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Investigative Journalism Proves Life-Threatening in Mexico

Times Staff Writer

Three muckraking journalists have been assaulted or gone missing this month, with at least one of them slain, in a sign that investigating corruption remains a dangerous trade in Mexico.

The attacks appear to be an effort by organized crime to silence the media so that “no one knows anything,” Deputy Atty. Gen. Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos said Saturday.

The latest victim was prizewinning newspaper editor Raul Gibb Guerrero, owner of La Opinion in the town of Poza Rica, near the Gulf of Mexico. He was shot to death in neighboring Papantla on Friday night after publishing exposes on traffickers of stolen gasoline and drugs in the state of Veracruz.

“He was an altruist, dedicated to using the newspaper to improve society,” reporter Gabriel Hernandez said of his late boss. “No way will this stop us. We owe it to him to continue.”

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Gibb’s slaying followed the shooting of radio reporter Guadalupe Garcia Escamilla of Nuevo Laredo, a border city in Tamaulipas state, on April 5. Garcia Escamilla was shot nine times as she left the Estereo 91 station. She survived the attack but remains in critical condition.

Nidia Egremy, of the Mexican Reporters Society, said Garcia had also been digging into municipal corruption in Nuevo Laredo and had received threats.

“The state of Tamaulipas is the most dangerous one in Mexico if you are independent and critical,” Egremy said. On Saturday, the state’s public security minister, Luis Roberto Gutierrez, suggested that reporters should carry firearms.

Alfredo Jimenez Mota, a 25-year-old reporter with the newspaper El Imparcial in the northern city of Hermosillo, disappeared on his way to an interview April 2 and has not been seen publicly since. Authorities and colleagues fear that he was slain. Jimenez Mota recently had written stories about alleged plans of drug traffickers to kill government officials.

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“We have no details on whom he was going to see or what subject they were going to talk about,” said his father, Jose Alfredo Jimenez, when asked in a telephone interview from Hermosillo about the nature of his son’s last assignment. “This is torture not being able to talk to him or find him.”

Mexico is among the more hazardous places in the world for journalists to ply their trade, said Carlos Lauria, coordinator of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. It ranks 11th among countries in the number of journalists slain over the last decade, with nine killed. Iraq, Algeria and Colombia top the list.

The International Press Institute reported last month that four journalists were killed in Mexico last year, more than any other Latin American nation. It noted that “corruption and drug trafficking have made it almost impossible for journalists to carry out investigative reporting” in Mexico.

Lauria said the northern border region, through which billions of dollars’ worth of drugs are smuggled into the United States each year, has become especially hazardous. Mexican police rarely solve the crimes, he said, which contributes to further attacks.

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“The impunities around these crimes are a green light for those who perpetrate them to attack the next reporter,” Lauria said.

Jose Carreno, director of journalism studies at Iberoamericana University in Mexico City, said investigative journalism, already rare in the country, has been made even less attractive to journalists because of “out-of-control powers acting with great impunity.”

Gibb’s family founded La Opinion half a century ago in Poza Rica, a refining center where the major employer is Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, the state oil monopoly.

Under Gibb’s direction, La Opinion won two national prizes in 2002 and 2004 for its work in uncovering gasoline contraband rackets that allegedly operated with the complicity of high-ranking Pemex officials. Despite those articles, gangs still steal gasoline directly from the refineries and sell it in adulterated form to gas stations in several states, according to recent La Opinion reports. The paper’s most recent story on the rackets appeared April 4.

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Authorities said Gibb had received threats shortly before his slaying. The editor was driving home Friday when he was stopped by four gunmen in two trucks who pumped 15 bullets into him. Police have arrested no suspects.

He is survived by his wife, Ana, and three children.


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