To the 149 journalists murdered in Mexico since 2000.
The blood was still on the floor. They had not had time to clean it when they they took photographs of the place where reporter Roberto Toledo was murdered. Initial reports say that three gunmen shot him at close range in the parking lot of his office in Zitacuaro, Michoacan, next to a white pickup truck. “They shot him in a cowardly way,” said the director of Monitor Michoacan, the news outlet where Roberto worked. He was the fourth journalist murdered in Mexico in January.
It is now February, and life goes on in Mexico.
But that is just a mask, the image President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wants to sell us every day of the week. The fact is that we’re missing 29 journalists who were murdered since he took power in December of 2018. And if it continues, his administration will become the most lethal for the national news media, overtaking the 47 murders of journalists recorded during each of the six-year governments of Enrique Peña Nieto and and Felipe Calderón, according to a list kept by the organization Articulo 19.
The shameful inability of the López Obrador government to protect journalists was proven by the murder of Lourdes Maldonado in Tijuana. She had personally asked the president for protection in 2019. “I fear for my life,” she told him. And even then they killed her. The challenge to the presidential power is clear. If the president cannot protect you in Mexico, who can? The answer is, no one.
After the death of Lourdes, the president reached for the same excuse. “The promise of the government that I represent is that there is no impunity, that there are investigations and that the guilty are found,” he said. But who can believe those words from a president in a country where 93 percent of all crimes against journalists are never punished or even investigated.
Mexico – together with India – was the most dangerous country for the news media in 2021, according to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists. Of course, it’s very easy to criticize from the outside.
So I spoke with Netzahualcóyotl Cordero, the journalist for CG Noticias who miraculously escaped an assassination attempt this week in Cancun. The gunman pointed at his head and told him he was going to “kill you like a dog.” But his handgun jammed when he tried to fire and Netzahualcóyotl and his neighbors managed to capture the attacker. The nearly fatal attack came even though Netzahualcóyotl had federal government protection. He believes that López Obrador’s frequent criticisms of journalists make them more vulnerable to other types of attacks, like the one he suffered. Netzahuacóyotl, for the time being, is safe in a different place.
Claudia Ramos, chief of analysis at Animal Politico, highly respected for its journalistic independence, agrees. “The facts show the lie” by the president, she told me. “In this country, journalists continue to be killed because nothing is done to investigate, but above all to stop the killings.” At the end, she pronounced a brutal phrase that reflects the situation that Mexico is living: “They are not killing only journalists. They are killing all of us.”
The murders – of journalists and non-journalists – are so common that people in Mexico have lost the sense of urgency. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador insists in his almost daily news conferences that his policy of “hugs, not bullets” is working. “We’re managing,” he said of the murder rate during a news conference at the beginning of this year. But the truth is that the number of murders are not going anywhere.
Since López Obrador became president in December 2018, 105,445 Mexicans have been murdered, according to data reported by his own government. If nothing changes, the AMLO administration will this year become the most violent in Mexico this century, overtaking the already horrible numbers of the Enrique Peña Nieto and Felipe Calderón presidencies.
But the worst of all is that López Obrador doesn’t want to accept that. He does not correct his strategy. He believes, wrongly, that meeting every morning at 6 am with his security cabinet is enough. And he does not understand that it’s not about meetings, but about results. Yes, the number of murders has stabilized, but at the highest levels in recent history. It’s like saying that a fire has been controlled when the flames are at their highest.
López Obrador is the president of different numbers. He rules an imaginary Mexico that exists only in his words and his lengthy news conferences. AMLO lives in the bubble of the National Palace. Who would say no to him there?
López Obrador once stood on our side, against the abuse of power and critical of the president in power. But he moved. He has totally forgotten his critical vision of reality and each morning paints a picture of a country that exists only in his head. When he says that there’s no more corruption or impunity, does he really believe Mexicans will believe him? A drive around the streets of Tijuana, Zitácuaro or Cancún are enough to prove that’s not true.
In the meantime, we journalists have the duty to stubbornly continue reporting the facts. Not as the president wants them to be. And just for that – for reporting the truth – so many of them have died in Mexico. What few people understand is that where the journalists murdered stopped their reports, others will continue them. It’s a kind of gentleman’s agreement with those who left us. That’s what real journalists do.