Mexico City, October 18, 2021 – Mexican authorities must immediately and thoroughly investigate the death of journalist Gerardo Antonio Moreno Aranda, and ensure that the results of that investigation are made public, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On October 4, Aranda’s body was found in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of the southern state of Chiapas, according to news reports. A dual U.S. and Mexican citizen, Aranda was a reporter for the conservative U.S. news website Breitbart, which reported that local authorities believed he drowned while swimming.
In an October 13 statement, however, the Chiapas state prosecutor’s office said that it was implementing “homicide protocols” in its investigation of Aranda’s death, a set of investigative policies used by state authorities to determine whether foul play was involved in a death.
That statement did not elaborate on whether the authorities had found evidence of foul play, and CPJ repeatedly called the prosecutor’s office for comment but no one answered.
“Gerry Aranda’s tragic death follows a string of recent killings of reporters in Mexico, which continues to be the deadliest country for journalists in the Western Hemisphere,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “Mexican authorities must do everything in their power to determine the causes of Aranda’s death and be transparent in communicating the progress of the investigation to his family and colleagues.”
The Breitbart report said that unidentified eyewitnesses told law enforcement that they saw a strong current pulling Aranda under while he was swimming.
Senior Breitbart reporter Ildefonso Ortiz, who has been in close contact with Aranda’s family since the reporter’s body was found, told CPJ in a phone interview that Aranda had traveled to Chiapas to investigate Los Machetes, a militia group that claims to combat organized crime.
Aranda was looking into possible ties between the militia and the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel, one of Mexico’s most powerful organized crime groups, Ortiz said, adding that Aranda was also investigating Central American migration in the area. CPJ was unable to find contact information of the Los Machetes militia to ask for comment.
“He had been there for about a week and was supposed to fly back to Texas on the day his body was found,” Ortiz told CPJ. “I was in contact with him the whole time he was there. He did not report any threats or intimidations.”
“Neither we nor the family have heard anything about foul play,” he told CPJ.
An official with the Mexican Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which operates under the auspices of the federal Secretariat for the Interior, told CPJ that the office was not aware of any previous threats against Aranda’s life and that he had never been incorporated in a federal protection program. The official asked to remain anonymous, as they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Aranda, 43, was a native of Monterrey, the capital of the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León, according to that Breitbart report, which said he began his career in 1997 for broadcasters TV Azteca and Hechos in Monterrey and later worked as a producer for the television broadcaster Televisa and as a reporter for the newspaper El Norte.
In 2012, he moved to the United States, where he worked as a news producer and manager for Telemundo San Antonio, Telemundo Lubbock, Telemundo Las Vegas, Univision Corpus Christi, Univision South Texas, and KRGV-ABC, that report said.
In 2016, Aranda joined Breitbart as an investigative reporter for Cartel Chronicles, a reporting project investigating organized crime and political corruption in northern Mexico, particularly in the state of Tamaulipas, according to that report.
Ortiz said that the project allows journalists to report under pseudonyms or anonymously for their safety. Aranda initially published stories under a pseudonym but was hired as a fulltime staff reporter in 2020, Ortiz told CPJ, adding that he mostly focused on stories in the region of northern Mexico bordering Texas.
Shortly before his death, Aranda published stories about alleged ties between Nuevo León’s recently elected governor and organized crime, as well as stories about the killing of a security official in the town of Cadereyta and Haitian migration in Mexico.
Mexico is the deadliest country for journalists in the Western Hemisphere. According to CPJ research, at least three reporters were murdered in the country in direct relation to their work and at least one reporter has disappeared this year. CPJ is investigating three other killings to determine the motive.