Mexico City, January 13, 2020—The Committee to Protect Journalists today urged Mexican authorities to open a credible and transparent investigation into the death of reporter Fidel Ávila Góme, whose body was found on January 7 near the state borders of Michoacán and Guerrero.
Ávila, a manager and anchor for the La Ke Buena radio broadcaster in the town of Huétamo, in Michoacán state, went missing on November 29, according to local and national media. A family member, who spoke with CPJ today on condition of anonymity for their own security, said that Ávila’s work at the station may have put him in the crosshairs of the local organized crime group La Familia Michoacana. The relative said it was possible that issues of “protection money” or coverage of organized crime may have played a role in his killing.
“The murder of Fidel Ávila is a shocking and tragic start of the year for Mexico, which is already one of the most dangerous countries for journalists,” said CPJ Mexico Representative Jan-Albert Hootsen. “The government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador can no longer ignore the epidemic of impunity plaguing the country’s press.”
El Unversal reported that Ávila’s body was found in a ditch near the town of San Lucas in Michoacán state. The report, citing the state attorney general’s office, said that Ávila had been shot several times. The report did not state when the reporter was likely killed or whether state authorities had opened an investigation. No further information on the possible motive of the killing has been provided to local or national media. The relative said he was unable to provide further information on the possible time of death.
According to the websites of El Universal and Radio Fórmula, Ávila’s family reported him missing on December 2. Letra Roja, a news website, reported on January 8 that the journalist was last seen on November 29, when he was traveling to Ciudad Altamirano, in Guerrero state, to attend a cultural festival. CPJ could not determine if he was planning to cover the festival.
Letra Roja reported that armed individuals intercepted Ávila en route and forced him into a white SUV. Several attempts by CPJ to reach Michoacán’s state attorney general’s office for further comment by telephone between January 9 and 13 went unanswered.
Ávila, 46, was a manager and news anchor for La Ke Buena, a radio broadcaster based in Huétamo. The journalist’s relative told CPJ that Ávila worked for the station for about 20 years, managing the station’s finances and regularly presenting news programs.
Several attempts by CPJ to reach La Ke Bueno for comment by telephone between January 9 and 13 went unanswered.
An official of the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which provides journalists with protection, told CPJ on January 10 that Ávila had not been enrolled in a protection program. The mechanism had no knowledge of threats against the reporter’s life, according to the official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
Huétamo is located in the so-called Tierra Caliente (‘Hot Land’), a region in southern Michoacán where several organized crime groups are engaged in a war for territory. In the past few years, it has become one of Mexico’s most violent regions, according to news reports. More than 1,300 people were killed in the state during the first three quarters of 2019, according to the Michoacán Citizen Observatory, the highest number in seven years.
The organized crime group La Familia Michoacana has been active in Michoacán for more than a decade. Such gangs are notorious for extortion rackets that include demanding the payment of protection money to businesses, according to numerous news reports. Failure to pay often results in abductions, torture, and murder.
“The gang demands protection money from local businesses, and they knew that Fidel managed contracts for the radio station,” the journalist’s relative told CPJ. “We believe that they may have taken him because he was unable or unwilling to pay.”
The relative added that La Familia Michoacana would sometimes demand that La Ke Buena broadcast or withhold information about organized crime in the region. “It’s possible that it may have played a role in his murder, but we’re not sure,” the relative said.
Mexico is the deadliest country in the Western Hemisphere for journalists. According to CPJ research, at least five reporters were murdered in 2019 in direct retaliation for their work. CPJ is investigating another six killings to determine the motive.