‘They went to execute him’: fourth Mexican journalist killed so far in 2018

Yet another Mexican journalist has been assassinated as attacks on media workers in the country continue unabated.

Juan Carlos Huerta was shot dead on Tuesday morning as he drove away from his home in Villahermosa, the capital of southern Tabasco state.

The state governor Arturo Núñez said the killing was not a robbery and appeared to be related to Huerta’s work as a journalist. “They apparently went to execute him,” he said.

Huerta hosted a television program and was as director of a radio station in Tabasco.

The attack came as journalists across Mexico gathered to mark the first anniversary of the murder of Javier Valdez, a prominent and popular reporter in the central state of Sinaloa.

Valdez founded the newsweekly Ríodoce, which fearlessly covered crime and corruption in the state, which has been convulsed by fresh violence amid a cartel power struggle after the extradition of crime boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

He was pulled from his car on 15 May 2017 at midday and shot 12 times.

Valdez’s suspected killer was detained last month – a rarity in a country where crimes committed against journalists are seldom investigated with any rigour.

Núñez was the 10th reporter to have been murdered since Valdez’s death.

“Impunity continues to incentivise the killers,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, Mexico representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Four journalists have been murdered in Mexico so far in 2018, according to CPJ, and two of those killings are confirmed to have been carried out due to the reporters’ work.

In the most recent Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom index, Mexico ranked 147 – one spot ahead of Russia. Twelve reporters were murdered in Mexico in 2017, putting it on par with Syria, according to RSF.

Since Mexico launched its militarised war on drug cartels a decade ago, the country has become a cemetery for reporters.

Mexico’s war on drugs

‘They went to execute him’: fourth Mexican journalist killed so far in 2018

Why did Mexico launch its war on drugs?

On 10 December 2006, president Felipe Calderón, launched Mexico’s war on drugs by sending 6,500 troops into his home state of Michoacán, where rival cartels were engaged in tit-for-tat massacres.

Calderón declared war eight days after taking power – a move widely seen as an attempt to boost his own legitimacy after a bitterly contested election victory. Within two months, around 20,000 troops were involved in operations across the country.

What has the war cost so far?

The US has donated at least $1.5bn through the Merida Initiative since 2008, while Mexico has spent at least $54bn on security and defence since 2007. Critics say that this influx of cash has helped create an opaque security industry open to corruption at every level.

But the biggest costs have been human: since 2007, around 230,000 people have been murdered and more than 28,000 reported as disappeared. Human rights groups have also detailed a vast rise in human rights abuses by security forces.

As the cartels have fractured and diversified, other violent crimes such as kidnapping and extortion have also surged. In addition, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by violence.

What has been achieved?

Improved collaboration between the US and Mexico has resulted in numerous high-profile arrests and drug busts. Officials say 25 of the 37 drug traffickers on Calderón’s most-wanted list have been jailed, extradited to the US or killed, although not all of these actions have been independently corroborated.

The biggest victory – and most embarrassing blunder – under Peña Nieto’s leadership was the recapture, escape and another recapture of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, leader of the Sinaloa cartel.

While the crackdown and capture of kingpins has won praise from the media and US, it has done little to reduce the violence.

How is the US involved?

Mexico’s decade-long war on drugs would never have been possible without the huge injection of American cash and military cooperation under the Merida Initiative. The funds have continued to flow despite growing evidence of serious human rights violations.

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Drug cartels have coerced, intimidated and killed journalists and forced media outlets in large swaths of the country to cover crime in the vaguest of ways.

Two Tabasco journalists, who preferred not give their names, said they often tone down their crime coverage to stay safe.

Some reporters in conflict areas say further pressure is piled on by local governments, especially as government advertising is used to control news outlets’ coverage and set editorial lines.

Gerardo Priego, a former gubernatorial candidate in Tabasco with the conservative National Action party and head of an anti-kidnapping NGO, said attacks on the media have been uncommon in Tabasco – though the state government was known for pressuring media outlets to tone down coverage of the state’s security crisis.

“Criminals are doing the government’s dirty work,” said Priego, who previously headed a special commission in Congress on crimes committed against journalists.

“It’s much more convenient for the government that organised crime is silencing journalists – rather than politicians having to try and silence them.”

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