Protection site

As Journalists Die, Mexico Defends Press Protection Plan

But critics say it has failed in some cases, and it is generally accepted that it cannot end the scourge of anti-media violence in a country where corruption is rampant and criminals can avoid prosecution for attacks.

Enrique Irazoque Palazuelos, head of the agency that administers the Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, is adamant: “The mechanism, there is no doubt, has saved lives.

Irazoque points out that of the 140 defenders and journalists killed since December 2018, “only six people were in the device”. Among the unregistered: the latest victim, Heber López, director of the online news site Noticias Web, shot dead Thursday in the southern state of Oaxaca.

International organizations continue to consider the country the most dangerous in the western hemisphere to practice journalism, and the Committee to Protect Journalists declared that these six weeks were “the deadliest for the Mexican press in more than a year. decade “.

Aside from López, the dead include:

–Reporter José Luis Gamboa, killed in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz on January 10.

— Crime photographer Margarito Martínez, shot dead outside his Tijuana home on January 17.

–Journalist Lourdes Maldonado López, found shot dead in her car in Tijuana on January 23.

–Roberto Toledo, a cameraman and video editor for the online site Monitor Michoacan, filmed Jan. 31 as he prepared for an interview in the western state of Michoacan.

Before López’s death, Irazoque said the government had counted 54 journalists murdered since the current administration took power in December 2018. According to his own analysis, the attacks come mainly from municipal authorities (40%) and crime organized (about 30%). Private groups cite lower figures, including CPJ, which says 33 journalists have died.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has focused more on his grievances with the media than on violence against journalists. On Friday, just a day after López’s death, he launched a half-hour rant against reporters who criticized him. “How many of them are against me? The majority!” he thundered.

It was only in response to a reporter’s question at the end of the press conference that he called López’s murder “regrettable”. He said the protection mechanism “is being improved”.

And in fact, there has been an increase in participation under his administration. Irazoque says it’s because of the rise in violence in some areas and because the program has done a better job.

When López Obrador took over, 798 people were registered, including human rights defenders and journalists. Currently, 1,518 people are covered by the program, including 495 journalists.

Participants receive support, such as electronic devices or “panic buttons” to alert authorities of any threats; home monitoring systems; even bodyguards.

Irazoque said the program issued 1,300 electronic security devices. He also assigned more than 200 bodyguards and established around 75 shelters for those under his protection and their families. The program has also helped improve security in some 400 homes.

“Obviously, the mechanism does not have the capacity to change the sometimes widespread violence in certain areas of different states,” Irazoque said. “That’s not what the mechanism was made for.”

Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s representative in Mexico, agrees that the mechanism alone cannot solve the problem of violence. The biggest problem, he told the AP, is that criminals often act with impunity; the only remedy, he said, was to improve the police and the prosecutors.

He said that while there have been many instances where there has been good protection, there have also been failures. He recalled the case of Gustavo Sánchez Cabrera, a Mexican reporter shot dead in June 2021 in the southern state of Oaxaca, who had asked for protection.

He said Sánchez Cabrera had been accepted into the program and was going to be given bodyguards, but coordination between federal and state authorities failed. “Police protection never came,” Hootsen said. “The situation was clearly critical, as he found himself riddled.”

A few days after Lourdes Maldonado was shot, local radio and television journalist Odilón García criticized the program. He knew it well; he was under his protection for three years.

“They give you a little phone and if something happens you can call and the call is routed to a central office which notifies the police, who will then locate you, and in the meantime you are already dead,” he said. -he declares.

Associated Press writer Mark Stevenson contributed to this report.