XALAPA, Mexico -- Regina Martinez had a premonition that she was courting danger in the months before her death. She spoke to colleagues of her fear.
She’d written articles for Proceso, Mexico’s main newsweekly magazine, chronicling the overlap between organized crime gangs and elected officials in Veracruz, a state that hugs the Gulf of Mexico. Ten days before her death, Martinez published a story telling how a mayor and former mayor in the state had taken part in a firefight with federal police on behalf of the Los Zetas crime syndicate.
“I was with her a few times when she said she felt pressure and that she was afraid,” recalled Lourdes Lopez, a veteran crime reporter in this state capital.
It’s been about a year since Martinez opened the door of her modest one-story home to the attackers who would leave her in a pool of blood in her bathroom. Prosecutors in Veracruz, the most dangerous place for journalists in the Americas, say they have solved her murder. One of the culprits, they say, is a 34-year-old illiterate drug user, Jorge Antonio Hernandez Silva, known as “El Silva,” who was sentenced last month to a 38-year jail term. His alleged partner in the botched robbery-turned-murder was a male prostitute, now a fugitive.
The evidence against the two men “is irrefutable,” said Gina Dominguez Colio, a spokeswoman for Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte.
But officials in Veracruz are practically alone in believing that the crime has been solved. Mexican and international press freedom groups decry the murder probe, saying it was designed more to cover up the crime than to clarify it.
“The skepticism is absolute amongst the close friends of Regina, at the magazine she used to work for, Proceso, and even at the federal prosecutor’s office,” said Rodrigo Bonilla Hastings, a Mexican who manages freedom of press issues for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, a Paris-based group that represents 18,000 publications in 120 nations.
Even Mexico’s federal Attorney General’s Office, which has a special division to look into crimes against journalists, is suspicious. The head of that office, Laura Borbolla Moreno, said that Veracruz authorities declined to share some results of their investigation and that she has “a series of doubts” about the state investigation.
“We can’t even place El Silva at the crime scene,” she said.
Violence and threats against journalists have reached epidemic proportions in much of Mexico in a campaign so intense that news outlets in large swaths of the country have ceased to cover organized crime and drug trafficking for fear of retribution. The story of Martinez’s murder, however, opens a window on a different facet of the violence, one in which gangsters play a lesser role than government officials, who routinely bully journalists and foster an environment in which impunity is nearly assured when journalists are the victims. Even when they are murdered.
Mexico’s democratic transition never quite reached Veracruz, a lush state of nearly 8 million people. When voters in 2000 ended 71 straight years of presidential rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known by its Spanish initials as the PRI, PRI governors clung to power in some states, including Veracruz. They continued to employ the strong-arm methods largely jettisoned by the party on the national level, which returned to the presidency Dec. 1 after 12 years in opposition.