CPJ alarmed by disappearance of reporter in Michoacán

CPJ alarmed by disappearance of reporter in Michoacán

New York, February 15, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the disappearance of Mauricio Estrada Zamora, a crime reporter for the daily La Opinión de Apatzingán in the central Mexican state of Michoacán.

Estrada, 38, was last seen on February 12 at approximately 11 p.m., when he left the newspaper. He left alone and indicated that he was heading to his home in Apatzingán, colleagues told CPJ. On the morning of February 13, local authorities found Estrada’s car in Buena Vista Tomatlán, a municipality near Apatzingán. The policeman who found the car alerted La Opinión de Apatzingán staff after finding Estrada’s press pass in the car windshield. The car was parked, but its engine was running. The doors were open and several items were missing, including a stereo and Estrada’s camera and laptop, La Opinión de Apatzingán staff told CPJ.

On February 13, Estrada’s immediate family reported him missing to state authorities. The Michoacán state Attorney General’s office sent its anti-kidnapping unit, including a helicopter, to Buena Vista Tomatlán and outlying areas in order to find the reporter.

“We are very concerned about the fate of Mauricio Estrada Zamora,” said CPJ Executive Director, Joel Simon. “We urge Mexican authorities to do all in their power to locate him and return him safely to his family.”

La Opinión de Apatzingán and Estrada’s family are asking law enforcement authorities to investigate whether the reporter’s disappearance is linked to a dispute he had in January with a Federal Investigations Agency agent who was posted in Apatzingán. On February 14, La Opinión de Apatzingán wrote that Estrada had mentioned the agent’s name in an article and that he referred to the agent in print only by his nickname “El Diablo” (the Devil.) Colleagues told CPJ that they were unaware of the disagreement between the two men, as Estrada only mentioned it to his family. CPJ was unable to determine the nature of the dispute.

However, María de la Luz Uyuela Granado, the daily’s editor-in-chief, told CPJ that the circumstances surrounding Estrada’s disappearance remain unclear. Uyuela said Estrada didn’t investigate sensitive stories. In fact, the paper does not investigate organized crime or other risky topics that they consider too dangerous, added Uyuela. La Opinión de Apatzingán only publishes official information when it comes to crime.

Estrada also contributed reports to La Opinion de Michoacán, a sister newspaper of La Opinión de Apatzingán.

Michoacán is considered one of the most dangerous states for journalists in Mexico, owing to its high level of violent crime related to drug trafficking and organized crime. Estrada’s disappearance comes on the heels of the assassination of journalist Gerardo Israel García Pimentel in December in Uruapan, the second largest city in Michoacán. García covered agriculture and crime for La Opinion de Michoacán. CPJ is still investigating whether García’s death is related to his work as a journalist. On November 20, 2006, José Antonio García Apac, editor of Ecos de la Cuenca en Tepalcatepec, a local newspaper, went missing and has yet to be seen again.