The third reporter murdered in the southern Mexico state of Veracruz this year was gunned down in front of his family despite being under police protection at the time, illustrating the dangers of working as a journalist in a hub for drug and human trafficking that is plagued by corruption-fueled violence.
Pedro Tamayo was shot at least ten times in front of his wife and two children outside his home in the small city of Tierra Blanca on the night of July 20th. Two men approached Tamayo and after talking with him briefly, shot him at close range, according to the state prosecutor's office.
At the time, Tamayo was under a state-sponsored protection program because he received threats on his life, allegedly after reporting on the abduction and murder of five young people by local police from Tierra Blanca earlier this year. Police officers checked in with him on a daily basis as part of the scheme, yet according to a report by AFP on his murder, Tamayo's family told the agency “that a state police vehicle was parked near the house during the homicide but that the officers did nothing to arrest the killers and even "laughed" at a relative asking for help.”
Tamayo died in an ambulance on his way to hospital.
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The Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) reports that a colleague of Tamayo's said the reporter had worked with Veracruz law enforcement as an informant. Other reports online allege the same.
"He would provide law enforcement with information about organized crime he gathered while he was working as a reporter," Tamayo’s colleague told CPJ. "It is not an uncommon phenomenon in Veracruz, though not openly spoken about."
Veracruz state Attorney General Luis Ángel Bravo confirmed to CPJ that there exists a "registry of a professional relationship" between Tamayo and state law enforcement. Mexico's national Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Free Speech will be working with state and local authorities on an investigation into Tamayo's killing.
Veracruz is one of the most dangerous states in Mexico for journalists, and the country ranks number 8 in the CPJ’s global impunity index. Anabel Flores, a crime reporter for newspaper El Sol de Orizaba, was abducted from her home in the city of Orizaba, Veracruz on February 8, reported SinEmbargo. Her body was found the next day across the state line in Puebla, her hands tied and a plastic bag over her head.
Manuel Torres, editor of the news website Noticias MT, was shot to death on May 14, 2016.
InSight Crime Analysis
Tamayo's murder shows the complex and dangerous environment in which many Mexican journalists work, and how they can often become actors themselves in organized crime groups' dispute for control and markets or their ongoing conflict with the authorities. Journalists have also been shown to work with criminal gangs in parts of the country.
Veracruz is a populous and violent state that was until recently a bastion of the Zetas crime group. Now, the valuable "plaza," or illegal business center, of Tierra Blanca is being disputed by the Zetas and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), according to observers.
In addition to drug trafficking, Central American migrants passing through Veracruz on their way to the United States are a big source of revenue for criminal organizations, which kidnap them and extort their families. Criminal gangs also charge migrants a tax for riding the trains that snake through the country from south to north, and the railway line for one of those trains run right through Tierra Blanca, where Tamayo lived and worked. That flow of humanity represents easy income for whoever controls the territory.
Given the high levels of crime and insecurity across Veracruz, it would not be out of the ordinary for state police and other authorities to be working with the area's criminal gangs; there have been examples of such collusion all over Mexico. That a police patrol was parked nearby when Tamayo was murdered, combined with the fact he sought protection after reporting on alleged police abuses, indicates he may have had good reason to fear the very authorities entrusted with his protection.