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Journalist killings in Mexico raise concerns among colleagues

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

The new year has hardly begun, and yet it's already been a deadly year for reporters in Mexico. Journalist Lourdes Maldonado Lopez was shot dead in her car in Tijuana this past Sunday. Her death marks the second time a journalist was killed in the city within just the last week, the third this year in Mexico. For decades, Maldonado covered corruption and politics in Mexico, facing detractors and harsh work conditions. Her situation became so dangerous that in 2019 she asked the Mexican president for help because she feared for her life.

Joining us now to discuss the situation is Vicente Calderon. He's the editor of the news website Tijuana Press. Thank you so much for taking the time.

VICENTE CALDERON: Thank you for the solidarity with these sad cases.

KHALID: So Vicente, you knew both of these journalists who were killed in the last week. I cannot imagine what you are going through, and I'm very sorry. But I do want to hear from you about how you're just, you know, personally emotionally dealing with the fact that your journalist colleagues, your peers, are gone.

CALDERON: We have been doing a lot of soul-searching here in our newsroom just because we are so used to violence. We know these guys because we were not just acquaintances. We shared time, and we talked during press conferences. I'm just not that shocked yet because I think...

KHALID: Yeah.

CALDERON: ...In a city like Tijuana, you kind of learn to deal with violence because you are covering it on a daily basis.

KHALID: So it almost sounds like you're not immune to the grief, but you haven't been able to really process it because you're so used to seeing it around you. You know, Vicente, I imagine, though, there's got to be a level of intimidation in these killings that affects those of you who are still working in the city. And have you changed how you operate as a journalist? Are you, you know, taking different routes, trying to stay safer yourself, just knowing what's happened in the last week?

CALDERON: All the local reporters are trying to be more conscious about our surroundings, just more alert. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that we are facing conditions like this. I've been telling my colleagues about, well, I was in 1988 doing the same, demanding justice for another colleague gunned down. And here we are again in 2022, asking for the same and suffering the same.

KHALID: You know, Vicente, I want to have you expound on that a bit. I mean, is there a sense then that these are perhaps coordinated attacks or that these are just random acts of intimidation? Or maybe, you know, it sounds like authorities don't know at this point.

CALDERON: I think there's not enough evidence to rule out anything. I don't think we have seen any things that will link the two crimes. Both cases were in a difficult situation. I mean, Margarito was living in a very dangerous neighborhood.

KHALID: And he's the photographer who was killed.

CALDERON: Margarito was the one who was killed on Monday, the 17 of January, yes.

KHALID: OK.

CALDERON: Lourdes was involved in a legal dispute. I mean, unfortunately, in this city and in this country, they kill cops, they kill lawyers, they kill doctors or even minors. Kids were gunned down as some victims of random violence between organized crime groups. The first reactions specifically from us reporters is to think that this is linked to journalism. We need to be very cautious and mindful that there's a lot of many other reasons it could be.

KHALID: You know, Vicente, it sounds like you're accustomed to a cycle of violence, you're saying. But that being said, when you see what's happened already just this year, are you scared? Are you scared for yourself?

CALDERON: I'm afraid, but still, we find ways to produce our stories. Sometimes we have to hold it for some time. Sometimes we have to look for other avenues to publish it. Sometimes we need to find somebody in the government that is willing to back up that.

The violence is not just against journalists. The problem is that violence is against everybody. And it's very easy to kill somebody and not face consequences in this country.

KHALID: That's Vicente Calderon, editor of Tijuana Press. Thank you so much for talking with us.

CALDERON: Thank you, Asma.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIK FRIEDLANDER'S "NIGHT WHITE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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