A relative of one of the men found buried in an unmarked grave in the Mexican state of Veracruz prays at a meeting in Palmas de Abajo, March 16, 2017. The state has for years been the site of violence between organized crime syndicates. (Reuters/Carlos Jasso)
A relative of one of the men found buried in an unmarked grave in the Mexican state of Veracruz prays at a meeting in Palmas de Abajo, March 16, 2017. The state has for years been the site of violence between organized crime syndicates. (Reuters/Carlos Jasso)

Mexican journalist Ricardo Monlui Cabrera murdered in Veracruz

Mexico City, March 20, 2017–Mexican authorities should undertake a credible and thorough investigation into the murder of journalist Ricardo Monlui Cabrera, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Monlui was shot to death yesterday morning in the municipality of Yanga, in the eastern state of Veracruz, as he left a restaurant where he had eaten with his wife and son. He was 57.

Monlui, a resident of the city of Córdoba, was the editorial director of the Córdoba-based El Político newspaper and author of “Crisol,” a column that regularly appeared in the newspapers El Sol de Córdoba and Diario de Xalapa. He was also the president of Córdoba’s local journalists’ association and a spokesperson for the National Union of Sugar Cane Producers. He had been a journalist for more than 30 years.

According to news reports, Monlui left a restaurant in Yanga with his wife and son at approximately 10 a.m. yesterday, when unknown assailants riding a motorcycle fired at him three times, killing him on the spot. Jorge Morales, executive director of the Veracruz State Commission for the Care and Protection of Journalists (CEAPP), told CPJ that the victim was instantly killed by a bullet wound to the head. He also said that Monlui’s wife and son were unharmed, and that they were returned to their home in Córdoba under police protection.

Veracruz is a hotspot for violence against journalists. Under former governor Javier Duarte, who is currently a fugitive facing charges related to alleged connections to organized crime, at least six journalists from Veracruz were murdered between 2010 and 2016 in direct retaliation for their work, while another 10 were murdered in circumstances where the motive has not yet been established, according to CPJ research. Another three are missing. Miguel Ángel Yunes Linares became governor in December 2016.

“Investigators should consider Ricardo Monlui Cabrera’s journalism as a possible motive for his murder and bring all those responsible for this heinous crime to justice,” Carlos Lauría, senior program coordinator for the Americas said from New York. “Veracruz became the deadliest place in the Western Hemisphere for journalists under former governor Javier Duarte. The government of Miguel Ángel Yunes Linares should oversee a credible investigation in cooperation with federal authorities to prove that he is committed to a different legacy.”

The office of the Veracruz state attorney general released a short statement on Facebook yesterday afternoon, in which it confirmed that police were investigating the murder and that no motive, including Monlui’s work as a journalist, had been discarded.

CPJ was unable to reach Veracruz state attorney general Jorge Winckler for further information. Jaime Cisneros, the state special prosecutor in charge of handling crimes against journalists, told CPJ in a telephone conversation that he was unable to give further details, citing the ongoing investigation. He did, however, confirm that Monlui’s wife and son have been provided with police protection at their home.

In his most recent columns and other articles, Monlui mostly wrote about regional politics and the sugar cane industry, one of the largest economic engines of the region surrounding Córdoba. Violence related to the sugar cane industry is common in the Córdoba region. According to Vicente Osorio, a journalist for El Sol de Córdoba and a friend of the victim, the vast economic interests in the industry sometimes lead to violent clashes between farmers and trade unions. On February 24, the leader of a local sugar cane farmers group was killed in a riot in Córdoba, according to news reports.

Monliu’s work as a spokesman for the National Union of Sugar Cane Producers and his journalism deeply embedded him in the industry, journalists in the region told CPJ.

Osorio told CPJ that he was did not know of any threats against Monliu before the journalist’s death. He also said that he was unaware of any conflicts in the sector that might have sparked animosity against the journalist. Morales, of CEAPP, told CPJ that Monliu had not been enrolled in any state or federal protection program for journalists.

Violence against journalists in Veracruz takes place against a backdrop of battles between powerful organized crime groups in the state over lucrative drug and human trafficking routes.

More than 1,300 people were killed in the state in 2016, according to news reports–the vast majority of them in execution-style murders. The area surrounding Córdoba is one the state’s most violent, according to journalists CPJ spoke to yesterday in the wake of Monliu’s murder. Morales told CPJ that the security situation in the region is “extremely complicated.”