Veteran reporter Julio Valdivia was found Wednesday afternoon in Mexico’s coastal state of Veracruz, in the municipality of Tezonapa, decapitated near railroad tracks. His blue motorcycle was found only a few yards from his body, according to Córdoba’s Diario El Mundo, the newspaper where he worked.
The Veracruz government condemned the killing.
“As we have made clear before, there will be no impunity in this government,” it said in a Twitter post Wednesday without providing details of Valdivia’s death.
Whether Valdivia was killed for his reporting will be a central question for observers of press freedom and Mexican authorities. Valdivia’s journalistic work is “a possible lead to follow” in his murder investigation, Veracruz’s Attorney General’s office said in a statement Wednesday. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Valdivia covered crime and security in Córdoba, and his career spanned two decades. “‘Valdivia’ is how everyone knew him, always responding with a smile and using his unique phrase that characterized him: ‘Let’s go, this is urgent,'” they wrote.
Valdivia leaves behind a wife and four children, the youngest just four years old, according to the newspaper.
Valdivia’s death marks the fifth murder of a journalist in Mexico this year, according to CPJ, and the second in Veracruz state, making Mexico the deadliest country for journalists in 2020 thus far. In April, the decapitated head of journalist Víctor Fernando Álvarez Chávez was found in the state of Guerrero.
Last year, CPJ reported 11 journalists killed in Mexico, the highest worldwide, as it outpaced war-ravaged Syria, where seven journalists were murdered in 2019.
“I am shocked by the brutality of Julio Valdivia’s murder, even in a country where violence against the press continues to rise, even as the country went into partial lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Jan-Albert Hootsen, Mexico’s CPJ representative, told CNN.
Hootsen says Mexican authorities share part of the blame for failing to stop such crimes.
“Bar some exceptions, Mexican authorities, both state and federal, have shown themselves to be utterly incapable of properly investigating crimes against the press,” he said. “The cycle of violence and impunity continues to incentivize anyone who wants to attack the press to do so without any fear of being arrested, prosecuted and sentenced.”
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Violent crime in Mexico has escalated in recent years, along with impunity. In 2018, 93% of all crimes went unsolved, according to government data. Last year Mexico recorded more than 35,000 homicides, a record number that exceeded the previous high of 33,341 in 2018. Many of the murders are linked to drug cartel violence.
Ties between local officials and gangs can also add to the culture of impunity that makes reporting so risky, according to Reporters without Borders.
“Collusion between officials and organized crime poses a grave threat to journalists’ safety and cripples the judicial systems at all levels,” the group says on their website. “As a result, Mexico is sinking even deeper into a spiral of violence and impunity and continues to be Latin America’s most dangerous country for reporters.”
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Thursday that it’s the government’s “duty” and “obligation” to investigate Valdivia’s death.
“I know Tenozapa and I know the importance of the newspaper El Mundo from Córdoba, and how heroic it is to do journalism in that region as in others in the country,” the president said when asked about the murder. “That is why it is necessary to investigate and punish those responsible in all cases.”