Amid a violent turf war between cartels, a prominent TV journalist received a threat that appeared to come from Mexico’s most feared drug trafficker for what he described as biased coverage of the conflict.
In a video released this week, a masked man flanked by heavily armed militiamen reads a statement he attributes to Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho”, leader of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, demanding “balanced” media coverage. The statement directly threatens the life of anchor Azucena Uresti, an experienced broadcast journalist at Milenio TV.
“I assure you that wherever you are I will find you and I will make you eat your words even if they accuse me of femicide,” said the speaker in the video.
The source of the video cannot be independently confirmed, but experts say it should be taken seriously nonetheless. The threat marks a potential escalation of violence and intimidation against journalists in Mexico, one of the world’s most dangerous places to report the news.
“It very rarely happens that drug trafficking cartels or organized crime groups threaten reporters who are active in Mexico City, let alone anchor people at nationally syndicated news shows,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, Mexico representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Over the past two decades, more than 120 journalists have been murdered in Mexico. Most have been staff at local news outlets in conflict zones or investigative journalists based outside the capital working for national publications.
Milenio TV is a television news channel owned by Grupo Multimedios, which publishes a national newspaper chain under the Milenio name. “We condemn this threat against freedom of expression and demand from authorities a swift investigation that guarantees the safety of Azucena Uresti and our fellow journalists,” Milenio said in a statement.
Uresti appears to have drawn the ire of the cartel due to coverage in her nightly news program of an ongoing battle in southern Mexico’s Tierra Caliente region among the CJNG, rival cartels who’ve joined together under the umbrella group United Cartels, and local self-defense militias.
During Uresti’s most recent report on the conflict last week, Milenio broadcast video clips of shootouts and destruction from Tierra Caliente in the state of Michoacan as well as an interview with an unidentified member of a self-defense militia.
Michoacan has a long, troubled history with self-defense militias. Some have achieved fleeting success at driving out criminal gangs, while others have been infiltrated by drug traffickers. A former leader of a Michoacan self-defense militia, Hipólito Mora, who was also threatened in the video, told VICE World News that some of the groups of today are “criminals,” while others should be supported.
The CJNG appears to object to the TV report’s portrayal of the self-defense militias as the last line of defense against the cartel’s incursion into the region. The speaker making the threat in the video alleged that the militias were also drug traffickers, arguing that they would not be able to afford their weapons any other way.
On Monday night, Uresti addressed the threats in a statement at the beginning of her program. “With the teams that I lead, we always seek balance and confirmation of all of the information that we present here. We will continue, without bias, with data and precise facts that show what is happening in the country,” said Uresti, who also hosts a daily radio program.
She also announced that she has been assigned protection under a government program for journalists and human rights defenders under threat. But the CJNG has proven in the past that almost no one is untouchable, and at least seven people have been killed despite the public protection measures since they were first implemented in 2012.
The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, expressed his solidarity with Uresti and other journalists and vowed that “our government will always protect those who carry out this profession.”
Referring to Uresti, he promised, “She’s not alone.”