Mexico: two journalists killed and several others attacked as government struggles to protect

Expression

Two reporters killed in May 2019

On 2 May 2019, Telésforo Santiago Enríquez, a journalist and advocate for indigenous people’s rights, was shot and killed in Oaxaca. Enríquez had founded El Cafetal, a community radio station which promoted indigenous people’s rights, and also worked as a school teacher. He was attacked by gunmen while driving to the radio station. According to CSO Article 19, people close to the journalist said that he had previously received threats. The journalist often expressed critical views of government and denounced corruption. Members of his family believe he was targeted in retaliation for his work. "They shot him in the mouth and heart," his niece said.

On 16 May 2019, the body of an independent journalist enrolled in the government's protection programme for journalists was found outside of a bar in Playa del Carmen. Francisco Romero, a freelance crime and court reporter who managed an online news site called Ocurrió Aquí was reportedly beaten and shot in the head. Romero, who had been enrolled in the protection programme since 2018, had recently notified police about a threat he received in April. His wife said that he had been threatened multiple times because of his work covering local crime stories. "The last time wasn't even two weeks ago. They threatened him, saying that if he didn't do what they wanted, they were going to kill him ... They said they knew where our son studied, that they were going to throw him off a bridge," his wife said. Article 19 had documented five incidents of threats against the reporter in 2019.

Attacks against journalists

On 23 April 2019, journalist Alicia Blanco was followed by a group of armed men in a car in Cosamaloapan, Veracruz state. Blanco, the widow of murdered journalist Pedro Tamayo, told Article 19 that she called the Comisión Estatal para la Atención y Protección de los Periodistas (State Commission for the Attention and Protection of Journalists - CEAPP) after realising that she was being followed. Municipal officers arrived, reportedly showing hostility toward the journalist before escorting her safely to her home. Blanco denounced being repeatedly threatened since her husband’s murder in 2016. In one of the previous incidents, in October 2016, unidentified assailants set fire to Blanco’s home.

On 4 May 2019, Eric Galindo, a reporter with the newspaper Novedades was threatened, detained and injured by police officers while attempting to cover a shooting in Benito Juárez, Quintana Roo. Videos of the incident show police harassing and then handcuffing Galindo. The reporter told Article 19 that he identified himself as a member of the media, but the police officers ignored him, placed him in handcuffs and put him into a police vehicle. According to the CSO, other officers later arrived on the scene and had him released. His wrists were injured during the incident.

On 14 May 2019, Cynthia Gallardo, a journalist with MVS Radio Tampico was assaulted by a local official while she attempted to cover an election event in Tampico, Tamaulipas state. According to the reporter, Nelly Torres Benitez, a representative for Morena (National Regeneration Movement) in Tampico’s Municipal Council, grabbed her wrist and attempted to take her cell phone after she started taking pictures of the event. Other reporters witnessed the attack and tried to defend Gallardo by saying she was just doing her job. The journalist issued a complaint to the Instituto Electoral de Tamaulipas (Tamaulipas Electoral Institute – IETAM). This is at least the second time that Benitez has attacked her, according to Article 19.

In a separate development on 14 May 2019, radio reporter Alejandra Jiménez García found a note containing sexually graphic threats, left on her car. She has reported stories denouncing that forest fires in Michoacán are being set deliberately in order to force changes in the usage of forests. The journalist said she has received other threatening messages before and is trying to enrol in the government’s programme to protect journalists but has yet to be accepted.

On 31 May 2019, independent communicator and activist Nestor Troncoso was allegedly attacked after delivering food and other supplies to a group of villagers living in Buenavista communal land (ejido) near Hidalgo, Tamaulipas. Troncoso has denounced that people living in Ejido Buenavista have been unable to access food and public services because of an armed civilian group called Columna Cívica General Pedro José Méndez, which reportedly controls the area and prevents villagers from circulating freely. According to his statement, Troncoso had requested police protection in order to deliver aid to the community, but his car was surrounded by a crowd who allegedly dragged him out of the car and attacked him, stole his possessions and clothing, and set his car on fire. A video of the incident shows a very large crowd of people surrounding Troncoso’s car and mocking him, but not the attack. Troncoso has been enrolled in Mexico’s protection mechanism since 2014.

Mexican journalist wins Freedom of Speech prize

Anabel Hernandez, an investigative journalist, was given the Freedom of Speech Award by the German news agency Deutsche Welle for her work reporting tirelessly about corruption, the drug trade, sexual exploitation and injustice.

"For months I contemplated the bulletproof vest that the government of Mexico gave me in 2016, shortly before publishing my last book on the case of the 43 students who disappeared in Iguala in the state of Guerrero in September 2014. It was a way of warning me: 'you have gone too far' in your investigations. But even with the vest in front of me I refused to think about myself and the risk. There has always been something more important: truth and justice."

Hernandez, a Mexican national who has lived in exile for almost 20 years, stated that it is the responsibility of journalists to call out corruption no matter where it originates. "It doesn't matter if they are prime ministers, presidents, congressmen, bankers, businessmen, politicians, religious leaders or if they are the heads of a drug cartel. It is up to us journalists to find out what they do, how they do it, why they do it and who their accomplices are," she said.

Peaceful Assembly

From 27 March 2019, truck drivers have been blocking access to a large mining facility in Mazapil valley, northern Zacatecas, as part of a protest against alleged environmental damage. According to protesters, the Peñasquito mine has caused the local water supply to dry up. Local residents say the government and the company that owns the mine have not done enough to address their concerns, and that the lack of water is making it difficult to farm and raise livestock. "We want them to pay for the damage caused to the community... This is not only about saying here's some water and we're even," said one of the demonstration’s leaders. The mining company announced a temporary shut down of operations on 29 April 2019. It also suspended pay for social programmes to local workers and villages.

On 5 May 2019, about 15,000 people reportedly participated in marches in cities across the country to protest recently elected President López Obrador and his policies. Among the demonstrators who marched in Mexico City, many chanted or held signs with messages like, “AMLO out!” and “Wise people made a mistake with you.” Described by many as the La Marcha del Silencio, the march was convened by civil society group Chalecos Mexico – named after the Yellow Vests movement in France. Insecurity, violence and Obrador’s decision to cancel a new airport near Mexico City were among the top complaints from protesters.

On 3 June 2019, taxi drivers in Mexico City staged a protest in opposition to ride-hailing apps that are exempt from certain regulations and from paying permit fees. Early in the morning hundreds of taxi drivers began parking their cars in the middle of busy streets in downtown Mexico City, effectively blocking traffic during the morning rush for several hours. The government responded, stating that representatives have met with drivers and are working on new regulations for drivers that use ride share apps.

On 8 May 2019, two union representatives were shot and killed, and a cameraman was injured during a protest organised by street vendors in Cuernavaca. Jesus Garcia and Roberto Castrejón were killed after a gunman opened fire on them during the protest. TV cameraman Rene Perez, who was covering the demonstration, was also shot and later treated for non-life-threatening injuries at a local hospital. Authorities arrested the gunman while he tried to escape. According to news reports, the killer was paid for the assassination of the two union leaders but no official information has been released by the police.

Association

On 29 April 2019, the Mexican Senate approved a labour reform law that, among other things, aims to provide more control to workers over collective bargaining contracts. The law was enacted on 1 May 2019 and gave unions eight months to adapt to new guidelines on election procedures. Under the new legislation, workers have a right to “personal, free, direct and secret” voting in elections for union representatives. Unions will have to earn support of at least 30 percent of workers before they are formally recognised and local labour boards will be replaced by a national registry and specialised courts. As previously reported by the Monitor, these changes ensure compliance with the International Labour Organisation and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).