Local figures suspected in fifth murder of journalist in Mexico in 2022
Mexico’s president must be held to his promise to combat impunity for murders of journalists, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said as it called for a swift and transparent investigation into the murder of a local news website editor in the southern state of Oaxaca that brings the number of journalists killed in Mexico since the start of 2022 to five – a record in such a short period.
Website director Heber López Vásquez, 39, was slain on 10 February in Salina Cruz, a Pacific coast port town in the Tehuantepec isthmus, by two men who had followed him as he walked along the street and finally gunned him down outside his recording studio.
On Noticias Web, a local news page on Facebook that he created in 2014, Heber López was a frequent vehement critic of local politicians in the Tehuantepec region, especially those in Salina Cruz.
One hour after the shooting, the Oaxaca state prosecutor’s office announced that the Salina Cruz municipal police had arrested two suspects as they fled the scene. One was none other than the brother of Arminda Espinosa Cartas, a local public figure who López had often criticised in his posts. A former municipal employee in a nearby small town, Salinas del Marqués, she is an ally of current Salina Cruz mayor Daniel Méndez Sosa.
On the eve of his murder, López had published a story headlined, “The ambition without limits of Arminda Espinosa Cartas,” in which he criticised her manoeuvring to get reelected as the head of a public works project.
The day after Heber López was gunned down, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said during his daily press conference that there would be “no impunity, zero impunity” for the journalist’s murder.
“The Oaxaca state authorities must quickly identify all those responsible for this shocking murder,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the director of RSF’s Latin America bureau. “Furthermore, the possible implication of Salina Cruz personalities means that the federal attorney general’s office should be involved in the investigation. And President López Obrador’s commitment to ‘zero impunity’ should be seen as a pledge not only in the Heber López case but also in the 28 other murders of journalists since he became president.”
In 2019, Heber López reported that he had received death threats from the bodyguards of Salina Cruz’s then mayor, Juan Carlos Atecas. Despite these requests, he did not request protective measures from either the Oaxaca state or federal authorities.
López is the second journalist to be murdered in less than a year in the Tehuantepec region, which has become particularly dangerous for the media. Gustavo Sánchez Cabrera, who had also denounced corruption in Salina Cruz and had published a list of local councillors suspected of links to organised crime, was murdered on 17 June 2021 while seeking federal protection.
Pluma Digital news site editor José Ignacio Santiago Martínez survived an attack by gunmen on 25 January 2021 thanks to bodyguards proved by the federal mechanism for protecting journalists.
The four other journalists who have been murdered since the start of the year in Mexico are Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel, José Luis Gamboa Arenas, Roberto Toledo and Lourdes Maldonado.
According to RSF’s tally, at least seven journalists were murdered in Mexico in 2021, making it the world’s deadliest country for the media. Mexico is ranked 143rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.