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A news cameraman was shot to death in Cancun. Was it because of his profession?

A news cameraman was shot to death in Cancun. Was it because of his profession?
Cameras and photos of journalists killed across Mexico are placed on the ground during a May 2017 protest in Mexico City. (Yuri Cortez / AFP/Getty Images)

A news cameraman was shot dead the night before his wedding day in the Mexican resort city of Cancun this week.

The death of Javier Rodriguez Valladares triggered outrage in the state of Quintana Roo, where two other journalists have been slain in the last two months, and across Mexico, one of the world’s deadliest countries for news media workers.

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Then, new details emerged.

Rodriguez had never received threats and had not covered the controversial issues — politics and crime — that tend to get Mexican journalists targeted, according to the president of the television station where Rodriguez worked.

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Rodriguez had been operating a used car business on the side, and may have been involved in some sort of financial transaction at the time of his death, said Carlos Toledo, the president of Cancun’s Channel 10.

Questions surrounding his killing highlighted the difficulties in determining exactly why some journalists are slain in Mexico, where reporters are regularly targeted because of the stories they publish, but where more general violence has also hit record levels.

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Several facts are clear.

Shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday, authorities were alerted to a shooting near downtown Cancun, according to a statement from the state prosecutor’s office.

Rodriguez had been killed, along with another man whom authorities have not publicly identified. Rodriguez was supposed to wed his fiancee on Thursday, his colleagues said.

Prosecutors said in the statement that because Rodriguez was not dressed in his work uniform at the time of his death, they did not believe that he was targeted because of his journalism.

Press freedom advocates have complained in the past that Mexican law enforcement authorities often fail to properly investigate attacks against journalists, which occur here at rates seen only in war zones such as Syria.

The vast majority of such attacks go unsolved. Rodriguez’s death comes on the heels of two other recent unsolved killings of journalists in Quintana Roo, a state that has seen record levels of homicides in recent months.

Last month, Ruben Pat, the news director of the online site Semanario Playa News, was shot to death in Playa del Carmen, about 40 miles south of Cancun.

Pat, who had published stories about crime and politics, had previously reported being detained and beaten by local police officers after he published a story about alleged ties between a drug cartel and the local police chief.

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A month earlier, another reporter at Playa News, Jose Chan Dzib, was shot to death in the town of Saban, also in Quintana Roo state.

Pedro Canche Herrera, who runs another news site in Quintana Roo, complained Wednesday night on Twitter that journalists in the state were becoming part of a “mourning guild.”

He criticized Quintana Roo Gov. Carlos Joaquin for recently traveling to Europe to promote Cancun as a tourist destination at the same time that the state has been engulfed in violence, which authorities blame on criminal groups battling over drug sales.

There were 395 homicide investigations opened in the state in the first seven months of 2018, more than twice as many as the 169 investigations during the same period last year. Nationwide, Mexico is also set to break homicide records this year.

After eight bodies were discovered across Cancun in a single day last week, the U.S. State Department updated its travel advisory for Mexico, warning American visitors to “exercise increased caution in Mexico due to crime.”

Mexican authorities have emphasized that the region’s rising violence has occurred far from the hotels and other popular tourist destinations that line Quintana Roo’s coastline.

Rodriguez’s slaying took place about two miles from beachside hotels.

Toledo, the station president, said he does not believe Rodriguez was killed because of his work, in large part because the station doesn’t cover Mexico’s spiraling violence, as is common among other outlets here. Instead, Channel 10 focuses on the region’s tourism and economic development, Toledo said.

“We don’t cover that stuff,” Toledo said, referring to violence. “It doesn't contribute to making our society better or to increasing tourism,” he said. “And anyway, it would put our employees at risk.”

Jan-Albert Hootsen, Mexico representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said there were much more questions than answers and called on authorities to perform a thorough investigation.

“We’re unsure at this point whether the cameraman was in fact the target of the attack,” Hootsen said.

12:55 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details.

This article was originally published at 7:50 a.m.

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