16 March 2022

Journalist killed in Mexico is eighth so far this year

16 March 2022

Another journalist was shot dead in Mexico on Tuesday, the eighth murdered so far this year in an unprecedented spate of killings that has made Mexico the most dangerous place in the world for the press.

Reporters and photographers have been murdered in the country this year at the rate of almost one a week, despite claims from the government that the situation is under control.

Prosecutors in the western state of Michoacan said reporter Armando Linares was shot dead at a home in the town of Zitacuaro.

His killing came six weeks after the murder of a colleague, Roberto Toledo, from the same outlet, Monitor Michoacan. It was Mr Linares who announced Mr Toledo’s death on January 31 in a video posted to social media.

Zitacuaro is one of the closest towns to the monarch butterfly wintering grounds in the mountains west of Mexico City.

The area has been plagued by illegal logging and drug gangs, local governance disputes and deforestation linked to expanding avocado production. Logging has damaged the pine and fir forests where the butterflies spend the winter after migrating from the United States and Canada.

Mr Linares was director of the Monitor Michoacan website, which on Tuesday continued to show an article he had written about a cultural festival celebrating monarch butterflies.

There was no immediate information on a possible motive for his murder.

Mr Toledo, a camera operator and video editor for Monitor Michoacan, was shot on January 31 as he prepared for an interview in Zitacuaro.

At the time of his death, Mr Linares told the Associated Press he had received several death threats after enrolling in a government journalist protection programme.

Asked who he thought was behind the threats, Mr Linares said: “They pass themselves off as an armed group, they pass themselves off as a criminal gang. We can’t verify whether it is true or not that they are this armed gang.”

FILE – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during a ceremony to commemorate in Mexico City’s main square the Zocalo, Aug. 13, 2021. President Lopez Obrador said Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, that high profile journalists like Jorge Ramos of Univision and Carmen Aristigui, one of Mexico´s most recognized journalists, should make the information of their salaries available to the public. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo, File)

Criminals in Mexico often claim they are part of a drug cartel in order to instil fear in their victims, whether or not they really are.

“We have organised crime, just like in the rest of the country, and Monitor worked on a lot of issues like illegal logging, given that we are near the monarch reserve,” Mr Linares said in early February. “We wrote a lot about illegal logging and also a lot of issues like corruption in the municipal government.”

Drug cartels in Mexico often make money by protecting illegal logging, or extorting protection payments from avocado growers.

“The nightmare continues for the press in Mexico,” the press group Reporters Without Borders wrote in its social media accounts.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has reacted angrily to worldwide criticism of the killings.

In February, he said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was misinformed, after he wrote “I join those calling for greater accountability and protections for Mexican journalists”.

Mr Lopez Obrador claims the government is investigating all of the killings and suggested Mr Blinken had received bad information from other US agencies, mentioning the CIA, FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration.

“They’re tricking him,” he said. “We don’t tolerate the impunity of anyone.”

And last week, the Mexican president issued an irate response to European Parliament criticism of journalist killings in Mexico, accusing the Europeans of having a “colonialist mentality”.

He criticised EU support for Ukraine, and called European Parliament members “sheep”.

“It is unfortunate that you vote like sheep to join the reactionary and coup-mongering strategy of the corrupt group opposed to the Fourth Transformation,” as he calls his administration, he wrote in an open letter to the parliament.

The EU Parliament approved a resolution last Thursday urging Mr Lopez Obrador to stop his harsh verbal attacks on reporters who criticise him, and ensure their safety.

Press groups say the president’s daily criticisms of journalists, whom he calls “conservatives” and “mercenaries”, make them more vulnerable to violence.

In February, the Inter American Press Association called on Mr Lopez Obrador to “immediately suspend the aggressions and insults, because such attacks from the top of power encourage violence against the press”.

The EU resolution “calls on the authorities, and in particular the highest ones, to refrain from issuing any communication which could stigmatise human rights defenders, journalists and media workers, exacerbate the atmosphere against them or distort their lines of investigation”.

Journalists are often the targets of Mexico’s drug cartels, which seek to intimidate and manipulate coverage of their activities and their rivals.

Local politicians and government officials are also frequently linked to murders, according to the government, which has acknowledged that impunity in those killings runs above 90%.

In early March, gunmen killed Juan Carlos Muniz, who covered crime for the online news site Testigo Minero in the state of Zacatecas.

Jorge Camero, the director of an online news site who was until recently a municipal worker in the northern state of Sonora, was killed in late February.

In early February, Heber Lopez, director of the online news site Noticias Web, was shot dead in the southern state of Oaxaca.

Reporter Lourdes Maldonado Lopez was found shot dead inside her car in Tijuana on January 23, less than a week after crime photographer Margarito Martínez was gunned down outside his Tijuana home on January 17.

Reporter Jose Luis Gamboa was killed in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz on January 10.

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