Number of journalists murdered in Latin America increases 163 percent by 2022

Twenty-nine journalists and communicators were murdered in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2022, according to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) counted up to Dec. 20. Of these, 13 cases have been proven to be related to the journalistic activity of the victims, while 16 others are still under investigation.

The number of murders of journalists in the region equaled the historical record of 2011 when 29 media professionals lost their lives in Latin America and the Caribbean. CPJ's survey includes cases of violence against journalists worldwide since 1992. This represents a 163 percent increase over 2021.

The explosion of violence against journalists in Mexico partly explains the numbers: 13 journalists were murdered in the country in 2022. The country is one of the world's most dangerous for journalists -- in 2022, it was second only to Ukraine, which has been fighting a war against invading Russia since February. There, 15 journalists have died covering the confrontation.

"As impunity grows, and if crimes against journalists are not punished, there are incentives for those who want to harm journalists," Mexican journalist Javier Garza told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR) earlier this month. "Anyone who wants to kill a journalist [in Mexico] can be reasonably certain that they will get away with it because the last person did."

In Mexico and other Latin American countries, however, there is no formal confrontation between military forces. Most murders of journalists follow the same script: an ambush in which one or two gunmen fire several shots at the victims. In other words, contract killings.

One of the most emblematic cases of the year took place on May 9, with the double murder of Yesenia Mollinedo and Johana García. The Director and camera operator, respectively, of the news portal El Veraz, were both shot while in a car outside a convenience store, according to the newspaper El Universal. Armed men on a motorcycle carried out the attack, according to reporter Carlos Alberto Santos, who reported the killing from the scene via Facebook Live.

Haiti also proved to be one of the most dangerous places for press professionals, with six murdered this year, according to CPJ's monitoring. The Caribbean country is going through a serious security crisis caused by the action of armed criminal groups, anti-government protests, and the excessive use of police force, reported the Inter-American Press Association.

On Oct. 30, Haitian journalist Romelson Vilcin, of Radio Génération 80, was outside a police station with other colleagues calling for the release of journalist Robest Dimanche, who was being held there. According to the police version, police officers fired tear gas to disperse the group and a gas canister hit Vilcin in the head, who later died in hospital. This version is disputed by Haitian journalists.

"Romelson Vilcin was shot dead in the courtyard of the Delmas 33 police station. A policeman who lost control of his machine gun opened fire in Romelson's direction while others bombarded us with tear gas. Several other press workers were brutalized by the police," said journalist Reynald Petit-Frère, president of the Haitian Online Media Collective (CMEL), the day after the crime.

In Brazil, British journalist Dom Philipps, who worked as a freelance writer for various publications such as The Guardian and The Washington Post, was murdered in Atalaia do Norte, a town on the border between Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. He was gathering information there for a book he was writing on sustainable development in the Amazon. Brazilian indigenous peoples expert Bruno Pereira, who was accompanying him, was also murdered.

The double murder in the Amazon drew international media attention to a routine of violence that local communicators have long known. "We have a weakened local media and journalistic ecosystem that cannot sustain itself and cannot produce because it has no money and is in the mouth of the wolf. So how can we guarantee independent, original journalistic production, with reporting on a daily basis, if there is no infrastructure to guarantee the minimum of security?," researcher Jéssica Botelho, responsible for mapping Brazil's Northern region in Atlas da Notícia, told LJR in June.

In Chile, the death of journalist Francisca Sandoval came as a shock because it was the first death of a journalist in the country since the end of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, that is since democracy was restored. The last murder of a journalist was in 1987, when state intelligence agents shot José Carrasco Tapia to death in his home in front of his family.

Magdalena Saldaña, a Chilean journalist and researcher at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, told LJR in May that "for decades, the biggest problem of the Chilean press has been the high concentration of media, where a couple of journalistic conglomerates own the radio stations and television channels. There is talk of a lack of pluralism, a lack of independence, of alternative views (...) But, the problem of fear, that you lose your life doing your job [as a journalist], was relegated to the years of the dictatorship.”

Other Latin American countries where journalists were murdered were Colombia (2), Honduras (2), Ecuador (1), Guatemala (1), and Paraguay (1).