Margarito Martinez’s murder in his hometown of Tijuana was part of a sharp spike in Mexican journalist killings that captured headlines earlier this year. The investigation is still underway, but some of the veteran photojournalist’s colleagues think they know what might have happened: They’re pointing to several anonymous Facebook pages that post explicit details about crimes in Tijuana, including unprecedented access to crime scenes and information. Whoever is operating the pages, they believe, is directly involved with organized crime.
Sonia de Anda, a longtime journalist and colleague of Martinez, says that shortly before his death, a local blogger named Ángel Peña accused him of running two of these anonymous pages—Tijuana en Guerra and Quemando Malandros—which was like being accused of being close to some of the city’s criminal groups. And while there was no evidence that Martinez was in any way involved, the accusation would have been enough to get negative attention from rival criminal groups, who may have ordered his killing.
“Margarito calls me, sends me texts telling me that he's worried about being identified, his face and full name, as the one in charge of these pages,” said de Anda. “These kinds of pages, and the people behind them, are putting us at risk.”
Posts by these anonymous pages often include explicit images of crimes, along with messages between rival gangs. Any journalists accused of being associated with the groups ends up in danger. And the reach of these pages goes far beyond Tijuana.
At one session of the press conference that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador does each morning, VICE correspondent David Noriega asked López Obrador if he was willing to acknowledge that the government was failing at creating the necessary conditions for journalists to work safely in the country.
“I am taking responsibility. Not just that, I'm working to guarantee peace and tranquility to all Mexicans. And that of course means to protect our journalists” said López Obrador. “There's a fundamental difference, as these are not crimes committed by the state.”
The story of violence toward Mexican journalists is one of corruption and cartels, but it’s also one of labor rights—of people simply trying to make a living, and instead, being hung out to dry. Jesus Aguilar, a crime reporter and one of Martinez’s mentees, intends to follow in his mentor’s steps, aware of the risk that involves being a journalist in Tijuana.
“If something happens to me, it's not because I'm involved in crime; it would simply be because I am reporting the news live here in Tijuana.”
For this episode of VICE News Reports, we traveled to Tijuana to talk to Martinez’s colleagues. Listen here now: