The murder of photojournalist Rubén Espinosa and four female companions in Mexico City on July 31 shocked a country long accustomed to senseless violence. It was the first time that such an atrocity had been committed against a member of the press in the country’s capital, widely regarded as a safe haven for the media.
“Passionate about his work,”
Espinosa, 31, hailed from the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, a region plagued by drug violence. He had moved to Mexico City after receiving threats against his life.
An activist and friend of Espinosa, Nadia Vera, who was also killed in the attack, publicly blamed Veracruz governor Javier Duarte for the harassment.
“Rubén was passionate about his work and a very outspoken critic of corruption,” a fellow photojournalist and former colleague of Espinosa told Latin Correspondent. “There are only a handful of journalists in Veracruz who have spoken about the situation there, and they are the ones who have been targeted.”
“He always attended the marches to protest attacks on the press,” said another friend. “He would help anybody, and always had time for younger photographers who were starting out.”
The Special Federal Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) estimates that more than one hundred reporters have been killed in Mexico since 2000. Reporters Without Borders puts the tally at eighty-eight.
Whatever the number, Mexico remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to practice journalism, and Veracruz tops the list of individual states.
Since Javier Duarte of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) took office as governor in 2010, a total of thirteen journalists have been murdered in Veracruz. The state boasts one of the country’s most important seaports, and is known as a major hub for organized crime groups. Rumors of collusion between criminals and local authorities are rife.
Atrocities and violence
In 2011, Veracruz City was the site of one of Mexico’s most brutal atrocities: 35 mutilated bodies dumped on a busy freeway in broad daylight during an apparent turf war between rival drug cartels.
In the wake of the tragedy, then Mexican president Felipe Calderón would comment that authorities in Veracruz had been infiltrated by the infamous criminal organization known as Los Zetas.
“Yes, it’s a case of the state empowering the criminals,” Calderón told the press. “I believe that Veracruz was left in the hands of Los Zetas. I don’t know if it was voluntarily or involuntarily: I’d like to suppose the latter.”
“A great friend,”
Marines and federal agents were subsequently sent to the state to reel in the violence, but no high-ranking official has been prosecuted thus far.
A man was recently arrested in connection with the Espinosa case, although Mexico City authorities have yet to confirm or deny that the journalist’s death had a political element. Fellow journalists will march in Veracruz City in memory of Espinosa on August 10.
“He was both photographer and activist,” one colleague told Latin Correspondent. “But most of all, he was a great friend.”