There was the freelance writer, slain at a car wash. Then, the columnist who was shot twice as he left a restaurant with his wife and son. And on March 23, a 54-year-old journalist and mother of three, Miroslava Breach, was fatally shot eight times outside her home while she was in her car with one of her children. A rolled-up piece of cardboard was left with a chilling reason for the crime: “being a tattletale.”
Three Mexican journalists were killed last month in an “unprecedented” wave of violence against the press. The job of a journalist has become so dangerous in the nation that one Mexican newspaper owner has decided he is no longer willing to take on the risk.
In a front-page letter published Sunday with the massive headline “Adios!” the editor of Norte, a newspaper in the Mexican border city of Juarez, announced it would be ending its print publication as a result of the ongoing violence against journalists, killings that often go unpunished.
“On this day, esteemed reader, I address you to report that I have made the decision to close this newspaper due to the fact that, among other things, there are neither the guarantees nor the security to exercise critical, counterbalance journalism,” Norte’s owner, Oscar A. Cantu Murguia, wrote.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Cantu said he also planned to announce the closure of the digital version of the newspaper Monday in a meeting with the publication’s staff. Though the newspaper has faced mounting financial woes, the decision to end its operations came after the killing of Breach, a correspondent for national newspaper La Jornada and collaborator for Norte, a colleague with whom Cantu said he was close.
“Everything in life has a beginning and an end, a price to pay,” Cantu said in the letter, which was also published online. “And if this is life, I am not prepared for any more of my collaborators to pay it, nor with my own person.”
The tragic news of Breach’s death made Cantu angry, tired and “fed up,” he said. Over the course of its 27 years in publication, the newspaper’s reporters have been in “the line of fire” and have faced a number of risks as a result of their coverage, risks that are heightened because of the newspaper’s close proximity to the border, Cantu said. But with the death of Breach, the realities of the profession hit closer to home than ever before.
“For me, a free press is a pillar of democracy,” Cantu said. “If I can no longer do the type of journalism that I want to do … I cannot accept it anymore. Enough.”
Shutting down the print and digital operations will eliminate about 150 jobs, he said, adding that he hopes to help employees relocate to other publications or companies. The closure was a difficult decision, he said, but added, “I would rather they lose their jobs than lose their lives.”
Cantu also attributed the decision to ambiguous financial concerns that he blamed on authorities: “The arrogant refusal to pay debts contracted for the provision of services.” In Mexico, government advertising is a major source of revenue for many news outlets, including Norte. But Cantu said the financial troubles paled in comparison to the dangers.
The risks are especially high for smaller, locally-focused publications such as Norte, Cantu. Killings of journalists who work for national outlets like La Jornada, one of Mexico’s main daily newspapers, are relatively uncommon.
In general, reporters in the country are often “treated as the evil of society,” in a similar way that Trump referred to journalists as the “enemy of the people,” Cantu said.
“It is an act of protest,” Cantu said of the newspaper’s closure. “It is my way of protesting with silence.”
Norte, which printed about 30,000 copies of its newspaper during the week, and 35,000 on the weekend, was one of five local newspapers in Juarez, a border town of 1.3 million people, just south of El Paso, Texas.
At least 38 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992 for motives confirmed as related to their work, according the Committee to Protect Journalists, a media advocacy group based in New York. Fifty more journalists were slain during the same period for reasons that remain unclear.
“Mexico is clearly going through a deep, full-blown freedom of expression crisis,” Carlos Lauria, senior program coordinator for the Americas at Committee to Protect Journalists, told the Associated Press. “It’s affecting Mexicans, not only journalists, because the fact that a newspaper closes is depriving people of information that they need in order to take informed decisions.”
Lauria said he had no evidence that the three killings of journalists last month were linked, but he called Breach’s death “very alarming” and part of a pattern of journalists being murdered with impunity in the country.
Breach was a highly respected, veteran reporter who covered crime, politics and other issues, according to Committee to Protect Journalists. Her death prompted scores of journalists and supporters of free speech to protest in Mexico City.
On March 2, Cecilio Pineda Birto, a freelancer and the founder of La Voz de Tierra Caliente, was killed at a carwash in Ciudad Altamirano, in the state of Guerrero. On March 19, columnist Ricardo Monlui was shot twice near the city of Cordoba in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, a state plagued by warfare between rival criminal groups. At least 1,258 people were murdered in the state last year, according to news reports.
On Wednesday, veteran journalist Armando Arrieta Granados, the editorial director of the daily Veracruz newspaper La Opinion, was shot and gravely wounded by four bullets as he returned to his home in the city of Poza Rica, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Arrieta, a 51-year-old journalist with more than two decades of experience, remained in serious condition in the hospital after the shooting, media reports said.
In light of the news of Norte’s closure, many readers spoke out in solidarity with the owner’s decision, while some reporters lamented the loss of jobs and vital local journalism. Herika Martinez, a reporter and photographer for Norte, tweeted Sunday,”today, a part of journalism in Juarez died.”
One reader commented on the announcement on the newspaper’s website that local journalists “do not deserve to lose anyone else in this fight against those who only see our city, state and country as a bounty for their lust for wealth and power.
“The memory of their struggle will not be erased,” the reader wrote. “Citizens will always be grateful for their valuable dedication to make this world a better place for our children.”