Mexican publisher shot to death in Guerrero

New York, February 1, 2010—Jorge Ochoa Martínez, a Mexican editor and publisher in Guerrero state, died late Friday after being shot in the face, according to local press reports. Mexican authorities must put an end to the cycle of impunity in attacks on the press by ensuring those responsible for Ochoa’s murder are brought to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Ochoa was killed in the town of Ayutla de los Libres after leaving a birthday party for a local politician, a friend and a coworker told CPJ. A spokesperson for Guerrero’s governor told the Mexico City-based La Jornada on Saturday that there were no leads in the case.

“Violence against the Mexican media, which has long been pervasive, has intensified in recent weeks,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ senior program coordinator for the Americas. “Mexican authorities must break the cycle of impunity in journalists’ murders and punish all those responsible for killing Ochoa. Violence has effectively halted the work of the press and is causing lasting damage to Mexican democracy.”

Ochoa owned two small-circulation newspapers: the weekly El Oportuno based in the state capital, Chilpancingo, and the twice-weekly El Sol de la Costa based in Ayutla de los Libres. Because conditions in Guerrero are dangerous and crimes against journalists typically go unpunished, the papers avoid controversies and do not cover sensitive stories in depth, said reporter Jaime Miranda, a colleague of Ochoa. He said Ochoa never reported receiving threats, and had continued his habit of driving around the region alone to cover the news.

Juan García Castro, director of an association of weekly newspapers in Guerrero, said he had known Ochoa for 20 years. “None of the newspapers write about drug cartels or things like corrupt police or officials,” García told CPJ. 

Guerrero has become one of Mexico’s deadliest states as two drug cartels fight to control territory while state and federal forces try to maintain authority. The same day Ochoa’s body was found, seven men were murdered elsewhere in the state in ways that suggested cartel involvement, press reports said.

Ochoa is the third Mexican journalist to be murdered in a month. On January 20, the body of veteran radio reporter José Luis Romero was found in Sinaloa state, after he had been abducted in late December. On January 8, police in the city of Saltillo, Coahuila state, found the body of newspaper reporter Valentín Valdés Espinosa. Both had been picked up by groups of armed men and tortured, according to investigators. Drug gangs are suspected of involvement.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries for the press, CPJ research shows. Since 1992, a total of 44 journalists, including Ochoa, have been killed in Mexico. At least 19 were slain in direct reprisal for their work. Eight journalists have disappeared since 2005. Most covered organized crime or government corruption.