CPJ urges Mexico to keep case of missing journalist open

New York, March 3, 2010—Investigators in Tabasco State should continue to investigate the 2007 disappearance of Mexican journalist Rodolfo Rincón Taracena despite the recently publicized alleged confessions of five suspects in custody.

On Sunday, the Tabasco State attorney general’s office announced that five men in custody since 2007 on drug charges confessed three years ago to being involved in Rincón’s murder and told authorities where his remains could be found, according to local news reports.

Rincón, a reporter with the daily Tabasco Hoy, disappeared shortly after writing stories that identified small stores in Villahermosa, the state capital, where illegal drugs were allegedly sold, CPJ research shows. The men in custody since 2007 said members of the criminal organization Los Zetas killed Rincón to stop him from writing stories about their operations, according to a news release issued by state authorities.

The alleged killer and mastermind of the crime, identified in the official release as Roberto Hernández Cruz, was killed in a June 2007 gunfight with Tabasco police.

The suspects’ confession led to a search warrant of a Tabasco property where state police discovered the charred remains of at least five people, the release said. After performing several DNA tests, authorities were unable to identify the remains. According to the state attorney general’s office, Rincón and others were dismembered before being burned inside metal drums. Investigators have closed the case without tying the remains to Rincón.

“Confessions in Mexico are notoriously unreliable and there have been many documented instances in which suspects were coerced using torture and intimidation,” said CPJ Americas Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. “For this reason, the case must remain open until the suspects are convicted in open court based on forensic evidence and the remains of the victim are positively identified. Journalists in Tabasco will not feel safe until the disappearance is further clarified, and those responsible for this abduction and murder are behind bars.”

The five men who allegedly confessed to involvement in Rincón’s murder now face additional state charges and have also been transferred to federal custody, according to Eduardo Hernández de la Cruz, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office.

Journalists at Tabasco Hoy reacted angrily to the authorities’ decision to close the investigation, questioning the state authorities’ delay in making the confessions public. In the early days of the case, an editor who wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons said, they tried to dismiss the matter as a crime of passion, then as something about a business dispute. The editor said there were very few investigators assigned to the case and for months they refused to consider that the motive had anything to do with Rincón’s work.

Eight reporters, including Rincón, have disappeared in Mexico since 2005, CPJ research shows. Many of the missing had investigated links between public officials and drug traffickers.