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According to local officials, Lourdes Maldonado, a well-known local television personality who worked for different media outlets in Tijuana, was shot in her vehicle by unknown gunmen as she returned home Sunday night.
She notified Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador almost three years ago that she feared for her safety due of a labor dispute involving a key governing party leader. She enrolled in a government journalist protection program last year.
Ms. Maldonado, 68, was the country’s third journalist assassinated this month, and the second in Tijuana in the last week. On Jan. 17, Margarito Martinez, a photographer who covered the Tijuana police beat, was shot and killed outside his house. Earlier last month, José Luis Gamboa, a reporter in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz, Mexico’s most deadly state for journalists, was stabbed to death. No one has been charged in any of the murders.
Journalists displayed photos of photographer Margarito Martinez, who was shot and killed outside his house in Tijuana earlier this month.
JORGE DUENES/REUTERS/JORGE DUENES/REUTERS/JORGE DUENES/REUT
“What occurred in Tijuana was tragic. At a daily press conference, Mr. López Obrador stated, “It hurts a lot.” Mr. López Obrador vowed a thorough inquiry, but ascribed the country’s high level of violence to “social breakdown,” which he linked to past administrations’ “neoliberal” economic policies.
However, the victim in this instance had publicly said that she was under danger from a strong politician from the president’s Morena party.
Ms. Maldonado went to Mr. López Obrador’s daily press conference in March 2019 to plead for his assistance, claiming she was in danger due to a labor dispute with a television corporation she said had wrongfully dismissed her years before without giving her adequate compensation. Jaime Bonilla, the governing party’s candidate for governor of Baja California, where Tijuana is situated, owns the media firm, Primer Sistema de Noticias. Mr. Bonilla was elected governor for a limited time, has since resigned, and still controls the media firm.
“I’m here to seek for assistance because this concerns a senator on leave…and Mr. Jaime Bonilla, your candidate for governor of Baja California.” According to transcripts of the conversation, she remarked at the time, “That’s why I’m here, asking for your assistance.” The president directed his spokesperson to investigate the matter.
“‘I don’t believe the president has done anything to boost prosecutors or law enforcement in order to prevent killings.’”
— Jan-Albert Hootsen, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ representative in Mexico
Mr. Bonilla told Mexico’s Radio Formula in an interview released online Monday that he had never threatened Ms. Maldonado and had nothing to do with her murder. “I’m certain the authorities will uncover those who are guilty quickly,” he stated.
According to local media sources and acquaintances of the reporter, Ms. Maldonado’s contract dispute was settled in her favor by a federal labor court last week, which imposed an embargo on numerous assets of the media organization in order to compensate Ms. Maldonado.
Mr. López Obrador said that his administration will examine the incident, but he cautioned against making hasty judgments. He said, “One cannot instantly relate a labor disagreement to a crime.”
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an international advocacy organization, 32 journalists have been killed in Mexico in the last three years, making it the most hazardous country for journalists in the Western Hemisphere. It has been found that 13 Mexican journalists were assassinated because of their job.
According to Jan-Albert Hootsen, the organization’s Mexico representative, almost 95 percent of the murders of journalists go unpunished.
Mr. Hootsen described Ms. Maldonado’s death as “apparently a criminal underworld execution-style homicide.” Her death was eerily identical to that of Mr. Martinez, who was shot outside his house as well. Like Ms. Maldonado, the photographer had received threats.
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Hundreds of Mexican journalists have announced on social media that they would stage a nationwide protest in towns around the country on Tuesday, wearing black in commemoration of their killed colleagues. On Monday, journalists in Chilpancingo, Guerrero’s capital, staged a tiny demonstration at a toll booth along the Mexico City-Acapulco highway to denounce the Tijuana deaths.
Mexican journalists, many of whom were dressed in black, marched in the streets or congregated in plazas around the country on Tuesday to protest the deaths of their three colleagues.
The U.N. secretary-spokesperson, general’s Stéphane Dujarric, denounced Ms. Maldonado’s assassination on Monday. “We urge on Mexican authorities to tighten journalist protection, in particular to take further actions to avoid assaults on journalists, especially by addressing threats and insults directed at them,” he said at a press conference.
The killing was likewise denounced by the United States. “We are disturbed by the assassination of Lourdes Maldonado Lopez, the third journalist assassinated in Mexico this year. Brian Nichols, the top state department official for Latin America, retweeted a translation of a Monday post from the US Embassy.
Activists say Mr. López Obrador’s administration has done nothing to alleviate the situation, despite the fact that journalists and others have pressured him to do so. The president has consistently blamed former administrations’ free-market policies for general criminal violence.
Mr. Hootsen said, “It shouldn’t be about philosophy.” “It’s all about implementing good public policy.” “I don’t believe the president has done anything to strengthen prosecutors or law enforcement in their efforts to prevent killings.”
Journalists and locals in Tijuana, which is just over the border from San Diego, were horrified by the latest incident. Aline Corpus, a local reporter who knew Ms. Maldonado, stated, “Impunity is increasing at a frightening pace.” “I’ve never seen such an outpouring of rage in so many locations.”
Ms. Maldonado, a journalist for over four decades, had an internet show where she addressed current issues ranging from local politics to the Covid-19 epidemic at the time of her death.
During the coronavirus outbreak in Mexico, footage of armed and masked men providing supplies to underprivileged areas was extensively circulated on social media. Jose de Cordoba of the Wall Street Journal reviewed the photographs to see how a new kind of “cartel philanthropy” is posing a threat to the government. (This article was first published in May 2020.)
Mr. Martnez, 49, the second dead journalist, was recalled by colleagues as a committed photographer who would listen to police radio and come up to gunshots and fires, often even before officials arrived. He would recount the happenings on a Facebook channel after snapping images. According to Ms. Corpus, he also served as a fixer for international reporters visiting Tijuana.
According to government figures, homicides in Baja California state, where Tijuana is the main city, have climbed substantially in recent years, surpassing 3,000 or 82 per 100,000 people last year.
According to Eduardo Guerrero, a security expert in Mexico City, “Tijuana is the most dangerous city in Mexico.”
The Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, two of Mexico’s most powerful criminal groups, are battling for control in Tijuana, which is a significant port of entry for narcotics into the United States. Mr. Guerrero said that there are other other criminal organizations active in the area.
—This article was co-written by Anthony Harrup.
José de Córdoba may be reached at [email protected]
Corrections & Amplifications Margarito Martinez was gunned down outside his home on Jan. 17. An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified him as Margarito López Esquivel in the story and a photo caption. (Corrected on January 25, 2022.)
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