MEXICO CITY – A journalist has been killed the northern Mexico border city of Tijuana — the second in the city in a week and the third in Mexico this month.
Mexico President Andrés Manuel Obrador called Monday for a full investigation and cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the motive for the murder of Lourdes Maldonado López, a Tijuana journalist who once sought his help.
Maldonado was found fatally shot inside a car Sunday, according to a statement from the Baja California state prosecutor's office. Authorities received a 911 call around 7 p.m. and found Maldonado dead.
In 2019, Maldonado went to López Obrador’s daily morning news conference and asked for his help “because I fear for my life."
Sunday's attack was not the first on Maldonado. In April 2021, her car was sprayed with gunfire, after which authorities offered her municipal police protection and a panic button for emergencies, said Leopoldo Maldonado, a lawyer for the press organization Artículo 19 who is not related to the journalist.
Lourdes Maldonado had been locked in a years-long labor dispute with Jaime Bonilla, who was elected governor of Baja California later that year as a candidate from López Obrador's Morena party. He left office late last year.
Maldonado had recently announced that she won her dispute with a media company Bonilla owned after nine years of litigation.
The press organization Article 19 said via Twitter that Maldonado had covered corruption and politics in Tijuana and faced aggression previously because of her work. She was enrolled in the state's protection system for journalists who have been threatened, but the group did not detail the security measures.
On Monday, López Obrador said an investigation was needed to know “if there is a tie with the labor complaint and see who is responsible.”
“You can't automatically tie a labor lawsuit to a crime. It's not responsible to rush to judgement, you have to wait,” the president said.
He added that after she came to his news conference in 2019, he helped her, but he did not specify how. In an interview last July, Maldonado said that after she complained to the president judges started taking her case seriously.
“She was in a lot of danger,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, representative in Mexico for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “We don't know where that danger came from, we don't know who could have been the mastermind or the perpetrator, but obviously it tells us that the situation is very serious in Tijuana and all of the country.”
Maldonado had collaborated with many outlets, but recently was doing an internet, radio and television show, “Brebaje,” focused on local news.
Another Tijuana journalist, photographer Margarito Martínez, was gunned down outside his home on Jan. 17. He was well known for covering the crime scene in the violence-plagued city. He worked for the local news outlet Cadena Noticias, as well as for other national and international media outlets.
He had received recent threats and a local organization had requested protection for him. Leopoldo Maldonado said Martínez's colleagues managed to get him “a direct line to the National Guard.” But it didn't save him.
There was no indication the two killings were connected. Tijuana has been torn by drug violence as rival cartels battle for control of lucrative border smuggling points and the Tijuana street-level drug trade.
Mexico is the Western Hemisphere's most violent country for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The main problem is impunity, which has been recognized by members of the administration including Interior Undersecretary for Human Rights Alejandro Encinas, even though the president has dismissed it as a problem caused by his predecessors.
“More than 95% of the murders and disappearances of journalists in Mexico never make it to trial and even less to a sentence,” Hootsen said.
According to the CPJ count, which is the most conservative among organizations tracking attacks on journalists, since the current administration began on Dec. 1, 2018, at least 32 journalists have been killed and 15 disappeared.
Many of the crimes have occurred in areas with an organized crime presence and high levels of general violence, like Tijuana, because there a hit can be ordered and carried out without consequences.
According to federal government data, in December Baja California had the second most homicides per capita. In 2021, nearly 2,000 people were slain in Tijuana.
Mexico has had a federal “mechanism” for a decade to provide protection to journalists and human rights defenders facing threats. Some 500 journalists and 1,000 rights activists are enrolled. Most states have similar systems.
The measures provided range from panic buttons and surveillance systems installed at their homes to bodyguards. But since collaboration between organized crime and government officials is so common, many remain suspicious of government-backed protection.
According to CPJ, in the last five years, 10 journalists with some type of protection have been killed. Hootsen added that there have also been hundreds of cases of intimidation, theft of equipment and temporary detention that are never investigated or sometimes even reported.
Demonstrations against the killings were scheduled across Mexico for Tuesday.
“The only way to is to speak out,” Hootsen said, noting that past protests have elicited promises from officials that were never carried out.
He hopes this time will be different, because if not “the next two or three years are going to be brutal and the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador is going to go down in history as the government that talked a lot (about the problem) but did nothing.”