New York, December 24, 2009—José Alberto Velázquez López, owner of the Mexican newspaper Expresiones de Tulum in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo, died late Tuesday after being shot in his car by a gunman aboard a motorcycle, according to local news reports. Mexican authorities must swiftly investigate this crime and bring those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Shortly after Velázquez left a Christmas party for the newspaper staff, two men on a motorcycle came alongside his car and one of them fired a pistol, hitting Velázquez twice, the paper’s deputy editor, Luis Gamboa, told CPJ. Gravely wounded, Velázquez was transferred to a hospital in Cancún where he died late at night, the local press said.
Gamboa said the paper had received several anonymous phone calls threatening death in the last several months and that its printing press was firebombed in November. According to Gamboa, Velázquez, who was also a lawyer, had written several articles accusing Tulum Mayor Marciano Dzul Caamal of corruption, bad administration, and disdain for the public. After receiving the death threats, including an alleged phone call in which the mayor threatened him, Velázquez stopped reporting on local politics, Gamboa said.
Both Gamboa and Eugenio Morelos Valdovinos, the general manager of the newspaper, said they believed the journalist’s murder is linked to his criticism of local authorities. Morelos told CPJ that it is well-known in Tulum that the mayor and Velázquez were enemies. Morelos said the problems between the two began in April, the month the newspaper started printing and the mayor took office. Mayor Dzul could not immediately be reached for comment.
“We are deeply disturbed by the murder of José Alberto Velázquez López,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “Given the journalist’s critical reporting on local government, federal authorities must cooperate with state prosecutors, conduct a thorough investigation, and bring those responsible to justice.”
Morelos said he filed a police complaint on the firebomb attack but that the investigation remained stalled. State prosecutors in Quintana Roo have opened an inquiry, according to local news reports. CPJ continues to investigate whether Velázaquez’s death was linked to his work as a journalist.
Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries for the press, CPJ research shows. Since 1992, 41 journalists, including Velázquez, have been killed in Mexico. At least 17 were slain in direct reprisal for their work. Eight journalists have disappeared since 2005. Most covered organized crime or government corruption.