The funeral of Regina Martinez, where a large floral display from ex-Gov. Javier Duarte can be seen to the right.
Photo: Ruben Espinosa, Proceso
Mexican Journalists: Self-protection
67.5 % practice self-censoring as a means of self-protection
64.2 % stopped going out to report in the streets
57.3 % admitted to adhering to censorship practices of their media organizations
50 % reported hiding information from untrustworthy colleagues
22.8 % reported filtering ideas or information that they couldn’t publish to international news media
Source: The influence of threat and contexts of risk on journalism practice: Evidence from a national survey of Mexican journalists by Sallie Hughes, University of Miami, and Mireya Marquéz-Ramírez Iberoamerican University (Mexico City), May 3, 2016
July 23, 2017 XALAPA, Mexico
The death of reporter Regina Martinez was almost too much for her colleagues to bear.
Four others already had been murdered in Veracruz state in the first two years of Gov. Javier Duarte's term — first columnist Noel Lopez Olguin, kidnapped and killed by a blow to the head. Then Miguel Angel Lopez and Misael Lopez Solana, father and son who worked for the newspaper Notiver, shot to death commando style in their home. Then Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz, Notiver crime reporter, decapitated and tortured.
But Martinez — fearless and dedicated, known to be incorruptible — was an inspiration. The 48-year-old correspondent for the investigative weekly Proceso was famous for exposing abuse and corruption in an oil-rich state overrun by organized crime and a political system as opaque as its southern jungles.
If she wasn't safe, no one was.
CNN Expansion reporter Rodrigo Soberanes, who considered Martinez a mentor, punched the stairwell wall of his home in rage. Correspondent Lev Garcia cried as he typed up the news for the national newspaper, Reforma.
Notimex reporter Leopoldo Hernandez, who also had learned journalism at Martinez's side, was heading to a wedding when Garcia called his cell phone.
"Are you sitting down?" he asked. "They killed Regina."
Hernandez felt as if he had been split open by lightening. He says he called Duarte spokeswoman Gina Dominguez, unleashing a string of profanities as he demanded to know what happened.
"Polo," Dominguez said calmly, using his nickname, "it sounds like you think we did this."
"Well if not you," Hernandez replied, "then who?"
Protestors start their campaign to name the main square in Xalapa “Plaza Regina Martinez” on the third anniversary of the death of the investigative reporter in April 2015.
For journalists, Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and Veracruz is its deadliest state.
In six years under former governor Duarte, 18 journalists were killed in Veracruz. Three more have disappeared. Such numbers for just one state about the size of West Virginia are unmatched anywhere in the world, except the war-torn Syrian province of Aleppo, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ.
In that same six years, another 19 journalists were killed or disappeared in all of Mexico.
And 2017 is on track to be one of the deadliest years. As of July, four reporters and an editorial director were gunned down in various states of Mexico _ one from Veracruz. A television director in the western state of Michoacan disappeared and his remains were later found burned in a canyon.
A newspaper editor in northern Veracruz was shot four times but survived. The newspaper Norte in the border city of Ciudad Juarez ceased to publish, saying the business of journalism had become too dangerous.
Mexico, a democracy and a country not at war, is ninth in the world for number of journalists killed since 1992, ahead of Afghanistan, Rwanda and Israel and the Occupied Palestine Territory, according to CPJ. But if you look at the numbers just since 2011, Mexico is No. 1 _ surpassing even Syria and Iraq _ in non-combat killings that CPJ says are work-related or under investigation for being work-related.
And if Veracruz were a country, it would be No. 9 in the world.
People generally assume these reporter killings are part of the general drug-cartel violence that has engulfed the country. That’s clearly a factor.
But there’s another statistic that is often over looked. Nearly 40 percent of all attacks on journalists in Mexico are carried out by some state actor, that is, a government, military or police official, according to the government’s own statistics. That number rises to 81 percent in Veracruz.
In Mexico, the deadliest terrain for journalists is where government and cartel interests intersect.
Reporter Miroslava Breach was killed March 23 in the northern city of Chihuahua, shot eight times as she was leaving her home with one of her children. Three weeks earlier, Breach published an article about links between local mayoral candidates and organized crime.
Ex-Gov. Javier Duarte meets with Proceso top editors April 29, 2012, the day after Martinez’s death, promising a thorough investigation into her killing. Late-Proceso founder Julio Scherer stuns Duarte by responding, “Mr. Governor, we don’t believe you.”
Photo: German Canseco, Proceso
Attacks on the press
in Mexico have risen steadily from 172 in 2011 to a record 426 in 2016.
In those six years:
Source: Article 19 Mexico
Attacks on the Veracruz press under Duarte wiped out nearly all critical reporting during his administration, guaranteeing him and other officials the cover to rob the state of tens of millions of dollars for their own use. Duarte disappeared near the end of his term last October to flee charges of money laundering and organized crime. He was later captured in Guatemala and recently extradited back to Mexico.
In nearly every case, journalists have been murdered with impunity. Press advocates can name only two of 38 killings since 2011 that have resulted in a conviction. One is Regina Martinez's murder. And there are many reasons to believe that the man sitting in jail is not the killer.
In Mexico, the press was established not as an independent watchdog but to be in the service of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which governed Mexico for 71 years straight and Veracruz for more than 80.
Federal and local governments pay millions to news outlets for what they call official publicity. And as the late Mexican President Jose Lopez Portillo once said, "I don't pay them to hit me."
Under Duarte, the Veracruz government paid news outlets hundreds of thousands of dollars per month. (The payments have stopped under new Gov. Miguel Angel Yunes.) Jorge Morales of Veracruz's Commission for the Attention and Protection of Journalists says these contracts obligated reporters "to write lies, to manipulate information and to do things that aren't ethical." Journalists there are paid as little as $200 a month, sometimes less, and are easy marks for bribery.
Martinez was different. She had a professional degree and lived modestly on a better-than-average wage from a national magazine, not allowing a source or contact to buy her as much as a Coca-Cola. Among all Veracruz journalist killings, hers resonates most, even five years later, as the consequence in Mexico for speaking truth to power.
And its impact goes far beyond the press.
The killing of a journalist damages all of society, said Andres Timoteo, another reporter who left Veracruz the very night he learned that his friend Martinez was dead. He figured he was next. "Criminals have found in journalists a vehicle for terrorizing the population in general. If you kill a journalist, you scare the readers, the government and journalists themselves. And the criminals have fertile ground because the (Veracruz) government permits it. They don't investigate. They don't convict."
Timoteo is still in exile, more than five years later.
The home of Regina Martinez, where she was found murdered on April 28, 2012.
Photo: Ruben Espinosa, Proceso
A tiny woman, under 5 feet and 100 pounds, with a long face and stark features, Martinez was tough. She gave voice to the poor, the exploited and the political opposition, and was a thorn in the side to four governors.
Knowing well the corruption of her colleagues, she was as wary of them as she was of authorities. She had been hurt terribly as a young reporter when she learned her boyfriend, a photographer, was informing on her to the government. She rarely talked about her private life, and to protect her family she told them not to say they were related to her.
Martinez started her career in Veracruz with state television; proudly, she would say she was fired for not being attractive enough. Eventually, in the late 1980s, she landed at La Politica, a then-new opposition newspaper. By the time she started working for Proceso in the late 1990s, she had become a reporting institution.
With oil fields in the north, petrochemical plants in the south and thousands of acres of citrus, coffee and sugar cane in between, Veracruz stretches 400 miles along the Gulf of Mexico and one of the world’s busiest smuggling corridors. The shortest route for drugs, migrants and any contraband running between the Guatemala and U.S. borders goes right through Veracruz.
In a state used to a docile press, Martinez landed punches regularly, covering everything from forced sterilization of indigenous women to the public money that went to pay for a governor's private plane. Shortly before she died, she wrote that the Veracruz state deficit had grown 67,000 percent in 11 years under Duarte and his predecessors, with nothing to show for the borrowing.
Often, she wrote about Fidel Herrera, who served as governor from 2004-2010 — about allegations that he misused state funds from the Red Sharks soccer team, and about his name appearing in attorney general's office documents of an investigation into drug cartels. (Herrera has denied any connection to organized crime, and there are no charges against him.)
The home of Regina Martinez, where she was found murdered on April 28, 2012.
Photo: Ruben Espinosa, Proceso
Attacks on journalists
by some representative of the government (e.g., state or local police, local authorities, the army or marines) from October 2012 to September 2015:
Source: Federal Mechanism for Protection of Human Rights Workers and Journalists, 2015 annual report and 2015 diagnosis of the situation for journalists in Veracruz.
One of her biggest stories was about a 73-year-old indigenous woman who was found raped, beaten and near death in an impoverished, mountainous zone of Veracruz. Before she died, the woman told her children she had been attacked by Mexican soldiers.
An autopsy by the state coroner confirmed that she was raped and died of her injuries.
Martinez's stories caused a national furor, especially when federal investigators and the national human rights commission absolved the army by impugning the autopsy and saying the woman died of natural causes. Martinez interviewed the coroner, who stood by his work. With that story, she caught the attention of national journalists in Mexico City.
“Anyone who goes after the Mexican army gets my respect,” said Jenaro Villamil, a national writer for Proceso.
When Herrera left office, and Duarte, his protégé, took over in late 2010, the drug violence in Veracruz escalated. The Zetas were in a fight for control of the Veracruz port with a new cartel, aligned with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, Mexico's most notorious drug kingpin, according to the DEA and Mexican sources.
While three journalists were killed in six years under Fidel Herrera, four were killed in 2011 alone.
Martinez had suffered her share of harassment. Over the years, she was excluded from government events and official bulletins because of her stories. Sometimes when she had a big story, copies of Proceso would disappear from the newsstands in Veracruz.
In December 2011, someone broke into her house and stole her Christmas bonus.
Oddly, the burglar left her bathroom steamed up as if he had taken a shower, and destroyed her decorative soaps. It was, her friends thought, a disturbing message, “that they can get into the most intimate area of her house,” Soberanes said.
Friends say that privately, she was concerned. She thought about moving, but later changed her mind.
Everyone knew Martinez's weekend routine. She disappeared Friday afternoons behind a locked iron gate into her modest one-bedroom bungalow, often worked through the weekend, and didn't reappear until Monday morning. In early 2012, Martinez had been particularly secluded, telling two people in her trusted circle that she was working on something sensitive.
On Friday evening, April 27, she cooked beans and stew, and messaged a source to cancel an interview in the coming weeks. About 10 p.m., her neighbor called to say that her iron gate had been left open. She thanked her and said she would close it.
The next morning, the same neighbor noticed the gate was still ajar and the front door wide open. She tried calling — no answer. By 5 p.m. the neighbor decided to call police. The patrol officer who responded found Martinez lying face up on her bathroom floor in a puddle of blood, beaten and strangled with a cleaning rag thrown carelessly over her face, covering all but her eyes.
University of Veracruz unions march in February 2016 on the main plaza to protest not getting paid because of a financial crisis under ex-Gov. Javier Duarte. The governors’ debts and public corruption were themes Regina Martinez followed closely as a journalist.
Photo: Katherine Corcoran
Regina Martine Photo: Proceso
Practically from the start, investigators steered away from Martinez's work as a motive for her murder. The press leaks were immediate: She knew her killers and had been partying with them late into the night. It was a crime of passion because of a bite mark on her neck.
Within the week, then-state prosecutor Amadeo Flores Espinosa called a press conference to say the motive was likely robbery.
The crime scene was a mess, with key evidence overlooked or destroyed, according to Laura Borbolla, then-federal prosecutor for crimes against journalists. Empty beer bottles, which could hold DNA evidence, had been dusted so thoroughly with fingerprint powder, it destroyed any possible samples. Forensic investigators missed a blood stain on the side of the toilet. The fingerprint lifting from bottles and surfaces was botched, and only one print was usable.
According to court files, investigators asked her friends and colleagues if she had been threatened. No, they said. That was the end of their questioning about her work.
Instead, investigators asked her closest friends and reporters how much she drank, whether she used drugs. They treated her colleagues as suspects, taking fingerprints, shoes to match against a bloody print that was found in the bathroom, and teeth molds because of the alleged bite mark. The media leaks indicated Martinez's friend, Leopoldo Hernandez, who had questioned the state's participation the night she died, was her boyfriend and the main suspect. Hernandez produced photographs and ATM receipts putting him three hours away at the time the crime occurred, but then went into exile in Mexico City.
In a victim profile, they wrote that Martinez drank to handle her work stress and had recently ordered miniskirts and products to enhance her libido because of a new relationship.
In October 2012, more than six months after the murder, the state attorney general announced the arrest of a suspect who had confessed to being in the house when Martinez was killed. Jorge Antonio Hernandez Silva, known as "El Silva," was an HIV-positive drug addict and low-level criminal who had lived on the streets since he was a teen.
In this version, Martinez's alleged boyfriend — and supposed killer — was a man named Jose Adrian Hernandez Dominguez, a sex worker and street criminal. El Silva said Dominguez, known as "El Jarocho," met Martinez in a bar and struck up a romance. The two went to her house that night to drink beer and then rob her.
There were problems with the story. According to the autopsy, Martinez had no alcohol in her system, only coffee. There was no bite on her neck, rather a large bruise and a broken jaw likely from brass knuckles. If the motive was robbery, her purse was left untouched, including her wallet with three credit cards. Other electronic equipment was left behind, including an Apple iBook. Gone were her laptop and two cell phones, and all the information they contained.
None of the forensic evidence, not blood samples or DNA collected under Martinez's fingernails, matched El Silva. And Jarocho's fingerprints and DNA were not available for match, even though he had been in the penal system.
But the biggest breakdown in the Martinez case came from the jailed suspect himself. Once El Silva got before a judge, he said he had been abducted by men he believed to be members of the Veracruz Investigations Agency, held for more than a week and tortured and threatened into confessing to the crime.
Still, he is serving a 38-year sentence as an accessory. Jarocho remains at large. Then-state prosecutor Luis Angel Bravo, who has since resigned, said the case is closed.
Interview with Patricia Colchero, head of Mexico’s federal human rights defense agency,
In Mexico, investigative reporting traditionally has meant trouble for the journalist, not the person up to no good.
Journalist and author Javier Valdez Cárdenas was shot to death near the offices of the weekly Ríodoce.
Why has Mexico become more dangerous for journalists as it becomes more democratic?
If investigators had looked into Martinez's work, they would have found that she was indeed investigating sensitive topics.
She had told at least two people, including her editor at Proceso, that she was working on something that had to do with the former governor, Herrera, and corruption.
She also was investigating the number of unclaimed bodies buried at Palo Verde, Xalapa’s municipal cemetery, and how many had died of gunshot wounds. She wanted to know if the government was using the anonymous public graves to hide victims of escalating drug violence.
With this, she was way ahead on a story that just emerged in the last year, when Veracruz was discovered to have mass graves believed to be the largest in Mexico. Search crews have found some 300 skulls so far in just two locations. Meanwhile, families of the disappeared have accused the Veracruz government of having 192 unidentified bodies in Palo Verde, a claim officials vehemently denied.
Finally, just three weeks before Martinez died, her Proceso colleague, Villamil, wrote a story about two congressional candidates with dubious backgrounds, Reynaldo Escobar and Alejandro Montano, entitled “Two Dangerous Returns.” According to the article, 14 protected witnesses had testified how Escobar, a former state prosecutor, allowed the Zetas to move into Veracruz, and that Montano, a former state security chief, owned nine buildings, a house worth more than $1.5 million, and nearly four acres of land in a subdivision under his wife’s name _ despite a career as a public servant who came from humble beginnings. He also owned a newspaper, something politicians do in Mexico to control information.
That edition of Proceso was nowhere to be found in Xalapa, and Martinez called her editors in Mexico City to report that the government was not happy.
It is also possible that she was killed for no specific reason. Perhaps someone just wanted to send a message, colleagues say.
"I think it was planned. 'Let's kill this woman to teach a lesson to everyone else.' And that's what happened," said Miguel Diaz, founder of the independent online newspaper Plumas Libres. "A lot of people fled, and investigative journalism disappeared from Veracruz for many years."
Among those who fled: Martinez's closest colleagues, like Soberanes, Hernandez and Garcia. They had formed a protective circle to carry out their critical reporting, sharing information and publishing sensitive stories at the same time so no one person was exposed. Only one has since returned.
In the aftermath, corruption has flourished. Duarte left behind a state bedeviled by near bankruptcy, lawlessness and violence.
Every year on April 28, Martinez's colleagues commemorate her death in Xalapa's main square, Plaza Lerdo, demanding justice. A group of activists has been trying to get the plaza renamed in her honor, installing a plaque reading "Plaza Regina Martinez."
Every year, it is swiftly taken down by authorities.
Regina Martinez interviewing a source
A version of this article was published by The Associated Press.
Reporting for this article was supported by the Alicia Patterson Foundation in Washington, D.C., and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
NO JUSTICE IN VERACRUZ,
AS JOURNALIST'S DEATH IS UNSOLVED
BY KATHERINE CORCORAN