Daniel Martinez Bazaldua: Journalist Mutilated in Mexico Shows Cartel Power to Smother the Media

The body of Mexican photographer and student Daniel Martinez Bazaldua, 22, was found mutilated alongside another early Wednesday morning in Saltillo, Coahuila, some three hours from the Texas border. A note from the Zetas, one of Mexico’s most powerful and brutal criminal organizations with a large presence in the region, took responsibility and threatened police from making investigations.

State representatives quickly indicated that Martinez had criminal ties. Vanguardia, the news outlet which employed Martinez as a society photographer, condemned the state for passing judgment “without an investigation or evidence or testimony.”

In March the Zocalo newspaper chain, which also operates in Coahuila, announced that it would no longer cover drug stories for the safety of its employees.

Vanguardia has demanded a thorough investigation. Vanguardia reported that Elodia Brondo, the regional delegate for the Coahuila inspector general’s office, preemptively reported the location of the bodies so that when police arrived they didn’t find anything. Only after the third pass over the location did they encounter the bodies, which were chopped to pieces, suggesting that Brondo knew too much.

The Zetas, who may have more power than the Mexican government depending on the area, are known for beheadings, torture, and mangled corpses in horrid public display.

Mexico is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous places to be a reporter. According to Mexico's special prosecutor for crimes against freedom of expression, 67 journalists were killed and 14 disappeared between 2006 and 2012. Statistics vary widely between organizations. The Committee to Protect Journalists, an NYC-based independent nonprofit, says that of 67 journalists killed since 1992, 18% were photographers. The CPJ suspects criminal groups behind 76% of the murders, and 88% of perpetrators enjoy complete immunity.

Alejandro Cartagena, a photographer from Monterrey, Mexico, goes on assignment with an assistant because wielding a camera on the street by himself is too dangerous. Photographers can be perceived as a threat, and given the ubiquity and depth of the cartel networks, Cartagena cannot be sure of his safety, even among normal pedestrians.

Systematic impunity lies at the root of violence against the press. CPJ investigations and interviews point to the overwhelming opinion that the justice system is run by the cartels. Negligent and unlawful practices by authorities go unchallenged because Mexican society answers to the sprawling criminal organizations. The media censors itself on crime and corruption and investigative journalism for fear of reprisal.

The surge in violence in Mexico has been driven in part by the U.S.-led war on drugs. Since 2006 when the U.S. government started pouring billions of dollars into the fray, around 50,000 people have been killed, and the cartels are only ever more powerful. Demand for narcotics and marijuana in the U.S. has enabled the incredible surge in the cartels’ presence in Mexico.