized crime, creating much more violence as new, much less predictable factions squabbled for his or her piece of the pie.

Beneath Calderón’s successor, Enrique Peña Nieto, the federal government’s rhetoric on crime softened as Mexico sought to shed its repute because the headquarters of some the world’s most murderous mafia teams.

However Calderón’s insurance policies largely survived, with authorities concentrating on outstanding cartel leaders comparable to Sinaloa’s Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

When “El Chapo” was arrested in early 2016, Mexico’s president bragged: “Mission achieved”. However the violence went on. By the point Peña Nieto left workplace in 2018, Mexico had suffered one other document yr of murders, with practically 36,000 folks slain.

“Hugs not bullets”

The leftwing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador took energy in December, promising a dramatic change in techniques. López Obrador, or Amlo as most name him, vowed to assault the social roots of crime, providing vocational coaching to greater than 2.3 million deprived younger folks susceptible to being ensnared by the cartels.

“It will likely be just about not possible to attain peace with out justice and [social] welfare,” Amlo mentioned, promising to slash the homicide fee from a mean of 89 killings per day together with his “hugs not bullets” doctrine.

Amlo additionally pledged to chair every day 6am safety conferences and create a 60,000 robust “Nationwide Guard”. However these measures have but to repay, with the brand new safety power used principally to hunt Central American migrants.

Mexico now suffers a mean of about 96 murders per day, with practically 29,000 folks killed since Amlo took workplace.

In 2015, then​ president Enrique Peña Nieto named Herrera as Mexico’s consul to Barcelona.

Catalan legislation enforcement and metropolis council officers started trying into potential ties with an alleged native drug lord and a Mexican businessman who’ve each since been charged for cash laundering in separate investigations.

These inquiries resulted in 2017 when Herrera abruptly resigned and returned dwelling to reply allegations by prosecutors that he and Duarte had spent public funds to buy pretend paediatric most cancers medicine.

Each denied involvement and no prices have been made.

Regina Martínez interviewing current Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador in 1992.

Regina Martínez interviewing present Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador in 1992. {Photograph}: Alberto Morales Garcia

Senior US legislation enforcement officers confirmed to Forbidden Tales that they’ve investigated Herrera’s alleged hyperlinks to the Zetas, in addition to suspected cash laundering in Veracruz, Barcelona and the US.

Contacted by way of a social media account, Herrera’s son, Javier, mentioned his father was too weak to answer the allegations on account of two strokes. Herrera didn’t reply to a number of emails.

Herrera has by no means confronted prices at dwelling or overseas, and like different figures from his era of Mexican politicians, continues to be considered an elder statesman of PRI politics, regardless of the mayhem which was unleashed throughout their rule.

In 2018, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, ​often known as Amlo, gained the presidential election ​with a landslide, on a pledge to rework politics and eradicate corruption.

But the violence – together with the homicide of journalists – has continued apace, and Amlo has been ​accused of inciting hostility ​in the direction of essential journalists and activists.

Final month, he informed the Cartel Challenge that he would request Martínez’s case be re-examined. “She was an incorruptible, skilled journalist,” he mentioned.

For now, nevertheless, her homicide stays unsolved.

Reporting by Nina Lakhani (the Guardian), Dana Priest (Washington Publish), and Paloma Dupont de Dinechin (Forbidden Tales.) Extra reporting by Jules Giraudat (Forbidden Tales), Veronica Espinosa (Proceso) and Lilia Saúl (OCCRP)

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