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Mexican Newspaper Closes Out of Fear for Journalists’ Safety

  • Gioconda Tapia Reynolds

El Norte newspaper is pictured after the paper announced its closure due to what it says is a situation of violence against journalists in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, April 2, 2017.

“Adios!” With that front-page farewell, the daily El Norte newspaper in the northern Mexico city of Juarez announced its closing this week – primarily out of fear for its journalists’ safety.

The last print edition came out Sunday and the final digital edition was posted Tuesday, ending more than a quarter-century of covering the city and its surroundings at the U.S.-Mexico border, across from El Paso, Texas.

Oscar Cantu Murguia, the paper’s director, told VOA he reached that decision after the March 23 shooting death of former colleague Miroslava Breach Velducea. A correspondent for La Jornada national newspaper, she was gunned down in her driveway in Chihuahua, capital city of the state that shares its name. Juarez lies at its northern edge, almost 350 kilometers, or 215 miles, north.

The investigative journalist’s murder “forced me to reflect that everything that we have done, what we have shown and published in 27 years, has not made any progress,” Cantu said in a Skype interview Wednesday.

He described the paper’s closing as his “protest” that deadly assaults against journalists are conducted with impunity.

“It is very painful to see a life lost, but it is even more painful if nothing is done to clarify that murder and to continue reporting on crimes as a natural occurrence,” Cantu said, contending authorities don’t aggressively investigate and prosecute attacks against journalists.

Mexico’s federal Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes Against Freedom of Expression said it had opened an investigation into the attack on Breach, the watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on the day of her shooting.

Mexico is among the world’s most dangerous places for journalists, with at least 38 reported killed since 1992 for motives tied to their work, according to CPJ records. At least five of those deaths have occurred since October.

That toll doesn’t include other violence. Just days after Breach’s death, Armando Arrieta Granados, a journalist with the daily Veracruz newspaper La Opinion, was shot and gravely wounded outside his home in the city of Poza Rica, according to the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, based at the University of Texas in Austin. The Veracruz attorney general’s office announced it was investigating the March 29 shooting.

Violence is wielded to silence or intimidate journalists. Breach reportedly had been probing the effects of drug trafficking on governance. Cantu said that El Norte over the years had reported on government improprieties and on corruption.

“We see how the three levels of government – federal, state and municipal – have led a policy of strangulation with the media,” the Knight Center quoted Cantu as telling another news organization, El Universal, this week. “It is institutionalized violence. Frankly, there is neither security nor economic conditions to continue working.”

El Norte, which published about 30,000 daily copies during the week and 35,000 on the weekend, had been grappling with financial distress. In interviews with various media, Cantu said Chihuahua’s governor cancelled publicity contracts with the paper and still owed back payments for “services rendered.” The paper’s closing would put about 150 people out of work, he told The Washington Post.

Some readers responded to the closing with sadness or indignation, telling the journalists they shouldn’t give up.

Cantu objected to the characterization.

“It is unjust to tell us that we surrender when it is society that has tolerated this situation,” he told VOA. In his view, Mexican authorities have surrendered. By closing the paper, he’s issuing a call “so that we have more firmness. And let us not allow such crimes against the exercise of democracy.”

“Everything in life has a beginning and an end, a price to pay,” Cantu wrote in his final column for El Norte. “And if this is life, I am not prepared for any more of my collaborators to pay it, nor with my own person.”

VOA’s Carol Guensburg contributed to this report.

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