HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Mexico 2nd Only To Iraq In Journalist Slayings
Pubdate: Thu, 10 May 2007
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2007 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Marion Lloyd


Five evenings a week, Amado Ramirez fielded complaints from his radio 
listeners on everything from corrupt public officials to the booming 
drug trade in this famous resort city.

Then, on a Friday night, just blocks from a beach-side strip of bars 
where thousands of tourists were partying, a gunman ambushed Ramirez 
in his car as he attempted to leave his Radiorama office. Bleeding 
profusely from bullet wounds in the chest, side and thigh, Ramirez 
dragged himself several yards to a hotel to plead for help, according 
to police and witness reports. Minutes later, he collapsed dead.

The murder April 6 came as a shock even in this city inured to 
drug-related violence. Ramirez, 50, who also worked as a 
correspondent for the Televisa TV network, was the most prominent of 
the more than two dozen reporters and editors slain nationwide since 
2000. To his frightened colleagues, his murder confirmed a chilling 
fact: Mexico, in the grips of an escalating drug war, has become the 
world's second-deadliest country for journalists after Iraq.

"Of course we're scared," said Ricardo Castillo, news director for 
Acapulco's leading daily, El Sur. "He was the most visible of all of 
us, and his murder was meant to send a message."

The killing was intended as a show of force by traffickers waging a 
turf war for control of both the local market and the lucrative 
smuggling routes to the United States, said Castillo.

"More than an effort to silence the media, it's part of a strategy to 
instill terror," he said. "The assassination of a journalist isn't 
just any killing. It touches the basic fibers of society."

The danger appears to be rising.

Statistics vary among watchdog groups, but they agree that Mexico has 
surpassed Colombia, a country plagued by decades of guerrilla and 
drug violence, in the number of journalists killed each year.

Seven Mexican journalists were slain last year, according to a count 
by the Miami-based Inter American Press Association. The Paris-based 
Reporters without Borders tallied nine killings, and the Federation 
of Mexican Journalist Associations reported 11.

Three journalists were killed in Colombia last year, according to 
Reporters without Borders. The group counted 65 journalists and media 
assistants slain in Iraq over the past year.

A Bloody Warning

Many Mexican reporters, particularly in the embattled border states, 
have stopped writing about organized crime, and, as the drug war 
spreads south, journalists across the country are becoming targets. 
On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, the decapitated body of a local 
drug dealer turned up outside a newspaper in the eastern port city of Veracruz.

According to local press reports, the killers left this warning: "For 
Milo, you'll all pay. You know it, and more heads of damned reporters 
are going to roll." The threat was presumed to be directed at Milo 
Vera, a local columnist.

"There's total impunity," said Jose Antonio Calcanio, president of 
the Federation of Mexican Journalists Associations, which represents 
137 journalist groups nationwide.

"The government has no interest in resolving any of these cases," 
Calcanio said. "It's only when there's a prominent case like Amado 
Ramirez that they pretend to act, but then they forget, and nothing happens."

Two suspects were arrested in the days after the radio host's murder, 
but both were released on bail.

Many of Ramirez's colleagues suspect the men were scapegoats.

In February 2006, amid pressure from international watchdog groups, 
then-President Vicente Fox created a special prosecutor's office to 
focus on crimes against journalists. The results have been slim, 
critics say, in part because the office doesn't have jurisdiction 
over organized crime cases. Those fall under the jurisdiction of 
another office, the deputy attorney general's office for organized crime.

"They haven't been given the necessary teeth to do their job," said 
Carlos Lauria, Americas director for the New York-based Committee to 
Protect Journalists, who was active in pressuring for the creation of 
the special prosecutor's office. Still, he blamed the country's 
corrupt and inefficient judicial system for the lack of progress in 
most of the cases.

The special prosecutor, Octavio Orellana, was not available for 
comment. But he has defended his office in the past, saying its main 
job is to prevent violence against journalists by investigating 
threats before they become reality.

Nearly 1,000 people have died in gangland-style killings related to 
drug-trafficking in the first four months of the year, compared with 
2,000 in all of last year, according to Mexico City's El Universal 
newspaper. The southwestern state of Guerrero, home to Acapulco, has 
been one of the hardest hit, with some 300 gangland homicides last year.

The city made headlines worldwide after several heads were dumped 
outside government offices last summer and another washed up on a beach.

Then came a series of armed raids on local police stations, including 
one in which seven state officials died in February. After Ramirez's 
murder, the U.S. State Department updated its travel advisory for 
Mexico, for the first time warning of drug-gang violence in Acapulco.

Local authorities have tried to downplay Ramirez's murder. They say 
Ramirez, married with two daughters, was probably killed in 
connection with a lover's quarrel -- a theory that infuriates his colleagues.

They note that Ramirez, who reportedly received death threats a month 
before he was killed, was not the only local journalist at risk. The 
night of his murder, a security guard at his radio station reported 
receiving a call with the threatening message: "We haven't finished. 
We're going for one. Misa is next."

'Passion' May Have Limits

Misa is believed to be Misael Habana, Ramirez's outspoken co-host of 
the nightly radio show. Both men frequently criticized the government 
for failing to clean up the local police force, which is suspected of 
links with traffickers.

A few days after Ramirez was killed, a previously unknown group 
calling itself the Revolutionary Insurgency Brigades took 
responsibility for the murder and said in an e-mail that another 25 
journalists were "in the sights" of organized crime.

"Before, when we went out on a story, our editors told us, 'Good 
luck.' Now they say, 'Be careful,' " said Eduardo Laredo, an Acapulco 
radio reporter who took part in a May 3 march here to demand that 
Ramirez's killers be brought to justice.

"Journalism is a passion," he said. "But there will come a time when 
we'll have to choose between our passion and our lives."


Recent Attacks On Journalists

* Feb. 6, 2006: Gunmen storm the offices of El Manana in Nuevo 
Laredo, wounding reporter Jaime Orozco. The paper stops detailed 
reporting of the drug war. * Aug. 9, 2006: The body of Enrique Perea 
Quintanilla, the founding editor of a monthly investigative journal 
is found near Chihuahua City. Police blame organized crime.

* Nov. 21, 2006: Roberto Marcos Garcia, deputy editor of the weekly 
Testimonio in Veracruz state, is shot dead on the street after 
receiving death threats.

* Jan. 20, 2007: Rodolfo Rincon Taracena, an investigative journalist 
in southern Tabasco state, disappears the day he publishes a story on 
local trafficking.

* April 24, 2007: Saul Martinez Ortega, a reporter for Interdiario de 
Agua Prieta, is kidnapped and killed while investigating the murder 
of a policeman.

Sources: Reporters without Borders, the Committee to Protect 
Journalists and news reports
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman