Protests in Mexico on anniversary of journalist Valdez's murder

Culiacán (Mexico) (AFP) –


Mexico is marking one year since the killing of acclaimed journalist Javier Valdez on Tuesday with protests and calls for the murder not to go unpunished, like so many others.

Valdez, the co-founder of the newspaper Riodoce and a longtime contributor to Agence France-Presse, was gunned down in broad daylight near his newspaper's offices on May 15, 2017 in Culiacan, capital of the violent state of Sinaloa.

The killing drew international condemnation.

The 50-year-old journalist was one of the most prominent chroniclers of Mexico's deadly drug war in a state where Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, now imprisoned in the United States, once reigned.

Protesters will mark the first anniversary of his death with a series of marches around the country -- the main one in Culiacan -- calling on the authorities to punish those responsible and stop the wave of violence against journalists in Mexico.

"This tribute, these events, this national day of protest is about reminding people that this murder happened, that it shouldn't go unpunished, that there must be justice," said Valdez's longtime colleague and Riodoce co-founder, Ismael Bojorquez.

"Let it be a message to those who order these crimes that they can be punished," Bojorquez, the paper's current editor, told AFP.

Valdez was among at least 11 journalists murdered in Mexico last year, making it the deadliest country in the world for the press after Syria, according to watchdog group Reporters Without Borders.

Since 2000, more than 100 journalists have been murdered nationwide.

The killings are rarely punished, like more than 90 percent of violent crimes in Mexico.

Racked by brutal violence linked to the multi-billion-dollar narcotics trade, the country posted a record number of homicides last year: 25,339.

- Killed for asking questions -

Asking questions about powerful drug cartels or government corruption can be a deadly job in Mexico.

After nearly a year of silence on the investigation into Valdez's death, authorities arrested a first suspect last month.

According to investigators, Valdez was likely a victim of the internal power struggle that erupted in the Sinaloa cartel after "El Chapo" Guzman was extradited to the United States in January 2017.

With Guzman cut off from the world in solitary confinement in New York, the cartel's leadership structure began to unravel.

Guzman's right-hand man, Damaso "The Graduate" Lopez Nunez, went to war with the kingpin's sons, Ivan Archivaldo and Alfredo Guzman Salazar.

In February 2017, Valdez scored a rare interview with Lopez Nunez, who denied responsibility for a recent attempt on the Guzman brothers' lives.

But something in it rubbed "The Graduate" the wrong way. The day the interview came out, someone bought up every single copy of Riodoce and carted them away.

"I think our editorial mistakes began with the interview of Damaso," said Bojorquez.

"We had a long-standing policy that we shouldn't interview capos, but we made an exception, and it was a mistake. Because they think you're just going to publish whatever they tell you to."

Three months later, the award-winning journalist and father of three was dead.

Investigators say a witness told them three hitmen for Lopez Nunez confessed to the crime at a party, showing off specially engraved pistols they received as a reward.

One of the three, nicknamed "The Koala," was arrested last month.

Another is in prison for a different crime and expected to be charged soon in Valdez's killing. The third was found burned to death in an abandoned car in September.

- Case not closed -

Protesters in Culiacan will march to the Sinaloa state prosecutor's office to demand justice.

"Until both the killers and those who ordered the murder have been arrested and sentenced, this case will not be closed. That will be our permanent, constant demand," said Valdez's widow, Griselda Triana, who has left Culiacan with her family for their safety but returned for Tuesday's march.

Valdez and another acclaimed journalist murdered last year, Miroslava Breach, were honored last month with a new journalism prize launched in their honor by the United Nations and AFP.

The first annual Breach-Valdez prize was awarded on May 3 to Mexican journalist, writer and documentary filmmaker Daniela Rea for her work chronicling the violence racking the country.