Día de Muertos a time to remember fallen Mexican journalists

Cempasuchil (marigolds), sugar cane, candles, calaveras (skulls) and other treats adorn a five-step altar. Among them, there are photos of four Mexican journalists and activists killed for their work.

Students at the University of Texas at Austin erected the Altar de Muertos (Altar of the Dead) for Proceso journalist Regina Martínez, photojournalist Rubén Espinosa, Veracruz activist Nadia VeraEl Diario reporter Armando Rodríguez Carreón and citizen journalist María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio.

The exhibit, organized by student group Discussing México, was built to honor the lives of those who fought for freedom of speech and of the press in México.

"This exhibit is a celebration of the life and work of journalists and activists who have bravely reported and spoken up against political corruption and organized crime in México. Their lives were unfairly taken," a poster near the altar read. "Today we pay tribute to them."

Nov. 2 marks both the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos, in which celebrants pay honor to the deceased in part by creating altars in their memory, and the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, which was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly to push for investigation and punishment in crimes against journalists.

In Mexico, altars to fallen journalists were built in Veracruz, Monterrey and Mexico City.

The altar at the Memory and Tolerance Museum (Museo Memoria y Tolerancia) in Mexico was covered in marigolds and pink flowers surrounding a computer. Empty picture frames hung on the wall behind.

On the night of Nov. 2 in Austin, Texas, students and community members passed the altar created by Discussing México and learned the story of violence that confronts journalists and activists in Mexico on a routine basis.

Armando Rodríguez Carreón, also known as "El Choco," was a police beat reporter for El Diario in Ciudad Juárez near the Mexico-U.S. border. He was murdered on Nov. 13, 2008 in his driveway while protecting his daughter. For many years following his death, colleagues have fought for investigation into his death. Two federal investigators working on his case have been murdered, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). His killers remain free.

Four years later, police found reporter Regina Martínez's body in her Veracruz home on April 28, 2012 with signs of beating and strangulation. Martínez was a veteran reporter and a correspondent for newsmagazine Proceso. Her death, which remains in impunity, was part of rising violence in the state of Veracruz.

María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio's death was an important moment for citizen journalists in Mexico, who often report news that other outlets cannot or will not. Fuentes Rubio was a physician and citizen journalist from Reynosa who used Twitter to anonymously report on cartel activity in northern Mexico. She also contributed to citizen news site Valor por Tamaulipas.

She was kidnapped on Oct. 15, 2014 and the following day a photo of her corpse was posted to her Twitter account, @Miut3, with the following message: "My life has come to an end today...Don't put your families at risk like I did. I'm sorry. I died for nothing. They are closer on our trail than you think."

In the most recent case of extreme violence against freedom of expression in Mexico, Proceso photographer Rubén Espinosa and activist Nadia Vera, both from Veracruz, were brutally killed in an apartment in the Narvarte neighborhood of Mexico City on July 31, 2015. Three other women in the apartment at the time also were killed. No one has been convicted in this case.​​

Their deaths, which occurred in a city previously considered a safehaven for journalists, launched international campaigns drawing attention to the problem of violence against journalists in Mexico and impunity in those cases. Additional attention has been pointed at the country's troubled protection mechanism.

These journalists represent just a fraction of the media workers killed in Mexico in recent years. According to CPJ, 35 journalists have been killed in the country since 1992. However, when counting journalist murders reported by other organizations and cases in which the killings have not been directly linked to the journalist's work, the number rises to more than 80 journalists killed in Mexico in the past ten years.

So far this year, seven journalists have been killed in Mexico, making it the deadliest country in Latin America for journalists. Four of the journalists murdered were from the state of Veracruz.

Additionally, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Mexico eighth on its 2015 Global Impunity Index, which lists countries where murders of journalists go unpunished. It is the highest ranked Latin American country on the list.

The Discussing México altar was sponsored by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, the Center for Mexican American Studies and the Benson Latin American Collection. It will be on display at the LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections at UT-Austin for the next few weeks.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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