by Andrew V. Goodell
Journalism in Mexico has long been a risky business. Mexico is now prominent as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which issues an annual global report of journalists who have been killed. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, since 2000 at least 119 journalists have been killed, while the Wikipedia page documenting journalists and media workers killed or disappeared in Mexico puts the number as high as 286. And this does not include the physical and psychological violence inflicted on the countless writers, photographers, newscasters and editors who have been assaulted, harassed or intimidated, many of whom have chosen to flee to protect themselves and their families in a life of exile.
Regina Martínez Pérez was a petite woman with big ideas and powerful adversaries. Known as La Chaparritaor “Shorty,” she had spent her career on La Nota Roja – the Red Note, what crime journalism is called in Mexico – tracking down and reporting on gangland executions, police assassins, forced disappearances, and corruption schemes, reporting them for the investigative news magazine, Proceso. But where she made her most powerful adversaries was investigating and reporting on the narco-state – the nexus of interests between organized crime and those in official power such as government officials, the military and the police.
In 2012, Regina was savagely beaten and strangled to death in her home in Xalapa, Veracruz. A cursory investigation claimed that a local male sex worker and drug addict had broken into her home and killed her during a robbery. However, he was only identified by one unnamed witness whom no one has ever been able to track down and confirm. His fingerprints were never found at the scene. He claimed he only confessed to the murder while being tortured by police. He is considered by many to be a convenient scapegoat who is currently serving a 38-year prison sentence and maintains he is innocent.
At the time of her death, Martinez was one of the few reporters bold enough to investigate the rise of forced disappearances that were occurring in Veracruz and their relationship to the increasing number of clandestine graves that were being uncovered around the state. Colleagues confirmed that she had been preparing to issue a dramatic report linking the graves and the disappeared individuals to government officials and cartels.
In order to continue the work of Regina Martínez Pérez, 60 journalists from around the world representing 27 international news media organizations began The Cartel Project coordinated by Forbidden Stories. The guiding principle of the project is to continue the work of Regina Martínez Pérez while highlighting the conditions that lead to her death and the death of so many others. As Forbidden Stories states, “Killing the journalist won’t kill the story. We are a network of journalists whose mission is to continue and publish the work of other journalists facing threats, prison, or murder.”
The consortium of journalists has published stories, via The Cartel Project, that have dug deeply into Regina Martínez’s case, including interviewing subjects who had never spoken on the record before and “revealing how local authorities sabotaged the investigation into her death and put a scapegoat behind bars without any tangible proof.”
The global team of journalists has been able to investigate and publish stories demonstrating the global web that Mexico exists in. They have shown how cyber-espionage tactics have taken root in the country. That authorities routinely use these tactics and technology from Israeli and Italian companies to target and track journalists and their networks.
They have tracked and investigated the rise of a Mexican connection to Belgium and the Netherlands. Mexican “cooks” are being sent to help produce methamphetamines that are distributed in Europe, Asia and Oceania. Mexican brokers suspected of being connected with cartels in Mexico are in charge of recruitment.
And the global reach extends across the Pacific as well, with Mexican cartels working in China and India. In China and India, they exposed drug cartels’ expanding supply chain for precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl, a deadly drug that’s ravaging the United States.
Finally, they were given access to exclusive documents showing firearms sales to Mexico, finding that in Germany, Belgium, Italy and elsewhere, multinational weapons manufacturers are selling hundreds of millions of euros of weapons and ammunition to Mexican states with a history of collusion with criminal groups and human rights violations. (Source: Forbidden Stories)
Forbidden Stories is a collection of journalists, writers, editors, communicators who are committed to
“protecting and continuing the work of reporters who can no longer investigate, we can send a powerful signal to enemies of the free press: even if you succeed in stopping a single messenger, you will not stop the message. What is the point of killing a journalist if ten, twenty or thirty others are waiting in the wings to carry on their work? Cooperation is the best defense.”
PEN San Miguel stories of journalists Mexico has lost so far in 2020 can be found below.
María Elena Ferral in Papantla, Veracruz, in March; Victor Fernando “Apontito” Álvarez Chávez in Acapulco, in April; Jorge Miguel Armenta Ávalos in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, in May; José Luis Castillo Osuna in Cajeme, Sonora, in June; Pablo Morrugares Paraguirre in Iguala, Guerrero, in August; Juan Nelcio Espinoza Menera in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, in August; Julio Valdivia in Tezonapa, Veracruz, in September; Alberto Alba Medina in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, on October 29; Jesús Alfonso Piñuelas in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora, on November 2; Israel Vásquez Rangel in Salamanca, Guanajuato, on November 9
Columbia Journalism Review, Behind the Scenes of The Cartel Project
El País article, in Spanish, EL PAÍS and other major media give voice to the work of Regina Martínez, the journalist murdered in Veracruz
Guardian article, Murder in Mexico: Journalists Caught in the Crosshairs
Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project article, Unanswered Questions Haunt Case of Mexican Journalist’s Murder
Proceso article, in Spanish, The world’s media join the demand for justice for Regina Martínez