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Journalist Attacks, Killings Spark Outrage in Mexico

HUMAN RIGHTS / 28 JAN 2022 BY PARKER ASMANN EN

A number of media workers in Mexico have been shot and killed, stabbed to death and ambushed in armed attacks to start 2022, as authorities continue to point the finger at organized crime groups.

The most recent attack came on the morning of January 26, when armed attackers opened fire on José Ignacio Santiago Martínez, the director of Pluma Digital Noticias, as he drove along the Yosonicaje-Tlaxiaco highway in southern Oaxaca state, the Human Rights Ombudsman of the People of Oaxaca (Defensoría de los Derechos Humanos del Pueblo de Oaxaca) announced in a press release.

Martínez survived. The armed guards traveling with him as part of his enrollment in the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists successfully repelled the ambush. But these protective mechanisms don’t always work as planned.

On January 17, photojournalist Margarito Martínez was shot and killed outside of his home in the border city of Tijuana, the Baja California State Attorney General’s Office announced in a press release. Like his colleague in Oaxaca, Martínez had also told officials that he feared for his life and was referred to the protection mechanism for journalists. It didn’t help.

SEE ALSO: Still Without Protection, Journalists Are Mexico’s Walking Dead

Just days later, on January 23, Lourdes Maldonado López was also killed in front of her home in Tijuana despite apparent official protection, Baja California State Governor Marina del Pilar said in a statement. In March 2019, Maldonado had traveled to Mexico City to attend President Andres Manuel López Obrador’s daily press conference. There, she told the president directly that she “feared for her life,” asking for protection. It never came.

While much attention has been focused on Tijuana given the back-to-back high-profile killings, violence against journalists has spanned the whole of Mexico this year.

In early January, reporter José Luís Gamboa was stabbed to death in the Gulf state of Veracruz. Not even a week later, journalist Jaime Vargas Chablé was stabbed and injured during a break-in of his home in Yucatán state, though it’s unclear if this was directly related to his work. Another journalist in the municipality of Buenavista de la Salud in Guerrero state found himself trapped between the crossfire of severe gun battles while waiting more than an hour for security forces to respond.

Following the violence this month, widespread protests stretched across dozens of cities in Mexico, which has consistently ranked as one of the world’s most dangerous places to practice journalism, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

InSight Crime Analysis

In recent years, the northern border state of Baja California has been one of Mexico’s most violent, and local reporters have not been spared.

To be sure, reported attacks on the press in the state have more than doubled since 2018, with the press freedom organization Article 19 recording 43 aggressions throughout 2021. After the murders of Martínez and Maldonado, the organization said the state has started 2022 with a “red spotlight.”

(Graphic c/o Article 19)

So far, authorities have pointed the finger at organized crime’s possible involvement in Martínez’s murder, although such links are often more complex than any single crime group and tied to several factors, among them local power dynamics. The 9mm pistol used to commit the crime was reportedly previously in the hands of gunmen with the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación - CJNG) who had murdered two women and three men in the summer of 2020, Zeta Tijuana reported

However, given the time between those crimes and Martínez’s killing, it’s possible that the gun changed hands or was sold to another individual who may not have any connections to the crime group at all.

The week following the murder, two narcomantas that claimed to be from the Sinaloa Cartel appeared in Tijuana, accusing David López Jiménez, alias “El Cabo 20” or “El Lobo,” of ordering the murder. Jiménez is reportedly a broker of sorts that leads various cells of local drug dealers and hitmen in Baja California. Jiménez is alleged to have previously aligned himself with the CJNG and later operated with offshoots of the Sinaloa Cartel and what remains of the Arellano Félix Organization, according to Zeta Tijuana.

Officials are also looking into Jiménez's alleged ties to Carlos Omar Barba Preciado, who allegedly took part in a kidnapping ring Jiménez oversaw that was comprised of other local criminals and corrupt police officers, according to Zeta Tijuana. One of Barba's alleged associates, Ángel Peña, apparently had a confrontation with Martínez last year regarding his work as a photographer covering crime in the Sánchez Taboada area of Tijuana, which is one of the city's most violent and where he was killed.

SEE ALSO: Mexico Journalists Face Violence From Both Officials and Crime Groups: Report

In recent years, a number of different criminal interests have converged on the border city. Infighting among different factions within the Sinaloa Cartel has reportedly spread into this part of Baja California, where the CJNG has also been trying to expand with the help of a regional group known as the Tijuana New Generation Cartel (Cartel Tijuana Nueva Generación - CTNG). Independent remnants of the Arellano Félix Organization are also still present in the area, and authorities have not ruled out their potential involvement.

All of that said, it's possible certain criminal groups may be trying to leverage the murder to turn up the heat on potential rivals, giving authorities allied with them a reason to pursue their enemies more aggressively. It may also be the case that the killing is only indirectly tied to organized crime.

Journalists in Mexico routinely face violence and intimidation from a number of different actors, including public officials. In June 2021, for example, Hugo Amed Schultz Alcaraz, the former mayor of Chínipas, in northern Chihuahua state, was sentenced to eight years in prison just months after authorities arrested him for his role in the 2017 murder of journalist Miroslava Breach.

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