Flowers cover the casket of Santiago Barroso, a Mexican radio journalist shot dead in Sonora state in March. (Reuters/Cristian Torres)
Flowers cover the casket of Santiago Barroso, a Mexican radio journalist shot dead in Sonora state in March. (Reuters/Cristian Torres)

Radio reporter Santiago Barroso shot dead in Mexico’s Sonora state

Mexico City, March 19, 2019–The Committee to Protect Journalists today urged Mexican authorities to thoroughly investigate the murder of radio journalist Santiago Barroso and bring the perpetrators to justice. The reporter was shot dead at his home in San Luis Río Colorado, in the northern Mexican state of Sonora, on March 15, according to news reports.

Barroso, 47, hosted the morning news show “Buenos Días San Luis” (Good Morning San Luis) on Río Digital 91.1 FM, a privately owned radio broadcaster. He was also a columnist for the local weekly Semanario Contraseña and a journalism teacher at the Technological University of San Luis Colorado. Barroso previously reported for the local newspapers El Imparcial and the now defunct La Prensa.

Preliminary findings that the state attorney-general’s office shared with CPJ via WhatsApp said that two unidentified individuals approached the journalist’s home at approximately 9 p.m. One of them knocked on the door and shot Barroso at least three times when he opened the door. The other individual acted as the getaway driver, according to the initial findings.

Barroso managed to call an ambulance, but he died in the hospital at approximately 11 p.m. according to the attorney-general’s office.

Sonora state’s attorney-general, Claudia Indira Contreras Cordova, told local and national media yesterday that Barroso’s journalism was considered the principal motive. Contreras referred to a broadcast of “Buenos Días San Luis” earlier on the day he was killed in which Barroso commented on organized crime in the San Luis Río Colorado area, specifically drug and human trafficking. She added that her office had not discarded other possible motives, and she did not elaborate on the suspected mastermind.

Mexico is the deadliest country for journalists in the western hemisphere, according to CPJ research. CPJ not recorded a single conviction at federal level in the cases of at least 28 journalists murdered in retaliation for their work there in the past 10 years. CPJ is investigating over 40 additional cases in that period to determine if journalism was a motive.

“The murder of Santiago Barroso underscores the urgent need for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration and the recently appointed federal attorney-general, Alejandro Gertz Maner, to take immediate action to protect the Mexican press,” said CPJ Mexico Representative Jan-Albert Hootsen. “A swift and thorough investigation with credible results and a successful prosecution is the only way to begin the reversal of entrenched impunity in Mexico. “

As well as covering organized crime in his radio show, Barroso wrote about drug trafficking in his weekly column in Semanario Contraseña‘s February 15 edition. In the column, which has been reviewed by CPJ, the reporter wrote about the important role San Luis Río Colorado played as a drug trafficking hub for the Sinaloa Cartel of former drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, who has been convicted of a range of crimes by a U.S. federal court.

Humberto Melgoza, the editor of Semanario Contraseña and a friend and colleague of Barroso’s, told CPJ yesterday that he was unaware of any threats against the reporter’s life. “He was a very quiet person, easy to get along with and well-liked by his colleagues,” he said. “We are looking into his recent work, but we have not found anything yet that might have compromised him.”

Salvador Raúl González, the rector of the university where Barroso taught, told CPJ in a telephone conversation today that he had no knowledge of any threats against the journalist. “He was quiet and reserved, but I spoke with him often,” he said. “There was no sign whatsoever that he had any problem.”

A spokesperson for the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which provides federal protective measures to journalists at risk, told CPJ on March 16 that Barroso was not incorporated in a protection scheme and had not reported any threats to the institution. The spokesperson asked to remain anonymous to be able to speak about the matter.

Ricardi Sánchez Pérez del Pozo, who heads the office of the Federal Special Prosecutor for Crimes Committed Against Freedom of Expression, told CPJ on March 16 that his office has opened an investigation. He said he was unable to provide further details while the investigation was in its initial phase.