Mexican Crime Reporter Gumaro Pérez Aguilando Shot To Death

Dec 20, 2017
Originally published on December 22, 2017 2:37 pm
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RAY SUAREZ, HOST:

Mexico is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. That fact was underscored yesterday. Gumaro Perez Aguilando, a local crime reporter, was shot and killed while attending a Christmas party at his son's elementary school in the city of Acayucan. He appears to be the 12th journalist killed in Mexico this year. NPR's Carrie Kahn is based in Mexico City and joins us now to talk about why it's such a risky place to work as a reporter. Carrie, good afternoon.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good afternoon, Ray.

SUAREZ: Tell us more about this latest killing.

KAHN: Oh, it's terrible. This man, Gumaro Perez, was at his son's elementary school. They were holding the end-of-the-year Christmas party. Dozens of parents and children were there at the time the gunman came in and shot Perez. This all took place in a town not far from the coast in the southern state of Veracruz. And Veracruz is the deadliest place for journalists in all of Mexico. Perez was enrolled in a state protection program for journalists there. A spokesperson for that program said he had been in the program since 2015 but hadn't spoken to them lately about any threats.

SUAREZ: Do authorities have any suspects in mind? And what is it that makes Veracruz more dangerous for reporters than other Mexican states?

KAHN: As usual, authorities don't mention suspects or motives, but what usually happens is they try to negate that the murder had anything to do with being a journalist. They'll say things like the victim had personal problems. So far, there have been no statements about Perez yet. The conventional wisdom in journalist killings is that it's drug traffickers or organized crime upset about what they're writing. With nearly none of these cases ever solved, it's hard to say who killed them. But in a state like Veracruz where official corruption is at an all-time high, increasingly reporters are writing about politicians, high-profile businessmen in their nexus with organized crime and drug cartels. So there are many actors that are thought to be involved in these killings now.

SUAREZ: 2017 was a particularly tough year for journalists in Mexico, and then there have been some very high-profile killings. Reporters Without Borders says murders of media workers were down this year, but that drop has not extended to Mexico, too.

KAHN: Yeah, that's true. This year has been an extremely violent one in Mexico. For 2017, we get these stats each month, and each month they say this is the highest number of homicides they've had since they started keeping murder statistics. We're talking about 2,000 killings a year, and reporters seem to be getting caught up in that overall violence, too. And a lot of the violence has been tied to increased corruption, a lot too with the fracturing of drug trafficking groups. And these fractured, smaller gangs are thought to be leaderless, less organized and much more violent.

SUAREZ: So what does this do to the work of reporters in Mexico in general? How can they do their job in this environment, and are many of them just leaving the profession, pulling their punches or leaving the country altogether?

KAHN: Yeah, they are, all of those things. It's a difficult time to be a journalist in Mexico. Even those that had connections to foreign press - and I'll just give you two examples - Miroslava Breach in the state of Chihuahua by the border and Javier Valdez who worked in the capital of Sinaloa. He was just an amazing, great journalist, and he was a great collaborator with all of us in the foreign press corps, recognized internationally for his work, and we all thought - and he did too - that that would protect him, but it didn't. He was gunned down on the street just a block from his office. I went to his funeral this year, and hundreds poured out with respect for him. It was really heartbreaking. And a lot of journalists, and especially those at his paper, say they're going to go on. They won't be silenced.

SUAREZ: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn. Thanks a lot.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.