The murder of Valdez, who was gunned down in broad daylight on 15 May 2017 in Culiacán, the capital of the northwestern state of Sinaloa, shocked both Mexico and the international community. A few days after the murder, President Enrique Peña Nieto even promised to provide journalists with more protection. But, a year later, many questions remain unanswered.
On 23 April, the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) announced the arrest of Heriberto “El Koala” Picos Barraza, a Cartel member who had been identified as the driver of the vehicle used in Valdez’s murder.
Making the announcement, national security commissioner Renato Sales acknowledged that Valdez was murdered “in connection with his investigative reporting on drug trafficking and organized crime.”
The arrest was a significant step forward for the investigation but fell far short of what is needed. The FEADLE had already announced last year that they had also identified the two other persons who had been in the vehicle at the time.
One of them, Luis Ildefonso Sánchez Romero, the alleged gunman, was murdered in Sonora in September 2017. But no arrest warrant has been issued for the other person, identified as Juan Francisco N, also known as El Quillo. And, most importantly, that authorities have yet to say anything about the identity of those presumed to have ordered the hit.
“We urge the Mexican authorities to redouble efforts to identify all those responsible for this shocking murder and to bring them to justice,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau. “The lack of concrete progress as regards the instigators is very disturbing. The FEADLE investigation into this very important case should be exemplary.”
Aged 50, Valdez was a veteran journalist who specialized in covering drug trafficking and had written several books, the latest of which, published in 2016, was entitled “Narcoperiodismo” (Narco-Journalism). He was the founder of the weekly Ríodoce and reported for the national daily La Jornada and Agence France-Presse.
According to figures issued by Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH), more than 90% of crimes of violence against journalists since 2000 have gone unpunished.
Three days of tributes to Valdez and those close to him, in which RSF is joining, began yesterday in Culiacán. RSF and its local partner, Propuesta Cívica, have been assisting the Valdez family in all of their initiatives with the police and judicial authorities, and have been following the investigation.
Seven journalists have been killed in Sinaloa state since 2004 and one disappeared in 2014. With a total of 11 journalists murdered in 2017, Mexico is the western hemisphere’s deadliest country for the media and is ranked 147th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.