The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today described as “a serious development, unprecedented in the Western Hemisphere” the abduction of eight Mexican journalists in the last two weeks from Reynosa, northern Tamaulipas state. The organization called on the government to act with urgency to rescue the victims from the hands of drug traffickers.
The journalists, who work for both print and broadcast media, were kidnapped between February 18 and March 3 according to IAPA sources who declined to name the victims or file formal complaints with the authorities out of fear of retaliation or further endangering the victims’ lives.
Three journalists have been freed, although one of them died apparently as a result of torture; the whereabouts of the five others remain unknown. Two reporters from the Milenio Group, freed on March 4 in Reynosa, immediately traveled to Mexico City where their newspaper reported that they had been injured and their abductors had warned them to stay clear of any reporting on them or their activities.
IAPA President Alejandro Aguirre declared, “The Mexican government must act with urgency and with due force to rescue these journalists alive and guarantee freedom of expression. The IAPA is appalled at the extent by which the attacks on journalists in Mexico has grown, attacks that are largely explained by official inaction and the high level of impunity that exists there.”
Aguirre, editor of the Miami, Florida, Spanish-language newspaper Diario Las Américas, was describing the gruesome climate of violence and impunity in Mexico that results in increased levels of self-censorship, particularly in states with a high incidence of organized crime and drug trafficking. In mid-February, Aguirre headed an IAPA mission to Mexico to meet with federal officials, followed by meetings in Durango State where a group of local editors, publishers and reporters denounced the widespread practice of self-censorship and called for government action to protect the news media and freedom of the press.
Since its latest General Assembly in November the IAPA has recorded five murders of journalists in Mexico (Jorge Ochoa Martínez, José Luis Romero, Valentín Valdés Espinosa, José Emilio González Galindo and José Alberto Velázquez López) and nine kidnappings. In addition to the five from Tamaulipas, still held hostage is a journalist from Michoacán, Marí Esther Aguilar Cansimbe, who remains missing.
A reporter with the Radio Rey and Reporteros en Red broadcast stations, Jorge Rábago Valdez, who was abducted on February 19 as he left a party, was dumped on a highway in Matamoros on March 1. He was found alive, but showed signs of torture and was unconscious. He was taken to hospital without being identified until relatives arrived; he died three days later at the age of 49.
The chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Robert Rivard, criticized the lack of action by federal and state authorities, declaring that “they have done nothing, on the contrary they have ignored the level of violence that exists in the northern Mexico border region.”
Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, added, “The government must show determination in order to prevent the Mexican mafias’ hold on the flow of news in Tamaulipas and other states in the country since it jeopardizes free speech and press freedom and the people’s right to be informed.”
The two IAPA officers said the state of violence against the press in Mexico will be the main topic at the Western Hemisphere organization’s semi-annual meeting, to be held next week in Aruba. In particular, plans of action will be sought to combat the violence and self-censorship, issues that the IAPA has raised in its forums, seminars and conferences held in Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo, Hermosillo, Guadalajara, Durango and Mexico City.
Organized crime has strengthened its hold on journalists in order to stop their reporting about confrontations and operations linked to its activities. Fear is widespread among reporters in neighboring states and cities that the violence will spread and intensify with no guarantees for their safety.
According to IAPA investigations and information from its members in Mexico, what has become increasingly evident in recent years is the practice of silence, or news blackouts, as a means of protection against violence and reprisals from organized crime, particularly evident in cities in Tamaulipas such as Nueva Ciudad Guerrero, Matamoros, Reynosa, Camargo, Mier and Laredo.