With questions on Veracruz, feds should take over

Mexico City, August 17, 2012–Mexican federal authorities should assume control of the investigation and prosecution of all cases of murdered and missing journalists in the state of Veracruz, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. A state investigation into the murder of several journalists has raised numerous questions and concerns, CPJ found.

The attorney general of Veracruz, Amadeo Flores Espinosa, announced on Wednesday that authorities had solved the murders of two news photographers, one former photographer, and a woman who was an office worker at a newspaper in the state capital, according to news reports. On May 3, the bodies of the four victims were found dismembered in black plastic bags that were thrown into a drainage canal in the town of Boca del Río. Flores said the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which is allied with the Sinaloa cartel, was responsible. Mexican authorities said there are eight suspects in custody for the crime, according to The Associated Press.

Flores claimed that the suspects arrested for the May quadruple homicide had confessed to killing the photographers, allegedly because the victims, in collaboration with organized crime groups, were responsible for the murders of yet other journalists. He did not offer further details, identify the supposed other victims, or take questions after making the announcement, local reporters told CPJ. His office did not respond to phone calls from CPJ seeking an explanation for his assertion. Mexican state government officials in the past have sought to link murdered journalists with organized crime groups without presenting evidence to support the allegations.

Federal authorities who spoke on condition of anonymity told CPJ that their review found the purported confessions lacked the details necessary to prosecute the defendants. In one of the statements, officials said, the suspect simply claimed to have killed many people in Veracruz while working for the New Generation cartel. In another, a suspect said that some of the journalists were killed because they were involved in the killing of other journalists. The suspects did not offer further details, such as the identities of the victims or the dates of the murders, and officials told CPJ that the records of the interrogation show that the investigators did not ask them to elaborate.

The only evidence offered by state authorities, besides the alleged confessions, was that IDs and credit cards of one of the victims were found in the glove compartment of a car in which one suspect was stopped, according to news reports.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Flores also announced that authorities had solved another journalist murder case. The attorney-general said that witnesses had identified two members of the Zetas cartel, who were killed in a shootout with authorities in June, as being responsible for the murder of kidnapped crime reporter and editor Víctor Manuel Báez Chino on June 13. Báez’s body was found the next day near the main square in Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz state. Flores didn’t elaborate on the case or take any questions.

“We’re concerned that Veracruz state authorities have been unwilling to provide credible details to support their announcement that these murders have been solved,” Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, said from New York. “It’s also disturbing that state officials smeared the victims’ reputations without offering a shred of evidence to back up the claims.”

After years of advocacy by journalists and press freedom groups, the Mexican Senate passed a landmark constitutional amendment this year that granted federal authorities the power to prosecute crimes against the press. But the constitutional amendment cannot go into effect until the legislature passes follow-up laws to define the responsibilities of federal law enforcement agencies and provide them with the necessary resources and training.

“Now that the constitutional amendment that federalizes anti-press crimes has been approved, Congress must pass the secondary legislation that will put the amendment into effect and allow federal authorities to take over all cases of murdered journalists,” Lauría said.

Veracruz, which is a battleground for the Zetas and Sinaloa cartels, is one of Mexico’s most dangerous states for the press, according to CPJ research. At least eight journalists and one former journalist, most of whom covered the police beat or politics in the main city, the port of Veracruz, have been killed, many in unclear circumstances, since March 2011. There have been no arrests in any of the cases until now. Several local reporters who cover those beats, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told CPJ they have fled to other parts of the country.

  • For more data and analysis on Mexico, visit CPJ’s Mexico page here.