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Being A Journalist In Veracruz, Mexico, Is A Very Dangerous Profession


Mexico is one of the world's deadliest countries for journalists. Three journalists have been murdered just since the beginning of this year. And one of the most dangerous places for reporters there is the state of Veracruz. That is where NPR's Carrie Kahn found journalism itself under threat.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Two police cars sit in front of the offices of El Buen Tono newspaper in Cordoba, a city of about 150,000. One was put there four years ago after the building was set on fire. The other, with its two state troopers, protects one of the paper's reporters 24/7.


KAHN: "We frequently receive threats," says Luis Emanuel Dominguez, El Buen Tono's top manager. He says, in February, they got five calls in one day.

DOMINGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "The guy says, we're going to kill you, chop you up and bomb your place."

DOMINGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "It's very strong," he adds. On February 8, around two a.m. on this quiet street in Orizaba, one of the state's smaller cities, eight armed men dressed in military uniforms burst into the house of local crime reporter Anabel Flores Salazar. They dragged her into a waiting pickup as her aunt pleaded with the assailants not to take the single mother away from her toddler and 20-day-old baby. Neighbors said they were surprised by the brazen abduction.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "The family always seemed so calm," said an elderly man from his front door. He said he was too scared to give his name.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I can't say more," he said before slipping back inside. Salazar's tortured body was found a day after her kidnapping just over the state line. Her hands were bound, a plastic bag wrapped around her head. She was the latest in a grim death toll. According to the group Article 19 that promotes freedom of the press around the world, 88 journalists have been killed in the past two decades in Mexico. At least a dozen of those murders have taken place in Veracruz, a sliver of a state along Mexico's Gulf Coast and home to the country's most vicious drug cartel, the Zetas. Hugo Morales Alejo knows the dangers of being a reporter in Veracruz. He was kidnapped in 2008 and tortured for five days.

HUGO MORALES ALEJO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "My life has not been the same since," he says. "It's not the same." He currently publishes an online newspaper that he says provides a stable, yet not lucrative living. No one is getting rich as a local reporter in Mexico. Salaries run about $350 a month, leaving many working for two or three outlets and commonly accepting money from sources for bus fare or food. Morales says some resort to being what is known as the enlace, or liaison between organized crime gangs and journalists. They tell fellow reporters what can and cannot be supported.

ALEJO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "And we all obey what the enlace says - always - we always obey," adds Morales. Not all threats come from crime bosses. Luiz Miguel Lopez Mena covers politics in Orizaba. In December of 2014, he was picked up by state police and taken to a hotel for what officers told him was his protection. After two weeks, he says he was brought into a conference room filled with state investigators.

LUIZ MIGUEL LOPEZ MENA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "What was most shocking was that they had this file full of my stories, and they also had information on all my relatives," he says. He was released soon after and went back to work.

MENA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "You know that was just to scare you," he says his editor told him. Veracruz has been a very hostile place for journalists in the past decade, says University of Veracruz sociologist Alberto Olvera, especially under the current governor, Jose Duarte, who has earned a reputation for exerting fierce control over the media.

ALBERTO OLVERA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "This is not a press that serves its readers, nor is it a press that makes its money in the free market," says Olvera. "It is a press wholly dependent on the government," he says, referring to the widespread practice of the governor making pacts or convenios with local papers in exchange for positive coverage. Both the governor's office and a special prosecutor appointed to investigate journalists' murders refused to comment for this story. University professor Olvera says, without the so-called pacts, 90 percent of the state's papers would go under. With state finances in shambles and Gov. Duarte facing multiple corruption allegations, that may soon happen. In the state capital, Jalapa, newspaper vendor Araceli Fuentes sells all 10 of the city's daily papers. She says sales are way down.

ARACELI FUENTES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Fuentes says the newspapers here have lost all credibility. She says people want news, the papers here just don't print it anymore. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Veracruz, Mexico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn
Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on
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