El Cambio de Michoacán
El Cambio de Michoacán

Mexican crime reporter vanishes in western Michoacán

New York, November 20, 2009—A Mexican reporter who had recently covered corruption and organized crime was reported missing this week in the western state of Michoacán, according to local news reports. María Esther Aguilar Cansimbe, at left, was last seen on November 11 near her home in Zamora. The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on state and federal authorities to do everything in their power to immediately bring her to safety.

Aguilar, a reporter for the Zamora-based daily El Diario de Zamora and local correspondent for the regional daily El Cambio de Michoacán, was last seen leaving her home in Zamora, 89 miles (144 kilometers) west of the state capital Morelia, on November 11, after she received a call on her cell phone, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. No one has heard from her since, colleagues told CPJ. A spokesman at the Michoacán State Attorney said her family reported her missing this week.

Aguilar, a reporter with 10 years of experience who has worked with several regional outlets, had recently broken a series of stories on local corruption and organized crime for El Cambio de Michoacán, according to the paper. On October 22, she reported on a military operation near Zamora where at least three individuals, including the son of a local politician, were arrested on suspicion of participating with organized crime groups. On October 27, she published a story on local police abuse, after which a high-ranking official was forced to resign. Three days later, she reported on the arrest of an alleged boss of the Michoacán-based dug cartel La Familia Michoacana. According to a colleague at the daily, Aguilar did not use her byline on any of the stories for fear of reprisal.

Aguilar had not received any threats, colleagues told CPJ. However, in a story published today, El Cambio de Michoacán said her colleagues believe her disappearance could be linked to her reporting. Family members have not made any public comments.

On Thursday, the Michoacán State Prosecutor Jesús Montejano Ramírez said state authorities were investigating Aguilar’s disappearance, the national daily Milenio reported. Montejano said he could not make any leads public in order to not interfere with the investigation.

Aguilar is the eighth Mexican reporter to have gone missing since 2005, according to CPJ research.

“We are deeply concerned for the safety of María Esther Aguilar Cansimbe,” CPJ Senior Americas Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. “We ask state and federal authorities to do all in their power to find her. They need to send a clear message that the disappearance of journalists who report on corruption will not go unprosecuted.”

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. On November 20, 2006, José Antonio García Apac, editor of Ecos de la Cuenca en Tepalcatepec, a local newspaper, went missing and has not been seen again. Mauricio Estrada Zamora, a crime reporter for the daily La Opinión de Apatzingán, disappeared on February 12, 2008. Five other reporters have disappeared in Mexico since 2005, CPJ found in its 2008 special report, “The Disappeared in Mexico.” Many of the missing had investigated links between public officials and drug traffickers.

According to CPJ research39 journalists have been killed since 1992 in Mexico, one of the most murderous places in the world for journalists. At least 18 were slain in direct reprisal for their work. Most covered organized crime or government corruption.