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Spate of Attacks Targets Journalists in Mexico

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 12, 2005; Page A18

MEXICO CITY, April 11 -- The publisher of an influential newspaper in the city of Veracruz was shot to death as he drove home Friday night, only days after a radio reporter working along the U.S. border was hospitalized after being shot nine times and a third Mexican journalist was reported missing.

The shootings and abduction are raising concerns about the safety of journalists who report on drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico, media groups said. Four Mexican journalists were killed last year, including a prominent Tijuana journalist, Francisco Ortiz Franco, who was shot in his car in a stunning daylight execution while his two small children sat in the back seat. His case has never been solved.

Relatives and friends attend a funeral for Raul Gibb Guerrero, publisher of La Opinion newspaper in Veracruz that reported extensively on drug trafficking. (Martin Reyna -- Reuters)

"It's incredible," said Ricardo Trotti of the Inter American Press Association, which is based in Miami. He said security has been a serious issue for journalists in Mexico, as it has been in recent years in Colombia and Brazil, and that his group was sending a letter to President Vicente Fox asking for thorough investigations and help from the federal police to solve crimes against journalists.

Raul Gibb Guerrero, 53, was head of the award-winning La Opinion newspaper in Veracruz, on the Gulf of Mexico. The paper had reported extensively about the drug trafficking organization known as the Gulf cartel, as well as about an organized crime group involved in fraudulent oil sales.

A spokesman for La Opinion, Abel Andrade Licona, said Gibb Guerrero remained dedicated to his work despite death threats. Andrade said witnesses have told police that four assailants traveling in two cars fired on the publisher's car, shooting him three times in the head. The day before he was killed, Gibb Guerrero had received two death threats made from a pay phone, Andrade said. More than 60 federal and state agents have been assigned to the case, police authorities said.

"The way he was skillfully killed really caught our attention," Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, the nation's leading organized crime prosecutor, said at a news conference Saturday. "It seems what is plaguing us in these cases is drug trafficking."

In the northern border state of Tamaulipas, authorities said Monday that two journalists had been given police protection following the shooting last week of Dolores Guadalupe Garcia Escamilla. Garcia, 39, a police reporter for the radio station Stereo 91, had filed stories on the dramatic rise in drug-related violence in Nuevo Laredo, on the U.S.-Mexican border. Police said she was attacked April 5 in front of the radio station offices and was shot in the stomach, leg and arms.

She remains hospitalized in serious condition.

There is also growing concern about Alfredo Jimenez Mota, 25, a newspaper reporter who disappeared this month. He has written about crime and drug trafficking for El Imparcial in the northern state of Sonora. He was last seen April 2 after phoning a colleague to say he would join him after meeting one of his contacts.

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