Two Mexican journalists slain in war-wracked Guerrero

New York, July 1, 2010—Mexican journalist Juan Francisco Rodríguez Ríos and his wife, journalist María Elvira Hernández Galeana, were shot dead on Monday at the Internet café they owned in the town of Coyuca de Benítez, state of Guerrero, according to international and local news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Mexican authorities to bring those responsible to justice and put an end to the wave of violence against the press in Guerrero.

Two unidentified gunmen broke into the café around 9:30 p.m. and shot the journalists at close range, according to local news reports. Rodríguez was shot four times, and Hernández three times, the Mexico City-based daily Milenio reported. Both died at the scene. The couple’s 18-year-old son was at the store during the attack but was uninjured, according to the news agency EFE.

Rodríguez, 49, was local stringer for the newspaper El Sol de Acapulco and representative for the national Press Reporters Union. A few hours before the attack, Rodríguez covered a demonstration marking the 15th anniversary of a confrontation between peasants and state police known as the Massacre of Aguas Blancas, according to Salomón Cruz Gallardo, one of several union representatives who are monitoring the investigation. (The massacre happened in 1995, when police ambushed a march of peasants in Coyuca de Benítez, murdering 17 of them, according to the Mexico City-based newspaper La Jornada.)

Local reporters said Rodríguez seldom covered sensitive stories involving local police, politicians, or drug traffickers. Hernández, 36, was the editor for a small weekly local publication called Nueva Línea, the reporters said. She occasionally covered local politics and social issues, they added.

A spokesperson at the state prosecutor’s office told CPJ that the two were killed in a suspected robbery. But local journalists were skeptical, arguing that a cybercafé in a small town like Coyuca de Benítez is not likely to be robbed since it usually does not have more than 600 Mexican pesos (US$48) in the register, according to José Antonio Sánchez, a local journalist and officer at the National Federation of Journalists and Editors.

“Mexican authorities must conduct an exhaustive investigation and bring those responsible to justice,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “The endless wave of violence in Guerrero is thwarting news coverage and causing widespread self-censorship. We urge federal and state authorities to guarantee that all Guerrero journalists can work without fear of retribution.”  

Guerrero state has been wracked by open warfare between drug gangs. Two other journalists have been killed in the state this year. On January 29, Jorge Ochoa Martínez, publisher of the weekly El Oportuno and the twice-weekly El Sol de la Costa, was shot to death after leaving a party for a local politician. Evaristo Pacheco Solís, a reporter with the weekly Visión Informativa, was shot to death on March 12 in the city of Chilpancingo. CPJ is still investigating the motive behind these murders. Local journalists told CPJ that cartels control significant parts of the state.

Overall, Mexico is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the press, CPJ research shows. Since 1992, a total of 46 journalists, including Rodríguez and Hernández, have been killed in Mexico. At least 19 were slain in direct reprisal for their work, CPJ investigations have found. Another nine have disappeared since 2005.