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Victim in Photojournalist Killing: ‘If Anything Happens to Me,’ It Was the Veracruz Governor

Nadia Vera, 32, was among five victims killed Friday in Mexico, including photographer Ruben Espinosa. She said in November that Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte would be "responsible" if she suffered any attack.

by Daniel Hernandez and Rafael Castillo
Aug 4 2015, 8:20pm

Captura vía Rompeviento TV

She was a social activist in the Mexican state of Veracruz, joining the "I Am 132" student movement during the 2012 elections and standing up against what she called the repressive administration of Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte.

Then Nadia Vera, a 32-year-old woman originally from Chiapas who studied at the University of Veracruz, decided she had to escape the state after constant threats and intimidation from men she identified as Duarte henchmen.

On Friday, Vera was among five people found bound and shot to death in Mexico City, a group that included another exile from Veracruz who also denounced threats, photojournalist Ruben Espinosa.

Vera believed she was in danger.

In November, she told an interviewer in clear language that if "anything happened" to her and others who organized against the government, or those who covered the local protests, the responsibility would be in the hands of governor Duarte.

"We completely hold Javier Duarte de Ochoa, governor of the state, and his cabinet, as responsible for anything that could happen to those involved and organized in these type of movements," Vera said in the interview with independent news outlet Rompeviento TV.

"We want to make it clear that the state is responsible for our safety, since they are the ones who are directly suppressing us," Vera said.

Authorities said Vera was attending an all-night party at an apartment in Mexico City with others when at around 2 pm on Friday unknown assailants entered or broke in and bound and tortured her, Espinosa, and three other women, including a cleaning lady.

Vera and two of the women were sexually assaulted. Then all five were shot dead in the head.

Duarte released a brief statement saying he was confident prosecutors in Mexico City would be able to solve the case, and nothing more. At least 14 journalists have been killed or disappeared in his state since he took office in December 2010. Seven have been killed in the country overall so far this year.

Related: Women Killed Alongside Mexican Photojournalist Were Tortured and Raped

Espinosa's funeral in Mexico City on Monday. (Image via VICE News)

Thousands marched on Sunday in honor of the victims, with chants and signs calling Duarte a "murderer" and demanding his resignation.

Alfredo Corchado, the Dallas Morning News correspondent who testified before the US Congress last Tuesday about the perils facing journalists in Mexico, described the case today as a "new low even for Mexico's diminishing standards."

When reached by VICE News, the office of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said authorities on Tuesday had no direct comment on the case. Duarte belongs to Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and both are known as friends.

Espinosa was buried on Monday in Mexico City. His pet dog Cosmo was also in attendance and looked on.

"He arrived to the end as a warrior," said Alma Espinosa, the photojournalist's sister. "Everything he did is a pride for our family."

Fellow photographers lifted their cameras up somberly in Espinosa's honor. "We are going to seek justice for him, for everything that he believed in," one photographer said.

Some of Espinosa's colleagues in Veracruz traveled to Mexico City to join the family and say a last goodbye to their friend. Saying they were now more afraid than ever for their own safety, several of the Veracruz reporters declined to be identified in interviews with VICE News.

"Ruben thought that earning some visibility would give him more protection. That's why he wanted to speak up and travel to Mexico City," said a Veracruz journalist who knew Espinosa. He asked VICE News not to publish his name for fear of reprisals against him.

Related: 'Behave,' Says Governor of Deadliest State for Reporters in Mexico After String of Murders

Javier Duarte, Veracruz governor, at an event marking Free Speech Day, July 1, 2015. (Photo via Gobierno de Veracruz)

The youngest victim in Friday's killings is Yesenia Quiroz Alfaro, who had moved to Mexico City to pursue a career at a beauty school. According to the people that identified her on Facebook, the 18-year-old Baja California native was friendly and liked makeup and parties.

Not much information has been released regarding the other two victims. According to neighbors, the 29-year-old Colombian woman named "Nicole," had moved to the city after living in the State of Mexico. Little is known about "Alejandra," a 40-year-old woman who worked as a housekeeper at the apartment and who reportedly lived in the State of Mexico.

As for Ruben Espinosa, coworkers at Proceso news magazine and Cuartoscuro agency said he always felt threatened and unsafe, despite having moved to Mexico City to escape threats in Veracruz.

Espinosa even considered moving back to Veracruz after several strangers approached him to ask him if he was a "displaced journalist," comments colleagues said made him feel spied upon and afraid.

Sara Rafsky, Americas research associate for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, told VICE News in an interview Tuesday that Espinosa's killing adds to a "crisis of impunity" in the country that affects all of Mexican society.

"There's a sense of desperation and anguish in the Mexican press. Mexico City has always functioned as a safe haven for journalists. Any possibility that Mexico City is no longer that safe haven is obviously extremely upsetting," Rafsky said.

Meanwhile, authorities continue to consider burglary as the main line of investigation for the crime. On Tuesday morning, footage from a security camera located near the apartment showed the possible murderers fleeing the apartment building and leaving in a red striped Mustang.

Alma Espinosa, Ruben's sister, speaks at his burial. (Image via VICE News)

The images are blurry and far away, but three men can be seen leaving the property with large bags just after 3 pm.

The building is surrounded by at least nine security cameras that should have recorded the murderers, but, according to the authorities, some of the devices didn't work. The building's surveillance system was broken, reports said, and as for the street cameras, they simply did not record any of the events.

While authorities continue to dismiss Espinosa's journalistic work as the main motive behind his death, some media outlets have begun to echo the government's view, stating the crime had nothing to do with freedom of speech or social activism. For those reporters, the victims were merely at the "wrong place at the wrong time."

"It looks like the criminals were after Nicole. They weren't after Ruben, Nadia or Yesenia, and much less after the housekeeper. They wanted to murder Nicole and the rest were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time," Luis Cardenas, a reporter at MVS news agency, said in one clip.

"It looks like this is a crime related to drug consumption and traffic, specifically cocaine," the reporter added.

Rafsky, the CPJ researcher, said that while local and state officials are directly responsible for investigating the killings, Mexico's federal government must also respond.

"Whether this case has to do with Veracruz or Mexico City, it's time for federal authorities to really take action," she said. "They have the legal framework. They have every single tool they need. What's lacking is the political will."

Related: Mexican Mayor Accused or Ordering Citizen Journalist's Killing in Veracruz

Gabriela Gorbea contributed to this report.

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