1 August 2016 - 06:02 AM
A Year Without Justice: The Murder of Ruben Espinosa
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Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of the grisly murders of Ruben Espinosa, Nadia Vera, Yesenia Quiroz, Alejandra Navarrete, and Mile Virginia Martin in the Narvarte neighborhood in Mexico City. Since then, the people of Mexico – and the world – have witnessed 12 months of state-sanctioned impunity.

A demonstrator holds up an image of murdered journalist Ruben Espinosa that reads “Justice

Ruben Espinosa Made the Powerful Uncomfortable

It is widely believed that Espinosa was targeted because of his work as a photojournalist, documenting the resistance of everyday Mexicans to a corrupt political system that kills both through bullets and poverty-inducing policies.

Espinosa was in Mexico City after being forced to flee the state of Veracruz due to repeated threats against his life.

Dozens of journalists there, since the year 2000, have either been killed, forcibly disappeared, or gone into self-imposed exile. Threats against journalists there are taken very seriously.

To this day controversy swirls around Javier Duarte, the governor of Veracruz. He is accused of further entrenching in his state the relationship between government and organized crime.

Duarte himself issued not-so-subtle threats, telling a group of journalists to “behave” shortly before the murders.

He suggested that the real delinquents were journalists, whom he accused of having ties to organized crime groups.

“Hard times are coming … Only those who have ties, one way or another, to these criminal groups will be affected,” said Duarte in whispered, condescending tone on July 30, 2015.

The next day Espinosa and the four others were murdered.

Of course Espinosa was not a criminal – nor have any links to organized crime ever been established.

Ruben was a leader, however, and part of a collective of journalists in Veracruz who demanded justice in light of all the targeted killings of their colleagues.

“He became one of the leaders of the group and represented them in meeting with authorities,” a Mexican journalist told the Committee to Protect Journalists.

But in a country like Mexico, standing up and standing out often puts a target on your back.

It's something that Espinosa was keenly aware of, telling Sin Filtros in his last interview before his murder that “in Mexico being a photojournalist means, in many cases, death.”

The War on Mexicans

There's a slogan that is heard with increasing frequency throughout Mexico:

What does a country harvest, when it sows bodies?

Thousands upon thousands have been killed since former President Felipe Calderon launched his ill-fated “war on drug cartels.” Much of the world thinks that those being killed are just victims of their own choices, people who have paid the ultimate price for their involvement in organized crime. But people inside Mexico, especially those involved in social movements, know that's not the whole story.

Impunity: The Beast That Keeps Killing Journalists in Mexico

The Mexican government is waging a war, but on its own people.

One need only look to a handful of high-profile cases such as the enforced disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers' training college in 2014, or the recent police murders of ten protestors in Nochixtlan, Oaxaca.This war is really about further militarizing Mexican society, answering social demands with bullets. But it's also entrenching impunity.

In Mexico, impunity is not a passive action, state actors do not get away with murder because of neglect. Instead impunity is actively facilitated, as has been the case with the investigation into the murder of Ruben Espinosa.

Journalists are killed with an alarming frequency in Mexico. Often they are murdered because organized crime groups are unhappy with their coverage. Those tasked with covering crime often practice self-censorship and those who don't are killed as a means of sending a message.

But Ruben did not cover crime stories, he covered social conflict. He showed the world the resistance that has arisen in response decades of neoliberalism.

In many ways, that's a much bigger threat to Mexico's elite.

It's something Espinosa himself was aware of, telling Sin Filtros, “I insist, insist, insist, that I am more valuable alive than dead.”

Another Government Cover-up?

Ruben was targeted because he worked to expose the truth, but even in death there are state forces at play trying to keep the truth from coming out.

Espinosa's relatives accuse the Office of the Attorney General of Mexico City, the organ tasked with the prosecution in his case, of deliberately ignoring the likely motive behind the murder of Ruben: his work as a photojournalist.

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Prosecutors, a year on, actually haven't even been able to definitely declare the motive behind the murder.

Three people, Daniel Pacheco Gutierrez, Omar Martinez Zendejas, and Abraham Torres Tranquilino have been detained and charged in connection to the five murders on July 31, 2015.

According to an investigation by Rompeviento TV and the lawyers working on behalf of the relatives of the victims, there is reason to believe at least one other person could have been involved in the murder.

The three could have very well been the material authors of the murders but the victim's relatives do not think they were the masterminds.

Scant physical evidence ties them to the scene of the crime, though they were seen entering and leaving the building where the murders took place and a partial fingerprint of one of the suspects was found at the scene.

Prosecutors also point to Pacheco's testimony as proof, but the Mexico City Human Rights Commission said Pachecho was likely tortured by state officials, making his testimony unreliable. All three suspects have retracted their testimony.

The prosecution has also engaged in behavior that suggests a cover-up.

Activists paint graffiti that reads, “It was a state crime,” on the wall of the office of the attorney general, Mexico City, July 31, 2016. | Photo: EFE

Mexico City is rife with closed-circuit television cameras, including one right outside the location of the murders. The victim's relatives have been asking for a year to review the tapes to see if perhaps someone else was involved, but they have faced stiff resistance and have not been permitted to see the tapes.

Physical evidence at the scene also suggests another male, distinct from those already named, was involved in the crime. Unidentified fingerprints were found at the scene, and there was a boot print in the blood of the victims, yet it could not be tied to any of the detained suspects.

These details appear to have been deliberately ignored by prosecutors.

An Investigation Impeded

Leopoldo Maldonado, the lawyer representing the Espinosa family, told EFE in March that the family wants prosecutors to pursue all lines of investigation and determine who was the mastermind.

“This cannot be a random crime. It is clear that someone ordered this crime,” said Maldonado.

The victims' relatives insist that the Duarte government was involved.

Mexican Govt Version of Student Massacre Discredited Again

Mirtha Luz Perez Robledo, Nadia Vera's mother, wrote a scathing letter on Wednesday detailing all the faults of the investigation.

“The work of Nadia Vera as an activist and Ruben Espinosa as a journalist has not been contemplated as a fact that placed them in a vulnerable situation … the government of Veracruz has not been investigated,” wrote Perez.

But prosecutors refuse to probe that line of investigation, despite the fact that the Mexico City Mayor
Miguel Angel Mancera ordered that all lines be pursued.

In a private meeting with the victim's relatives in May, Mancera promised to follow up on this order and even committed to sending investigators specializing in crimes involving freedom of expression, violence against women, and human rights defenders.

Nonetheless, Mexico City prosecutors have failed to follow through and continue to base their investigation on the three suspects and their alleged ties to one of the victims.

“They have not done their job either due to lack of capacity or through negligence, due to petty or political interests,” wrote Vera's mother.

Maldonado says the three suspects will likely be convicted and their conviction will be “used politically” to declare that justice was done.

Speaking with Rompeviento TV, Patricia Espinosa, Ruben's sister, said she fears that ultimately no one will be held responsible due to the opacity of the case.

She worries that even the three who have been detained will eventually go free because of the weak evidence and the lack of established motive.

The activism of Espinosa's family has not gone unnoticed. Proceso magazine reported that family member have been the target of intimidation tactics.

In a statement, the family said they have been subject to “constant calls from private numbers where no one responds when they answer, one physical assault, people stalking and suspicious cars following them.”

On Sunday, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of the Office of the Attorney General of Mexico City to demand justice in the case of the murders of Ruben Espinosa, Nadia Vera, Yesenia Quiroz, Mile Virginia Martin, and Alejandra Navarrete.

Posters pasted on a wall feature the names and face of some of the victims of the Narvarte murders, Mexico City, July 31, 2016. | Photo: EFE

They hold Attorney General Rodolfo Rios Garza responsible for problems in the case, accusing him of impeding a more thorough investigation.

“The investigation is worse than when it started, due to the fact that authorities have endeavored to do their job with negligence and frank irregularities,” read a statement by the demonstrators.

Alma Espinosa, another of Ruben's sisters, compared the case to that of the 43 forcibly disappeared students.

She alleged, as in the case of the missing students, prosecutors were more interested in defending their version of events than finding out the truth. The comparison rings true. In Mexico impunity, at the service of corrupt elites, seems to reign.

It's something Ruben Espinosa himself signaled in his last interview.

“We're not living in a country that is falling apart … it's already collapsed.”

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