Veracruz journalist shot dead after reporting on oil theft

Mexico City, May 6, 2015–The body of Veracruz radio journalist Armando Saldaña Morales was found on Monday in the neighboring Mexican state of Oaxaca, according to the Oaxaca state attorney general’s office and news reports. The journalist had been shot dead, the reports said. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the murder and calls on authorities to identify the motive in the killing and ensure the perpetrators are held to account.

“Journalists have paid a high price for reporting the news in Mexico–they are routinely murdered or disappeared with total impunity,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, from New York. “Federal authorities must fully investigate this crime, look deeply into Armando Saldaña Morales’ reporting as a possible motive, and bring those responsible to justice.”

Saldaña’s body was found alongside an abandoned white pickup truck without license plates at around 3:40 p.m. in the municipality of Acatlán de Pérez Figueroa, 220 miles southeast of Mexico City and just across the state border of Veracruz where Saldaña lived, according to press reports. He was shot four times in the head and his body showed signs of abuse, the local press said.

Saldaña, 52, hosted a Saturday news show at the radio station La Ke Buena 100.9 FM in the town of Tierra Blanca, in Veracruz state. Octavio Bravo Bravo, Saldaña’s colleague at the station, told CPJ that he last saw the journalist on Saturday in Veracruz. The local newspaper Crónica de Tierra Blanca reported that Saldaña disappeared after a party. Another report by El Mundo said that Saldaña was intercepted by gunmen as he headed home.

Oaxaca officials said they were investigating Saldaña’s murder, but that they didn’t have any leads, according to news reports.

In the days leading up to his death, Saldaña had reported on air about the alleged theft by organized crime members of petroleum products from pipelines belonging to Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, the state oil company, Bravo Bravo told CPJ. Theft from pipelines plagues Pemex and often involves organized crime and cartels such as Los Zetas.

Organized crime, Bravo Bravo said, is rife in the Tierra Blanca region and is a topic on which journalists tend to stay silent, offering only basic details and not naming names. Saldaña pushed the envelope further than most, Bravo Bravo said. “Among ourselves, we self-censor. You put your life at risk and that of your family, too,” he said. “I knew him as an earnest person: hard working, serious, responsible, very professional and competent. I don’t know what happened.”

Investigating thefts from pipelines has brought danger for journalists in Mexico before, according to CPJ research. In August 2014, freelance journalist Octavio Rojas Hernández, who worked for two months for the Veracruz newspaper El Buen Tono, was shot dead after being lured from his home in San José Cosala, Oaxaca, by an individual who said he wanted to purchase his car, news reports said. Two days before his death, El Buen Tono had published a story on the army and Oaxaca state police breaking up a local ring accused of siphoning gas from pipelines belonging to Pemex. Rojas was the only El Buen Tono correspondent in the area.

Veracruz is one of the most dangerous states in Mexico for the press. Four other Veracruz journalists have been killed in direct relation to their work since 2011, according to CPJ research. CPJ is investigating the deaths of at least six other Veracruz journalists in unclear circumstances. At least three journalists have disappeared in the state in the same time period. In the past, Governor Duarte’s government has sought to dismiss any possible link between journalists’ murders and their profession.

Violence tied to drug trafficking has made Mexico one of the most dangerous countries in the world for the press, according to CPJ research. More than 50 journalists have been killed or have disappeared since 2007. The country was ranked seventh on CPJ’s 2014 Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and the killers go free.