By Gabriel Lerner, Editor Emeritus, La Opinion

Six journalists have been killed in Mexico this year: José Luis Gamboa from Veracruz, on Jan. 10; Margarito Martínez Esquivel, from Tijuana, on the 17th, Lourdes Maldonado, also from Tijuana, on the 23rd, Roberto Toledo from Zitácuaro, Michoacán, on the 31st, Ernesto Islas Flores from Tijuana, on Feb. 6, and Héber López from Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, on the 22nd.

In comparison, in all of 2021, there were nine murders. And 147 since the beginning of the year 2000.

The situation worsens.

And our Mexican colleagues are not only killed: since 2000, there have been more than 20 unsolved disappearances of journalists.

The beatings, the theft of work materials, the phone calls with threats, number in the thousands.

The criminalization of the victim by those who are responsible for clarifying the facts, due to inaction, ineptitude or indifference has become a common process. Investigations are artificially delayed.

Data is often leaked to re-victimize targeted reporters. As if the life of a journalist has absolutely no worth whatsoever. Consequently, the guilty are rarely identified, arrested, charged or punished.

Exercising the journalistic profession in Mexico today is almost like placing a target on one’s back, where assassins can aim and shoot.

It’s like working in a country at war.

Surrounded by Danger

Danger lies in wait for them both from the underworld and from circles of power uncomfortable with the truths that our colleagues uncover.

They don’t want the truths journalists are seeking to come to light.

If they are drug traffickers, because their profits are in danger; if they are politicians, because freedom of expression is their enemy and the right of citizens to be informed, their greatest threat.

In Mexico, as in other Latin American countries, violence seems unstoppable: a hundred people die from violence every day.

Almost all crimes go unpunished. And every crime uninvestigated is an invitation to the next.

Last week at the morning press conference of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), the handful of journalists who attended the event in Tijuana refused to ask the president any more questions, in protest of these murders.

AMLO differentiated between ordinary journalists and street reporters and the “media elite,” against whom he has an ongoing feud and insisted on denouncing.

But then a local colleague tearfully read the names of those killed.

They all said “PRESENTE,” after each name was read. They also protested in Mexico’s two houses of government.

“We work under the shadow of being killed and our crimes are never solved,” they said.

Last month, journalists protested in at least 30 cities demanding a stop to the killings.

“We want to stay alive,” they said. They carried signs that read: “Stop the murders of journalists, Justice now!”, “Let’s defend freedom of expression,” “The job insecurity of journalists is also violence,” “The truth cannot be killed,” and “Hugs to drug traffickers, bullets to journalists,” with photos of colleagues whose lives were violently cut short.

Journalists and their allies reacted; they organized mobilizations and protests, they appealed to the executive power. But the attacks continue, because the system of impunity requires that injustice be followed by silence.

And the result is self-censorship. Multiple local Mexican media are limited to reporting on entertainment and general neighborhood happenings. In several states, they almost no longer report shootings, or corpses, not even on social media.

Zones of Silence Multiply

When journalists and their editors, out of fear, stop informing the community, the situation becomes even more urgent.

To the Mexican journalists who are mobilizing, we express our deep solidarity with their situation. We fully support your demands to the executive powers for protection, clarification and justice.

If there is no change in priorities, our neighbor of Mexico will become a news desert, and crime and misrule will reign from the shadows.

And there will be no one left to unmask them.