At least seven journalists killed for their work in Latin America in 2020; Mexico deadliest country for profession in the region

At least seven journalists working in Latin America were killed in 2020 in reprisal for their work and two more while on a dangerous assignment, according to data from an annual report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). This represents one third of all journalists murdered globally for their work this year.

A majority of the Latin American cases took place in Mexico, according to CPJ’s records.

"While the number of journalists killed for their reporting in Latin America continues to decline from record highs earlier this decade, the increase in journalists killed from 2019 to 2020 shows that the region continues to be a deadly place for the press," Natalie Southwick, program coordinator for Central and South America & the Caribbean for CPJ, told LJR. "Local reporters covering politics, crime, and corruption face some of the greatest risk, with criminal groups responsible for the majority of journalist murders, from Mexico to the Brazil-Paraguay border. Sadly, the common thread across the region is impunity: even as deadly violence against the press is on the rise again, authorities consistently fail to bring those responsible to justice or take the necessary steps to protect the most vulnerable reporters."

At least four journalists were targeted and killed in the country this year: Maria Elena Ferral Hernández was shot in Papantla, Veracruz on March 30; Jorge Miguel Armenta Ávalos died in an armed attack in Ciudad Obregón, Sonora on May 16; Pablo Morrugares Parraguirre was shot in Iguala, Guerrero on Aug. 2; and Julio Valdivia’s decapitated body was found in Tezonapa, Veracruz on Sept. 9.

Additionally, reporter Israel Vázquez Rangel was shot in Salamanca on Nov. 9 while reporting on the discovery of human remains. CPJ defines his death as occurring on a “dangerous assignment.”

CPJ notes that Mexico has a history of being the most dangerous country in the Western hemisphere for journalists as it “operates amid a complex web of criminal, drug-trafficking gangs and entrenched official corruption.”

The organization also noted Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s promise to end violence and impunity in relation to violence against the press. It said, however, that the “cycle continues unabated,” pointing to CPJ’s 2020 Global Impunity Index that ranks Mexico sixth in the world for unsolved crimes against journalists.

“López Obrador has only rarely engaged with CPJ and other press freedom and civil society organizations, and has denigrated Mexico’s media in his daily early-morning press conferences, taking a page from the playbook of U.S. President Donald Trump -- an attitude viewed with dismay by the country’s journalist community in light of the dangers they face,” CPJ wrote in its report.

CPJ said at least two journalists killed this year along with their bodyguards received assistance from the beleagueredFederal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists.

Elsewhere in Latin America, at least two journalists were killed in Honduras this year for their work.

TV host German Vallecillo Jr. was shot and killed in La Ceiba on July 1 and freelance journalist Luis Alfonso Almendareswas killed on Sept. 27 while broadcasting via Facebook Live in Comayagua.

CPJ said “violence and threats to the media from organized crime and weak rule of law have led to a climate of fear and self-censorship” in Honduras.

In Paraguay, Brazilian journalist Lourenco Veras, editor-in-chief of Porã News, was killed near the border of the two countries on Feb. 12.

And in Colombia, radio host José Abelardo Liz was killed while on a dangerous assignment in Corinto on Aug. 13.

There are nine other cases in Latin America in which CPJ is still investigating motives and that the organization classifies as “unconfirmed.”

In Mexico, CPJ is investigating the killings of radio host Fidel Ávila Gómez in Guerrero on Jan. 7.; news host Arturo Alba in Ciudad Juárez on Oct. 29;  journalist Jesús Alfonso Piñuelas in Sonora on Nov. 2; and photojournalist Jaime Castaño Zacarías in Zacatecas on Dec. 9.

Journalist Leonardo Pinheiro was killed while conducting an interview in the state of Rio de Janeiro on May 13.

In Guatemala, Bryan Leonel Guerra, who had reported threats via social networks, died on March 3. Mario Ortega died on Nov. 14 after spending four days in critical condition following being shot.

Radio show host José Carmelo Bislick Acosta was abducted on Aug. 17 and his body was found the next day in Güiria, Venezuela.

And in Honduras, camera operator and technician Jorge Posas was killed along with journalist German Vallecillo Jr., but CPJ is investigating whether the death was related to his work.

“The number of journalists murdered in retaliation for their work [globally] more than doubled in 2020, as criminal gangs and militant groups targeted reporters working in violent but democratic nations,” the report said.

To make its annual listing, CPJ looked at killings from Jan. 1 to Dec. 15, 2020 and considered only those cases in which the motive was confirmed to be related to the journalist’s work. Other organizations have different criteria, which explains why the number of journalists reported as murdered this year can vary.

We have taken note of other journalists reported as killed in Latin America by other organizations.

Mexican journalist Víctor Fernando Álvarez Chávez, editor and director general of site Punto x Punto Noticias, disappeared from the state of Guerrero on April 2. Part of his body was found six days later.

Venezuela reporter Andrés Nieves Zacarías, who worked for La Guacamaya TV, died on Aug. 21 when police raided the local broadcaster’s headquarters, according to UNESCO.

And Brazilian journalist Edney Menezes was killed in his car in the state of Mato Grosso on Nov. 15.