On Jan. 23, Mexican journalist Lourdes Maldonado López was shot dead in her car in front of her home in Tijuana. She was the third Mexican journalist to be murdered that month, after another Tijuana reporter, crime photographer Margarito Martínez, was shot and killed on Jan. 17, and reporter José Luis Gamboa was stabbed to death in Veracruz on Jan. 10.
These deaths are only the latest in a long line of murders of journalists in Mexico, a line that’s unfortunately grown longer under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. AMLO, as he is known, was elected in 2018 on a platform of reducing violence and rooting out corruption.
But attacks on reporters have only gotten worse since then. In recent years, the country has consistently ranked among the most dangerous in the world for the press, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
In 2019, Maldonado confronted AMLO at a press briefing, expressing fears for her life. She said she’d been threatened after suing her former employer, a media company owned by AMLO’s prominent political ally (and future governor of Baja California) Jaime Bonilla Valdez. AMLO asked an aide to look into it. The case dragged on until this year, when Maldonado finally won $20,000 in back pay. Four days later, she was killed.
At a press conference soon after the murder, AMLO promised an investigation, but cautioned against assuming it was connected to the dispute with Bonilla (who has also denied involvement). AMLO called Maldonado’s death “regrettable.” Then he turned philosophical, saying these murders will end only when “we all move forward to purify public life so that materialism doesn’t dominate, so ambition, ego and hate are set aside.”
These are the same bogus excuses we’ve been hearing from Mexican presidents for decades. Attacks on journalists are not random coincidences, nor are they caused by “materialism.” They are perpetrated by people connected to politicians, business leaders, police chiefs and other members of Mexico’s ruling class.
In one notorious case, the bodyguards of Jorge Hank Rhon, scion of a prominent political family and businessman, were convicted in the 1988 murder of Héctor “El Gato” Félix Miranda, co-founder of the Tijuana weekly newsmagazine Zeta. But Hank himself was never charged with anything.
The Mexican government has merely made a show of protecting press freedom. In 2006, after attacks on the Nuevo Laredo-based El Mañana, then-President Vicente Fox set up an agency to investigate and prosecute attacks, as well an emergency protection system called the “mechanismo” that is supposed to respond to imminent threats.
But the investigative agency has proven ineffectual, with only a handful of low-level convictions in the intervening years. The “mechanismo” has also proven woefully inadequate, as journalists have continued to be killed while under its protection.
Not only is the Mexican government failing to protect journalists, it has been using spyware to monitor their activities, watchdog groups have determined. Some of the surveilled reporters have later turned up dead.
In response to this situation, some Mexican reporters have gone into exile in other countries. A few have applied for asylum in the U.S., though most are denied, even after receiving death threats.
But there’s only so much they can do. In Mexico, as in the United States, politicians enjoy fomenting public distrust of the press. The media are a suspect class. Yet reporters in both countries perform an essential service in keeping the public informed.
AMLO needs to do more. He must stand up for a free press by putting attention and resources toward actually protecting people, preventing attacks and combatting official corruption. With those words and deeds, he can help end the scourge of journalist murders.
This article was originally published on Progressive Perspectives.