Police on Thursday found the mutilated bodies of at least two journalists — and maybe a third — along a canal in Veracruz, the latest macabre attack on the media in less than a week in the Mexican Gulf coast state.
Veracruz, a hotbed of organized crime, has seen the murder of seven journalists in the past year and a half, making it the most perilous region for journalists in all of Mexico.
Police in a boat retrieved plastic bags containing four bodies along the weed-choked Zamorana canal in the port of Veracruz.
Prosecutors identified the victims as photojournalists Guillermo Luna Varela and Gabriel Huge, both of whom went missing a day earlier. A statement said the other two were Irasema Becerra and Esteban Rodríguez. Colleagues said Rodriguez worked for the AZ newspaper in the state capital of Xalapa , although the statement said he was currently employed as a welder. Becerra, it added, was a girlfriend of Luna.
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“The bodies were dismembered and bore signs of torture,” the statement said, adding that organized crime appeared to be responsible for the slayings.
Luna worked as a photographer for the website veracruznews.com.mx and Huge was a photographer and radio reporter for several state news outlets.
Huge had only recently returned to Veracruz after going into self-exile last July. He left after a crime reporter for the Notiver newspaper was slain and her body parts thrown on a ramp behind another newspaper, the semi-official Notimex news agency said. At least 13 journalists fled the state at the time.
The latest killings came just five days after assailants burst into the home of a journalist for the Proceso national newsmagazine in Xalapa and strangled her to death. Regina Martinez’s body was found in her home Saturday.
Gangsters have slain journalists and firebombed at least one newspaper in a wave of violence aimed at muzzling media reporting over organized crime in Veracruz, a key corridor for drug and migrant smuggling.
The violence has led to a virtual standstill of crime reporting as journalists seek to avoid angering gangsters.
“It’s hard to imagine what else reporters can do to stay safe there,” said Mike O’Connor, the Mexico representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based advocacy group.
The latest homicides were discovered on World Press Freedom Day.
Notimex said that both of the photojournalists once worked for Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco, a veteran columnist and editor at Notiver, a colorful, top-selling tabloid owned by a Spaniard.
Lopez, known by his pen name as Milova, was the target of a gangland slaying on June 20, 2011. Assailants burst into his home and gunned down the columnist, his teenage son and his wife.
While the death toll of journalists is soaring, rights groups disagree on the exact number. Mexico’s national human rights commission says 74 were slain from 2000 to 2011, while the Committee to Protect Journalists says 51 were killed in that period.
The onslaught against the media led the Mexican Congress to approve a constitutional amendment in mid-March that elevates attacks on journalists to a federal crime. The proposal has been approved by at least 10 of Mexico’s states and needs another six more for ratification.
Still, the murders of journalists in Mexico are almost never solved. None of the cases in recent years in Veracruz has brought a homicide conviction.