Saldaña’s body was found alongside an abandoned white pickup truck without license plates at around 3:40 p.m. on May 4 in the municipality of Acatlán de Pérez Figueroa in Oaxaca state, just across the state border of Veracruz where he lived, according to the Oaxaca state attorney general’s office and news reports. He was shot four times in the head and his body showed signs of abuse, the local press said.
Saldaña, 52, worked for 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 May 2 in Veracruz. The local newspaper Crónica de Tierra Blanca reported that Saldaña disappeared after a party that day. Another report by El Mundo said that Saldaña was intercepted by gunmen as he headed home.
In the days leading up to his death, Saldaña, who hosted a Saturday news show, reported on 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.”
Oaxaca officials said they were investigating the murder, according to news reports. On May 22, authorities announced they had captured suspect Juan Carlos de la Cruz Vergara. The suspect was formally charged on May 27 of participating in the murder, but authorities didn’t offer any further details or a possible motive, according to news reports. The victim’s daughter, Cristina Saldaña, told reporters she was disappointed that Veracruz authorities had not sought to take jurisdiction of the case because Saldaña lived in Veracruz and was likely kidnapped in that state.
Investigating thefts from pipelines has been dangerous for journalists in Mexico in the past, 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 two days after 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.