Mexico's eastern state of Veracruz became the most dangerous place for journalists in Latin America during the regime of fugitive ex-governor Javier Duarte, according to a new report that illustrates how a corrupt state often represents the principal threat journalists face.
In its report "Veracruz: Journalists and the State of Fear," (pdf) Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières - RSF) reports 19 journalists were murdered and four more disappeared in Veracruz between January 2000 and September 2016. This means 20 percent of all journalist murders and 20 percent of disappearances in Mexico over that period took place in the state.
However, it is only after 2010, when Gov. Javier Duarte took power, that Veracruz claimed the mantle of the most dangerous Mexican state for journalists. In the six years of the Duarte administration, which came to an abrupt end when the governor fled to avoid corruption charges in late 2016, 17 of the murders and three of the disappearances took place.
According to RSF's research, although Veracruz is plagued by criminal networks such as the Zetas, the main threat to journalists has come not from organized crime but from the state, especially during the Duarte administration.
"Javier Duarte established a reign of terror for journalists throughout his six years as governor, from 2010 to 2016, in a climate of such impunity that he was able to openly and publicly threaten the media without ever being held to account," the report states.
The cartels, meanwhile, are "regarded in Veracruz as the armed wing of the politicians but they readily act on their own initiative when journalists get too interested in their affairs."
Violence against journalists in Veracruz has come despite it being the state with the most protective measures in place for journalists, with 18.6% of all Mexican journalists that receive protective measures residing in the state.
The report notes how this apparent contradiction is typical of the situation in Mexico.
"Mexico is paradoxically equipped with an impressive array of mechanisms and laws for protecting media personnel. The figures presented in this report unfortunately evince the glaring ineffectiveness of these mechanisms and the failure of the authorities," it states.
InSight Crime Analysis
The rise in violence against journalists as Mexico's drug war has spiraled out of control has been well documented. However, the RSF report brings focus to a side of this violence that is often neglected -- the role of the state.
Exposing the corruption of the state, either through personal enrichment or collusion with organized crime is often even more dangerous than exposing criminal networks, as the subjects in question have a legal reputation and status to protect.
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As RSF highlights, setting up mechanisms to protect journalists alone is not enough to combat these threats. To be effective, these mechanisms must be properly financed, supported and implemented. In addition, little progress can be made until there is an end to the impunity surrounding crimes against journalists; in Veracruz, impunity rates for crimes against journalist stand at almost 100 percent, according to RSF.