Javier Valdez, a veteran reporter who specialised in covering drug trafficking and organised crime, was slain in the northern Mexico state of Sinaloa, the latest in a wave of journalist killings in one of the world’s most dangerous countries for media workers.
Valdez is at least the sixth journalist to be murdered in Mexico in just over two months, and the second high-profile reporter to be slain in the country this decade after Regina Martinez Perez, who was killed in 2012.
A Sinaloa state government official said Valdez was shot dead in the early afternoon yesterday in the state capital, Culiacan, near the offices of the publication he co-founded, Riodoce. The official was not authorised to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Riodoce confirmed Valdez’s killing on its webpage, saying he was driving about a block from its offices when he was intercepted by gunmen.
He was also a correspondent for the national newspaper La Jornada, which reported that he was pulled from his car and shot multiple times.
Valdez was a nationally and internationally recognised journalist who authored several books on the drug trade, including “Narcoperiodismo” and “Los Morros del Narco.” The latter chronicled the lives of young people swept up in Mexico’s underworld.
According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, in 2009 unknown attackers threw a grenade into the Riodoce offices days after it had published an investigation on drug trafficking. No one was hurt.
“Living in Sinaloa is a threat, and being a journalist is an additional threat,” Valdez said in an interview with the CPJ, according the group’s website. “We learned how to live in times when bullets are flying around us.”
Sinaloa state has long been a drug trafficking hotbed and is home to the Sinaloa Cartel headed by notorious kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who is in a New York prison awaiting trial on multiple charges.
By the CPJ’s count, 40 journalists have been killed in Mexico for reasons confirmed as related to their work since 1992. An additional 50 were slain during the same period under circumstances that have not been clarified.
In a report released this month, the group noted that most killings of journalists go unpunished in Mexico. It added that even when there are convictions, they are often limited to the immediate killer and do not clarify the motive.
“By not establishing a clear link to journalism or providing any motives for the killings most investigations remain opaque,” the report said. “This lack of accountability perpetuates a climate of impunity that leaves journalists open to attack.”
Valdez’s murder came less than two weeks after a CPJ delegation met in Mexico City with President Enrique Pena Nieto and other top government officials.
Last Wednesday, the federal Attorney General’s Office replaced the head of its division responsible for investigating journalist killings. Ricardo Sanchez Perez del Pozo, a lawyer with a background in international law and human rights, took over the post.
Pena Nieto condemned Valdez’s killing and said he had instructed federal prosecutors to support local authorities investigating “this outrageous crime.”
“I reiterate our commitment to freedom of expression and the press, fundamental for our democracy,” the president tweeted.