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News > Latin America

Three Years After the Murder That Changed Journalism in Mexico

  • Family and friends of Ruben Espinosa potesting in memory of the photojournalist in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. July 31, 2018

    Family and friends of Ruben Espinosa potesting in memory of the photojournalist in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. July 31, 2018 | Photo: EFE

Published 31 July 2018

Ruben Espinosa and Nadia Vera went to Mexico City thinking they would be safe there.

It's been three years since one of the multiple murders that shook Mexico City and the entire country. It's been three years since Mexico City stopped being a safe-haven for journalists and activists. On July 31, 2015, the government sent a clear message to critical voices: you're no longer safe anywhere in the country.


Outrage, Protests Grow in Mexico Over Photojournalist Murder

Nadia Vera was born in Chiapas, southern Mexico, but lived in the state of Veracruz, where she grew as a political activist and student leader. She was a member of the university's student assembly and a key member of the state's chapter of the #YoSoy132 movement, which grew nation-wide as a response to the ruling Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) and media manipulation.

She became a high profile activist in a state where students were being murdered, beaten up and jailed on orders by the state's government, at that time headed by Javier Duarte, the same man who declared himself an admirer of Francisco Franco, whom he called the 'generalisimo.'

In an interview when he was Veracruz's finance minister, Duarte said he identified with Franco because they shared the same tone pf voice, even though he didn't completely agree with his political ideology.

“I don't think dictatorships are the best way to take a country to a good place but I think his strength, enthusiasm and energy are to be highlighted...”

So, after receiving death threats and her apartment being registered and turned upside down by unknown people, she decided to leave for Mexico City, where she thought she would be safe.

Photojournalist Ruben Espinosa had a similar story. He used to photograph popular protest and high profile politics in Veracruz and elsewhere in Mexico for different journals. He became a target of Duarte's government after he took a picture of him wearing a police hat and showing his big belly over his belt. The picture became the cover photo of the weekly opposition magazine Proceso, which enjoys wide distribution in the country. Duarte wasn't happy.


Mexico: Dead Body Found in Yucatan Belongs to Photojournalist

After receiving both direct and indirect death threats, Espinosa fled Veracruz for Mexico City, where he was born and raised.

Espinosa and Vera made Duarte and his government responsible for anything that could happen to them. They thought they would be safe in Mexico City, outside of the governor's immediate sphere of influence, but their fate proved them wrong.

They were both killed by three men in their home in a middle-upper class neighborhood in Mexico City, along with Vera's flatmates Yesenia Quiroz (18), Mile Virginia Martin (31), and Alejandra Negrete (40), who cleaned the apartment.

Alma and Patricia Espinosa, sisters of Ruben, and Luz Perez Robledo, Nadia's mother, in a press conference in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. July 24, 2018. Photo | EFE

The crime marked a pivotal moment in Mexican journalism and activism, and it meant no one was safe anymore anywhere in Mexico. Just in 2015, 19 journalists were murdered nationwide. In Duarte's Veracruz (2010-2016), 17 were killed and three are still missing.

Many details are still unclear. The prosecutors first dealt with the crime as a common robbery that went wrong, but the burglars barely took anything from the apartment. Several journalistic and human rights organizations raised their voices and demanded a different approach, as Vera and Espinosa had been harassed in Veracruz and followed by people who resembled military or police officers in plain clothing.

Three people were arrested for the femicides, homicides and aggravated robbery. One of them confessed to knowing Mile Virginia and said the three of them visited her to pick up a pack of drugs she had for them. The story was perfect, even though there was no solid evidence. Regardless the media attacked her based on prejudice, her being of Colombian birth, supporting the official narrative.


No Impunity! Mexico Protests for Murdered Photojournalist

Prosecutors followed this line of investigation, but failed to explain the motives of the murder.

Three years after the murder, family and friends of the five victims still demand justice, as the case is still open but essentially ignored. In a remembrance ceremony in front of the building they were murdered in, a crowd of people gathered on Tuesday surrounding a commemorative plaque.

“Two years ago, the plaque demanded justice for the multiple homicide and it was taken away the next day,” said Patricia Espinosa, Ruben's sister, “today's has a message of love for each one of our relatives, so it won't disturb the neighbors. It's an act of recognition and an act of love from us to our relatives.”

People marched in Veracruz and Mexico City, carrying images of the victims. Colleagues of Espinosa rose their cameras above their heads in protest. Several human rights and freedom of speech released statements demanding justice.

Meanwhile, Javier Duarte is in prison due to charges of embezzlement, abuse of authority, money laundering, organized crime and other irregularities during his government. Even though many celebrate his imprisonment, others demand a more in-depth investigation regarding his alleged responsibility in this and other murders, as he was especially well known for repression of dissidents during his government.

Just on Monday, he filed an appeal to avoid being investigated on forced disappearances, this while many of his subordinates are already in prison under the same charge. His wife and family currently live in London, near Buckingham Palace, and they're looking for British protection under the guise of being “politically persecuted.”

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