This disastrous toll is attributable in part to flawed or non-existent protective mechanisms but above all to the alarming level violence, corruption and impunity in most of the region’s countries – a region that is now one of the world’s most dangerous for media personnel.
As in 2015, Mexico continues to register the biggest death toll, with nine journalists murdered in the first half of 2016. It is followed by Guatemala with five, Honduras with three, Brazil with two and Venezuela and El Salvador with one.
None of these countries is officially at war, but each of them suffers from a significant degree of structural violence linked to ubiquitous armed groups that include Mexico’s cartels and Central America’s “maras.”
The motive of most of these deaths is still unknown*. When the police investigate them, the investigations soon get bogged down and are obstructed by corrupt officials. Impunity is, more than ever, at the centre of a vicious circle of violence against media personnel and journalism’s chronic depreciation.
The circumstances of these murders are usually very similar. The victims are often radio hosts or local correspondents based in regions far from major cities who cover crime, corruption or sensitive social issues. They are gunned down by “sicarios” (hit-men) near their home or workplace and in some cases they had been warned in advance about their reporting.
If there is any room for doubt, the police and judicial authorities quickly rule out any connection between the murder and the victim’s work as a journalist. They often try to cast doubt on the quality of the victim’s journalism and even go so far as to suggest that the victim was linked to local criminal groups.
“The toll of murders of journalists in Latin America in the first six months suggests that 2016 will be a terrible year for the region,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America desk.
“The spiralling violence, especially in Mexico and Central America, is transforming Latin America into one of the world’s most dangerous regions for media personnel. When you add the countless attacks, abductions, enforced disappearances, threats and cases of judicial harassment, you end up with a climate of terror in which journalists are clearly no longer at home. It is high time the region’s leaders did their duty and undertook to do everything possible to end this deadly spiral.”
The Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression that was adopted by the Organization of American States (OAS) says: “The murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and/or threats to social communicators, as well as the material destruction of communications media violate the fundamental rights of individuals and strongly restrict freedom of expression. It is the duty of the state to prevent and investigate such occurrences, to punish their perpetrators and to ensure that victims receive due compensation.”
Many OAS member states seem to have forgotten these principles because they do not treat the protection of journalists as a priority. Only two Latin American countries, Colombia and Mexico, have created national mechanisms for protecting journalists and in both countries the mechanisms fail to serve their purpose because they are cruelly denied adequate financial and human resources and autonomy vis-à-vis the political class.
As a result of strong pressure from civil society and journalists’ associations, a mechanism is in the process of being created and implemented in Guatemala. In response to the almost total impunity for crimes against journalists in Honduras, RSF is calling for the creation of an independent investigative body with trained and qualified personnel that is able to clearly establish the links between the murders of journalists and their work and to make its findings public.
The 2016 toll as of 1 July:
Mexico, 149th in RSF’s 2016 press freedom index: 9 victims
- Marcos Hernández Bautista, 38, killed on 21 January 2016, Oaxaca state.
Media: Noticias, Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca.
- Reinel Martínez Cerqueda, 43, killed on 22 January 2016, Oaxaca state.
Media: El Manantial community radio.
- Anabel Flores Salazar, 32, killed on 9 February 2016, Veracruz state.
Media: El Sol de Orizaba.
- Moisés Dagdug Lutzow, 65, killed on 20 February 2016, Tabasco state.
Media: head of the VX media group.
- Francisco Pacheco Beltrán, 55, killed on 25 April 2016, Guerrero state.
Media: El Sol de Acapulco.
- Manuel Santiago Torres González, 48, killed on 14 May 2016, Veracruz state.
Media: Noticias MT website, TV Azteca.
- Elidio Ramos Zárate, 44, killed on 19 June 2016, Oaxaca state.
Media: El Sur.
- Zamira Esther Bautista, 44, killed on 20 June 2016, Tamaulipas state.
Media: freelancer, El Mercurio and La Verdad.
- Salvador García Olmos, 31, killed on 29 June 2016, Oaxaca state.
Media: Radio Tuun Ñuu Savi.
Guatemala, 121st in RSF’s 2016 press freedom index: 5 victims
- Mario Roberto Salazar, 32, killed on 17 March 2016, Jutiapa department.
Media: head of Radio Estéreo Azúcar.
- Wiston Leonardo Cano Túnchez, 41, killed on 8 April 2016, Escuintla department.
Media: Radio La Jefa presenter.
- Diego Salomón Esteban Gaspar, 22, killed on 30 April 2016, Quiché department.
Media: Radio Sembrador.
- Víctor Hugo Valdez Cardona, 65, killed on 7 June 2016, Chiquimula department.
Media: Chiquimula Visión presenter.
- Álvaro Alfredo Aceituno López, 65, killed on 25 June 2016, Quetzaltenango department.
Media: director of Estéreo Ilusión.
Honduras, 137th in RSF’s 2016 press freedom index: 3 victims
- Marlon David Martínez Caballero, 27, killed on 7 February 2016, Cortés department.
Media: Radio TopMusic presenter.
- Dorian Hernández, 27, killed on 16 June 2016, Lempira department.
Media: freelance photographer, former producer for GRT Channel 31.
- Elmer Cruz, 30, killed on 19 June 2016, Yoro department.
Media: music programme presenter for local TV channel.
Brazil, 104th in RSF’s 2016 press freedom index: 2 victims
- João Valdecir de Borba, 51, killed on 10 March 2016, Paraná state.
Media: Radio Difusora AM presenter.
- Manoel Messias Pereira, 46, killed on 9 April 2016, Maranhão state.
Media: Sediverte.com blogger.
Venezuela, 139th in RSF's 2016 press freedom index: 1 victim
El Salvador, 58th in RSF’s 2016 press freedom index: 1 victim
- Nicolás Humberto García, 23, killed on 10 March 2016, Ahuachapán department.
Media: presenter on Radio Expressa, Voces al Aire.
*Note: RSF has not been able to include all of these murders in its official figures, used for its Barometer and the World Press Freedom Index, because of the absence of sufficiently clear information about the local investigation and therefore about the link between the murder and the victim’s journalistic work.