Mexico: It is by no means been extra harmful to be a journalist

It was solely after almost an hour of crawling by way of close to standstill site visitors on a Tijuana, Mexico, freeway that we noticed the crash that prompted the rush-hour snarl.

Two autos, a pickup truck and an outdated four-door sedan have been piled up at a busy intersection. The whole passenger facet window of the truck was conspicuously blown out.

“Oh that one?” mentioned Jesus Aguilar, a Tijuana journalist protecting crime who we’re late to fulfill. “Yeah, that was like homicide scene quantity 5 as we speak. It’ll be a busy night time.”

The motive force of the truck had been shot by way of the passenger facet window on the intersection and crashed into the sedan because of this.

Stumbling upon a homicide scene just isn’t unusual in Tijuana. In a rustic stricken by murder, town stands out. There have been greater than 800 homicides registered to this point this yr alone, in response to metropolis officers – and that is solely counting the documented killings. Specialists say the true variety of homicides is increased.

The state of Baja California, the place Tijuana is situated, can also be infamous for disappearances. If the previous is any indication, lots of these folks won’t ever be discovered – and are probably lifeless.

Crime reporters, like Aguilar, are positive to all the time be busy. However they’re additionally at excessive danger of changing into a sufferer of the identical crimes they’re protecting.
This yr, 11 journalists in Mexico have been killed, in response to the human rights group Article 19.

The in a single day shift

Freelance crime journalist Arturo Rosales – who agreed to let CNN accompany him on one in all his in a single day shifts final week – is conscious of that actuality each night time.

We meet in an empty park close to town notorious red-light district, the place Rosales pulls up in a taxi that he owns.

“If I’ve downtime between crime scenes, I give folks rides,” he mentioned. “This job would not pay a lot.”

Rosales’ job relies upon totally on what he hears on a tiny radio he retains propped on the automobile’s console. Its tuned to the police and first responders’ frequencies. We’re with him for about 5 minutes earlier than a name is available in a few physique present in a truck close to a freeway.

“We go to very harmful neighborhoods to doc these items,” mentioned Rosales, as we velocity towards the scene.

“I get scared generally,” he mentioned.

Lots of the murders in Tijuana contain organized crime fueled by cartels and gangs which have dominated life throughout many components of Mexico for generations.

Simply getting near these killings places journalists inherently in danger, in peril of all the things from being straight focused for protecting the crimes – to easily being within the flawed place on the flawed time.

On the murder scene, we’re greeted by two cops. They’re holding the realm till crime scene investigators arrive. There are such a lot of killings every day in Tijuana that it typically takes hours for technicians to even present up.

Rosales greets one of many officers: “What occurred?”

The motive force was shot in his automobile, the officer mentioned, including, “Keep behind this line however ({photograph}) no matter you need.”

Rosales snaps pictures and goes stay on Fb, sticking clearly to solely essentially the most fundamental info: the situation, time and method of demise.

“I’ve not obtained threats from any cartel but, as a result of I’m right here to doc the violent occasion and nothing else,” he defined. “I don’t get into bother or accuse any cartel, that is not my enterprise.”

Within the enterprise of protecting crime, although, that doesn’t all the time shield journalists from hurt.

‘He taught me all the things’

One of many first issues folks say about journalist Margarito Martinez is that he was a cheerful man, that he smiled greater than others – regardless of what he coated.

Martinez was from a small however well-known group of freelance journalists protecting crime in Tijuana. Each night time he would exit together with his digital camera and doc scene after scene, largely simply reporting fundamental info.

On January 17, he was shot a number of occasions outdoors his residence. A few of his closest pals and colleagues with whom he’d labored, confirmed as much as doc it.

Aguilar, one in all Martinez’s finest pals, went too. “It is what we do, we cowl homicides. Now I witnessed his.”

Margarito Martinez's wife, Maria Elena Frausto Granados (L), stands at the site where her husband was shot dead in January.

“He didn’t examine something,” Aguilar mentioned. “Different journalists examine these crimes however Margarito simply reported fundamental info. He didn’t deserve what occurred,” he mentioned, including: “He was an ideal buddy … he taught me all the things I do know.”

Ten folks have been detained by Mexican authorities in reference to Martinez’s demise. Authorities mentioned all 10 have connections to organized crime.

However authorities have but to provide a particular motive for the killing. A number of of the ten folks detained have been finally launched. None have been formally charged.

A number of Tijuana journalists have advised CNN they know precisely why Martinez was killed and have provided varied theories, together with that Martinez had been falsely accused of sharing details about the household of an area crime boss.

CNN can’t independently confirm that info.

Assaults and impunity

This notably violent yr for Mexican journalists has sparked outrage throughout the nation and inside the media itself.

Critics say the Mexican authorities is both unable or unwilling to guard journalists, very similar to it’s seemingly incapable of curbing the huge ranges of violence throughout society as an entire.

“Have a look at how many people have been killed,” mentioned Aguilar. “They are saying there’s not that degree of violence occurring however that is bulls ** t. Pure lies.”

Aguilar is referring to the federal authorities, led by President Ándres Manuel López Obrador.

Lopez Obrador has routinely mentioned his authorities protects journalists.

“In every of those circumstances (of murdered journalists), folks have already been detained and there’s no impunity,” López Obrador mentioned at a information convention earlier this yr.

Mexican journalist Lourdes Maldonado López, who feared for her life, killed in Tijuana

Nevertheless, official information paints a special image. Greater than 90% of crimes in Mexico go unsolved, in response to the federal authorities personal statistics – and the overwhelming majority of homicides during which journalists have been killed are not any completely different.

“No matter threats, obstacles to their work, whoever kills a journalists, there is no penalties as a result of we stay in a rustic of impunity,” Sonia de Anda, a Tijuana journalist and press freedom advocate, advised CNN.

She argues this tradition additionally emboldens criminals to commit violence towards journalists for merely doing their job.

Critics say the President’s narrative can also be contributing to the violence.

López Obrador routinely criticizes members of the media, attacking them personally for protection of him he doesn’t like, and labeling some as enemies of the Mexican folks.

A protester demonstrates against the killings of three journalists - Jose Luis Arenas, Margarito Martinez and Lourdes Maldonado - in January.

That rhetoric, mentioned de Anda, creates a local weather the place violence towards journalists turns into extra probably, if not outright inspired.

“We have now a President who assaults the liberty of expression,” mentioned de Anda. “He invitations his followers to assault these periodistas (journalists) when they don’t agree with him. After which comes the violence. It is the worst we have ever seen.”

One journalist, who requested CNN to withhold his title for security issues, advised CNN: “It has been very arduous for a few of us recently, the mourning, the concern, the strain.”

Rosales mentioned everybody feels that means lately. It is not arduous to see why.

We accompany him to a number of different homicide scenes that night, in a few of Tijuana’s most harmful neighborhoods. At every one, police presence is restricted, with some folks standing round and watching.

They’re probably spotters, known as punteros, who work for sure cartels and watch what occurs on the crime scenes, Rosales defined.

“I simply do my job brazenly and truthfully after which depart. However it may be scary,” he mentioned.

In that 24-hour time-frame, 15 homicides have been recorded in Tijuana – marking essentially the most violent day of the yr for town to this point.

It is solely a matter of time, mentioned Rosales, earlier than one other journalist turns into one other sufferer.

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