Mexican governor of Veracruz resigns to face corruption charges; 17 journalists have died during his administration

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  • October 14, 2016

By Silvia Higuera and Teresa Mioli

Javier Duarte de Ochoa, governor of Veracruz, Mexico who has been the subject of widespread criticism for the high levels of violence against journalists in his state, has resigned from his position as he faces unrelated corruption charges.

He announced in an interview with Televisa on Oct. 8 that he would ask the Veracruz Congress for  leave with the objective of confronting charges including illegal enrichment and embezzlement. However, this was done with just 48 days left in his term, according to El Universal. Duarte has denied any wrongdoing.

Since Duarte took office in December 2010, 17 journalists have been killed and five more have disappeared in Veracruz, according to freedom of expression organization Article 19 Mexico. Additionally, his attitude toward the press has been subjected to scrutiny.

As previously noted by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in the past, his administration “has sought to dismiss any possible link between journalists’ murders and their profession.” He has also accused reporters of having links with criminal organizations, it added.

This record has caught the attention of freedom of expression advocates within Mexico and abroad. For example, in February 2016, Carlos Lauría, senior Americas program coordinator for CPJ, wrote a column for Univision arguing that Duarte should resign.

Although Lauría said Duarte could not be held solely responsible for violence in the state, he added that "the governor is responsible for the failure to achieve justice in any of these cases and the terrible environment in which journalists must work.”

Following the July 20, 2016 murder of Pedro Tamayo Rosas, Article 19 Mexico director Ana Ruelas called Veracruz a failed state, according to Sin Embargo. Tamayo Rosas was under state protection at the time of his death.

Ruelas pointed to authorities’ dismissal of journalistic work during investigations of murdered journalists as a major problem in the state, the publication added.

Tamayo Rosas is just one of three journalists from Veracruz killed this year.

Ana Flores Salazar’s body was found in Puebla a day after she had been kidnapped from her home in Veracruz on Feb. 8. Immediately following her kidnapping, the prosecutor in Veracruz linked Flores Salazar to a suspected member of a criminal organization. However, the state prosecutor has since said that she was killed “because of publications that affected the interests of a criminal group.”

Manuel Torres González, editor-in-chief of news site Noticias MT, was killed on May 14 leaving state offices in Poza Rica, Veracruz. Following the death, news site Animal Político pointed out that a statement from the Attorney General’s Office of Veracruz did not identify Torres as a journalist.

These deaths are just the most recent in a long line of nearly continuous murders of journalists in Veracruz since Duarte took office.

One of the most well-known cases was the July 31, 2015 murder of Veracruz-based photojournalist Rubén Espinosa in Mexico City. He was killed along with activist Nadia Vera and three other women. Espinosa had fled to the capital out of fear for his life.

In addition to his work covering sensitive issues, like protests, Espinosa raised awareness about violence against journalists in Veracruz and Mexico as a whole. At the time of his death, many pointed to a photo he had taken of the governor that graced a cover of Proceso magazine including a story about killings of journalists in Veracruz and alleged complicity of public officials to not clear the cases, according to Sin Embargo.

In August of this year, journalist Noé Zavaleta, who is a correspondent for Proceso in Veracruz, left the state because of threats and abuse following the release of his book “The Hell of Javier Duarte: Chronicles of a fateful government.” The book mentions high-profile murders of journalists in Veracruz during Duarte’s time in office and reports irregularities in the handling of some cases.

The Attorney General’s Office of the Republic (PGR for its acronym in Spanish), the Tax Administration Service (SAT) and the Superior Audit Office of Mexico are currently investigating Duarte for the disappearance of 35 billion Mexican pesos (about US $1.8 billion), according to El Universal. The PGR is also investigating Duarte for illegal enrichment, embezzlement and breach of duties, the Associated Press reported.

Duarte’s membership in the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI for its acronym in Spanish) was suspended in September.

The former governor is also accused of having connection with organized crime. Miguel Ángel Yunes, governor-elect of Veracruz and member of the National Action Party, made this accusation and recently promised to help in investigations against Duarte.

According to The New York Times en Español, Veracruz has the highest homicide rate in the country and the third highest debt.

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.