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Israel Vázquez became the third journalist to be murdered in two weeks – and the eighth this year – while reporting on Monday
Early Monday morning, Israel Vázquez, a crime reporter in the Mexican city of Salamanca, was gunned down after receiving a tip that led him to a plastic bag full of human remains left on a side street, an apparent plot to lure him to the scene. Soon upon arriving, as he prepared to broadcast live on Facebook, shooters opened fire on him from a passing vehicle. He died a few hours later from his injuries.
He was the third Mexican journalist to be murdered in less than two weeks – and the eighth this year.
Two recent examples of the violence inflicted upon journalists are Jesús Alfonso Piñuelas, founder of two media outlets in Sonora state, who was shot dead on November 2, and Arturo Alba Medina, a TV host in Ciudad Juárez, shot on October 29 while driving.
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“You want to kill a journalist, you can do it without much of a chance that you’ll be caught,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, Mexico representative of the press freedom group the Committee to Protect Journalists. In at least five cases, the journalists’ murders were directly related to their work, Hootsen said. It remains unclear if Piñuelas and Alba’s deaths were linked to their journalism, but such cases are seldom investigated with any rigor, he said.
The string of killings has cemented Mexico’s place as one of the world’s deadliest countries for members of the press and underscored the risks facing journalists who cover sensitive subjects such as crime, politics, and the security forces. In 2019, Mexico suffered the second-highest number of killings after war-torn Syria, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
“He was a person who was very careful with his broadcasts,” said Verónica Espinosa, Guanajuato correspondent for the newsweekly Proceso. “He didn’t give sensitive details” in his reports.
Guanajuato, which surrounds Salamanca, has seen soaring violence as rival crime groups jockey for drug trafficking routes, extortion rackets, and control of the lucrative market in stolen gasoline. Journalists in the state routinely take extra security precautions, said Espinosa: working in teams, publishing without bylines, and omitting potentially sensitive details from their stories.
The official response to such crimes has often been half-hearted. When reporters in Salamanca demanded a meeting with the local mayor, Betty Hernández, they were stunned after Vázquez’s murder when she appeared to blame him for his death.
“The truth is, look, going at six or five in the morning to cover a story in that place, which everyone knows is dangerous,” Hernández said in a video of the meeting. “But we’re journalists!” one person can be heard responding.
Espinosa said the mayor’s response was “absurd” but typical of how Mexican officials often imply that victims like Vásquez are to blame for their own deaths. “It criminalizes him and makes him responsible for security conditions that are not the responsibility of a citizen, much less a journalist,” she said.