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Mexico: Where is the Justice for Regina Martínez?

Posted: 01/02/2013 18:28


Journalist Regina Martínez was murdered in Mexico's most corrupt state in April 2012; there is widespread suspicion that the official investigation into the crime is a cover-up.

On 17 April 2012, the La Antigua bar-restaurant in Minatitlán, Veracruz State, Mexico, was the scene of a gun battle between soldiers and heavily armed members of the feared drugs cartel, Los Zetas. The shoot-out went on for a number of hours before the army eventually overcame the gangsters and detained six men.

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Among those arrested were Martín Padua Zuñiga and Ignacio Trujillo Cortázar - respectively the mayor of Chinameca and the former mayor of Minatitlán. Both of these politicians, reported the journalist Regina Martínez, 'had been protagonists in [the] gunfight with federal forces.'

The incident was a particularly shocking reminder of the high level of collusion between organized crime groups and local state authorities in Mexico.

Eleven days after reporting on the gunfight at La Antigua, Regina Martínez was found murdered in the bathroom of her home in Xalapa, Veracruz. She had been badly beaten and strangled.

Martínez, 49, was well-known and respected for her hard-nosed reporting on political corruption. She had been a journalist for 30 years, and for the last ten years of her life she had worked for the weekly Proceso. She had exposed numerous links between state employees and criminal gangs and was recognized for writing what few others dared to write in a state where corruption and violence are endemic, and where nine reporters have been murdered in the last two years.

Following her death, journalists and academics marched in the streets of Xalapa. They called for a thorough investigation into the Martinez's murder and protested the state government's failure to resolve the cases of previously murdered journalists.

One of those who marched was Alberto Olvera, a political/social scientist at the University of Veracruz and contributor to Proceso and El Universal. Olvera is well known for his outspoken condemnation of violence and political corruption in Veracruz. He was concerned that the authorities would not investigate 'the obvious political connotation' in Martinez's murder.

He was right to be concerned. From the start, the state seemed unwilling to even consider a link between Martinez's work and her murder:

In May 2012, a member of Los Zetas detained by the navy declared that he knew that Martínez's killers had been connected to the drug cartels.

Yet in June 2012, the Veracruz authorities leaked information to local press saying that the motive for the murder was personal and that the killing had been a 'crime of passion.' This interpretation was derided by local journalists. Martinez's ex-colleagues at Proceso - and even some federal officials - accused the state of lying, covering up the truth and hiding evidence.

The State Attorney General's investigation into the crime - though it ran to more than 1,500 pages - didn't even attempt an analysis of Martinez's work.

Instead, the picture that began to emerge was one of a state government overly-concerned with PR, manipulating the press and stifling dissenting voices.

Olvera, who has written about the case for Proceso, told me that those journalists who publicly raised doubts about the official line of investigation came under pressure from the state:

'After [Martinez's] murder, the political class became more intolerant towards the few journalists who dared to offer independent or critical opinions. Such was the pressure exerted by the state government's Department of Social Communication that, one by one, all the correspondents for the national newspapers were withdrawn from Veracruz.'

There were few other developments in the case until October 2012, when the investigators called a press conference and declared that the motive for the killing had changed - it was now 'robbery.' They also announced that they had already arrested one of the two 'guilty men', Jorge Antonio Hernández Silva, an illiterate, petty thief with no history of violence. He had, they said, confessed to the crime. The investigators refused to take questions from reporters.

This new twist was greeted with scepticism by journalists, an attitude that seemed particularly well-founded when, on 31 October 2012, Hernández Silva declared before a judge that the police had tortured him (torture of prisoners is at 'epidemic' levels in Mexico according to Amnesty International). He said that they had forced him to repeat their version of events as his own; he withdrew his 'confession.'

Free expression and press organizations have expressed serious doubts about the robbery-as-motive version of events. Martinez's ex-colleagues dismiss it out of hand, as does Olvera:

'[Investigators] lifted valuable fingerprints [at the crime scene] but they never said that they belonged to the supposed 'guilty' men. One of the 'murderers' was arrested for stealing a mobile phone a month before Hernández Silva, but he was released because of lack of evidence. If the authorities had found his fingerprints in Regina's house, they wouldn't have let him go. Everything indicates a cover-up.'

A 'cover-up' is exactly what many local journalists think is going on - whether it's because the investigators want to close the case quickly, or whether they want to avoid uncovering something even more embarrassing to Veracruz.

Despite the fact that Mexico has made attacks on journalists a federal crime, and despite the existence of a Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression, Veracruz is still a rotten state: in December 2011, the Veracruz-Boca del Rio police force was considered so corrupt that it had to be disbanded; in May 2012 a hit list' containing the names of a number of journalists to be killed was circulated in Veracruz. State officials' advice to concerned reporters was 'go on holiday.'

Will there ever be justice for Regina Martínez? Alberto Olvera is pessimistic:

'The authorities won't do any further investigating...they're only waiting until they catch the other 'guilty' man. The political motives [for the murder] will never be considered. Sadly, Regina's murder will remain unsolved.'

(Regina Martínez is commemorated in Write Against Impunity, PEN International's literary protest against attacks on writers and journalists in Latin America.)

What you can do:

Write to the Mexican authorities calling for justice for Regina Martínez and urging that they thoroughly investigate the potential link between her work and her killing. You can write to any of the following:

State Attorney General/ Procurador General de Justicia
Lic. Felipe Amadeo Flores Espinosa: pgiver@pgiver.gob.mx

Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression/Fiscal Especial para la Atención de Delitos Cometidos contra Periodistas (FEADP)
Lic. Laura Angelina Borbolla: feadp@pgr.gob.mx

You can also send your messages to the Mexican embassy in your country: http://www.sre.gob.mx/index.php/representaciones/embajadas-de-mexico-en-el-exterior

 
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