Cartels’ War on Media Takes a Monumental Shift as Journalists Targeted in Mexico City

cartels' war on media
AP Photo/Marco Ugarte

The drug cartels’ war on media continues to escalate with journalists being targeted in Mexico City. Being a journalist in Mexico that brings attention to drug trade and other forms of organized crime has routinely been regarded as one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

On Friday, August 1st, Breitbart Texas’ Ildefonso Ortiz reported that 31-year-old photographer Ruben Espinosa Becerril’s body was found dead in his home along with human rights activist Nadia Vera and three other women after each of the victims had seemingly been beaten, tortured, and eventually shot in the head.

Espinosa unknowingly predicted his own death in an interview with journalists from Spain who are developing a documentary on the dangers to journalists in Mexico, Ortiz reported.

Once perceived as a safe haven for exiled journalists from their home, as Espinosa and his colleagues did, Mexico City now finds its self in the crosshairs of the violent drug war that has mired its country for several years. “This was the armored city, and now it’s broken,” said a colleague at Espinosa’s funeral.

In the days following the escape of “El Chapo” Guzman from a Mexico jail, parallels of violence in major cities are beginning to be drawn between the narco-violence of Mexico and the crisis that Colombia faced in the 1980s and 1990s.

By looking at a map of the country’s cartel network, Mexico City is perceived as being one of the very few areas that a specific cartel or federation has not laid claim to.

The attacks in Colombia were routinely carried out in highly urban areas, whereas Mexico’s violence against the press has taken place in much more rural locations. Anthropologist and author Howard Campbell, in an earlier interview in 2012, stated that it is evident that smaller Mexican border towns (especially ones controlled by the infamous Zetas,) are in real danger of cartel threats.

Small, local newspapers “often omit sensitive narco-stories and provide bare details or else they will be killed, whereas in major cities such as Proceso have more freedom,” Campbell said.

However, the shift of cartels interest in targeting news outlets in major cities appears to be a major shift in organized crime’s focus to silence the media.

Espinosa fled to Mexico City just months before his brutal murder following series of threats he began to receive after a photo of current Veracruz governor Javier Duarte was published on the cover of February issue of Proceso with the headline “Veracruz: Lawless State”. Also, in 2013, Espinosa was the victim of an incident in which state police beat him.

Ruben Espinosa was the 13th journalist from Veracruz to be murdered since Governor Javier Duarte, from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI), came to power in 2011.

Duarte’s office issued a very brief statement in the wake of the deaths of Espinosa and his colleagues.

Douglas Farah, of the Center of Strategic and International Studies, reinforces the point that the location of the attacks on media members is crucial in better understanding the differentiating response from Mexico and Colombia

,“In Colombia, the political power of the national media, mostly operating out of the capital, was brought to bear on the political process. In Mexico, where most of the attacks are carried out far from the capital, the response has been more muted,” said Bridges.

However, it is no longer the case that just rural locations have become victim to violence from organized crime.

“After what happened to Ruben, your fear returns. We exiles don’t feel so safe among the multitude anymore,” the political cartoonist said under anonymity.

The murder of Ruben Espinoza is vital to understand the growing threat that Mexico poses from within to journalists as it marks a monumental message to members of the press that expose corruption and violence that flee to Mexico City for safety.

“Ruben’s murder is a clear message to all journalists: there is nowhere safe to go in Mexico: impunity reigns,” said a colleague of Espinosa.

The potential of violent backlash from cartels does not only concern traditional journalists, but also individuals that post to new media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook that bring attention to a given detrimental from organized crime syndicates.

The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Mexico as one of the most deadly countries in the world for journalists. The group notes that the level of corruption in Mexico is so extreme, that reporters are often faced with threats from not only cartel organizations but also government officials to censor their coverage. The vast majority of murders on journalists go unreported.

In September 2010, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement that as lawlessness and corruption spread; news outlets “are abandoning not only investigative reporting but basic daily coverage of sensitive issues such as the drug trade and municipal malfeasance”. The International Narcotics Control Board reports that although Mexico has made concerted efforts to reduce corruption in recent years, it remains a serious problem.

In February of this year, Breitbart Texas responded to this escalation against the Mexican media by creating Cartel Chronicles. This section on Breitbart allows Mexico’s vulnerable citizen journalists to have a voice to reveal what is going on in this country while more establishment journalism backs away in fear.

As narco-violence has grown, traditional codes of conduct have disappeared. Customs such as families not being targeted and the absence of beheadings have dissolved as the new age cartel related violence has taken shape.

Violence against journalists began to take shape following a September 2010 killing of Luis Carlos Santiago, a 21-year-old photography intern for the Juarez based newspaper El Diario de Juarez was gunned down.

The death of Santiago marked an emboldened move by cartels to silence the media.

In the wake of Santiago’s murder, El Diario de Juarez editor Pedro Torres issued a statement begging the cartels involved to inform the outlet of what it could and could not cover. Torres stated that organized crime was “at this time, the de facto authorities” of the city. Although some of Santiago’s colleagues did not see his association with El Diario to be the catalyst for his death, a representative for the journalist association of Juarez, Adrian Ventura, stated “we do see it as an attack against El Diario, an attack against the ones who work here”.

The murders of Espinosa and Santiago are just two of the growing number of examples in which organized crime syndicates have explicitly targeted reporters.

Speaking after the funeral of Ruben Espinosa, a colleague of Espinosa, Felix Marquez told the media that the death of his friend would not deter reporters from bringing attention to the issues that Mexico face. “I am scared, we are all scared, but I won’t put down my camera, Rubén’s death has made sure of that,” concluded Marquez.

Mexico has sought to minimize the violence against the media by implementing a protection program for journalists and also assigned a special prosecution office for crimes against speech. However, governmental corruption has driven members of the press away from the “protection” that is to be offered, just as Espinosa denied to enroll in the program because he did not trust authorities.

As undocumented illegal immigrants continue to stream in from Mexico’s borders, this is the violent culture that concerns 2016 presidential candidates the most on the issue of immigration.

Members of the press in Mexico are routinely targeted for demonstrating civil liberties that we in the United States take for granted—freedom of the press and freedom of speech and the targeting of reporters will not be tolerated. Their deaths will not be in vain.


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