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Mexico’s missing journalists haunt debate on violence

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MEXICO CITY: It’s been seven years since Guadalupe Angeles last saw her father, a Mexican journalist who, after anonymously publishing a sensitive story, left home one day and never came back.

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Now 24 years old, she says it is hard to cope not only because she does not know what happened to him, but also because other journalists are suffering the same fate.

“It hurts me to see that people keep disappearing for telling the truth,” she says. “And the fact that, just like in my father’s case, the investigations go nowhere and the government’s attempts to stop this from happening don’t work.”

Twenty-four journalists have gone missing in Mexico since 2003, according to Article 19, a watchdog group that works to protect the press.

Nearly 100 others have been killed in the same period—just some of the more than 200,000 bodies that have piled up in a spurt of violence fueled by the multi-billion-dollar narcotics trade and government corruption.

The most recent, and high-profile, journalist to be murdered in Mexico was noted crime reporter Javier Valdez who was shot dead on May 15. AFP PHOTO

The most recent, and high-profile, journalist killed was the noted crime reporter Javier Valdez on May 15.

The murder of Valdez—an award-winning author of several books on Mexico’s drug cartels and an AFP contributor—drew international condemnation.

It also prompted a promise from President Enrique Peña Nieto to do more to protect journalists.

But less than 24 hours after the President’s unprecedented speech, another journalist disappeared: Salvador Adame, head of the TV station Canal 6 in the state of Michoacan.

Gunmen kidnapped Adame on the night of May 18 after surrounding him and forcing him into a black car.

Adame had been investigating a gas station he suspected to be a front for organized crime, in collusion with the authorities, a colleague said on condition of anonymity.

‘A form of torture’
Guadalupe’s father, Ramon Angeles Salpa, also disappeared in Michoacan.

The western state has been a frequent scene of the sort of tangled tales of intrigue and violence that plague various parts of Mexico: corrupt politicians, cartel turf wars and vigilante militias allegedly infiltrated by the very same cartels.

Angeles had recently published a story about alleged attempts to wrest away a local indigenous group’s land—a touchy subject in a region where the lucrative avocado-farming industry was caught up in bloody turf wars between rival drug cartels.

Wary of the fallout, he decided not to put his byline on the article. His family learned he had written it only when a colleague told them after his disappearance.

But they have no way of knowing for sure if that is why he went missing.

In a recent report, Article 19 described the pain of missing journalists’ families, who—in the absence of conclusive investigations—may never know what happened to their loved ones or why.

“The uncertainty… generates high levels of anguish for their families,” it said.

“That is why forced disappearance is a form of torture.”

The wife of Salvador Adame, the journalist abducted on May 18, suffered a heart attack last week.

The authorities often only make things worse, activists say.

Under Mexican law, a missing person investigation can be opened only after 72 hours.

And in many cases, the authorities resist investigating the victims’ journalism as a motive for their disappearance.

In Adame’s case, state prosecutors initially theorized that he was indebted or involved in a love triangle.

“Without even investigating, they have the gall to make these kinds of public statements in a completely irresponsible way,” said Balbina Flores of watchdog group Reporters Without Borders.

“There are appalling delays in searching for (the missing), a total lack of will.”

Not a single missing journalist’s case has been solved, she said.

“The level of impunity has created an extremely perverse incentive for the murders and disappearances to continue,” said Leopoldo Maldonado of Article 19.

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