The fatal story of a Mexican reporter

STORY: This is part of Mexico’s Interoceanic Corridor - one of President Lopez Obrador’s megaprojects designed to develop the south of the country.

It includes work on a breakwater at Salina Cruz in Oaxaca.

This coastal area has a reputation as a landing spot for precursor chemicals to make fentanyl and meth.

It’s also the backdrop to a news story about a local politician's alleged efforts to win re-election… and the shooting dead of the reporter who wrote it.

Mourned by his family, Heber Lopez Vasquez is one of 13 journalists killed in Mexico in 2022, the deadliest year on record for the nation’s newsrooms.

He’d published a story on Facebook accusing local politician Arminda Espinosa Cartas of corruption.

Her brother was one of two men arrested, but no one was charged over Lopez' murder.

Espinosa herself did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

Since Lopez's death, fellow journalists say they are more afraid to publish stories delving into the corridor project - or ones touching on drug trafficking and state collusion with organized crime.

“We’ll keep on informing, but the most important thing is to stay alive. There are definitely issues you cannot address. You cannot address the topic of presidents connected to organized crime, you cannot address the topic of insecurity in the region of the Interoceanic Corridor: we all know the organized crime sell them the sand, the gravel, the rods, the cement. They are in charge of the construction, of carrying the stones, of everything. You cannot address those issues because they could cost you your life.”

Hiram Moreno knows the risks.

He was shot three times in 2019, and now has a panic button issued by a government body known as the "Mechanism" - set up to protect journalists.

But Moreno has little faith in its effectiveness.

“The ‘mechanism’ is not the solution to guarantee the safety of any journalist in Mexico. They have not done and they will not do it because there are elements and resources to do so. What the current government lacks is the will to guarantee the safety of all the journalists who are risk. We are not special people, we are agents of change, we inform, we are messengers, we are the ones who allow democracy and security to prevail, partly. In this country there is no security.”

Since 2017, nine reporters enrolled in the Mechanism have been murdered, according to a rights group.

An investigation by Mexico’s human rights commission found evidence of multiple failings by the authorities.

Interior Ministry official Enrique Irazoque said the Mechanism accepted those findings, but he highlighted the local lack of action and political will.

"The truth is that the mechanism is absorbing all the problems," he said "but the issues are not federal, they are local.”

Mexican politicians can also be quick to accuse reporters of corruption.

The president frequently chastises reporters who publish stories painting his administration negatively.

He condemns the murders, while accusing adversaries of talking up the death toll to discredit him.

The president’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Since the start of Mexico's drug war in 2006, upwards of 133 reporters like Heber Lopez Vasquez are estimated to have been killed.

That and the staggering 360,000 other homicides registered in that time is taking its toll on all Mexicans, according to Balbina Flores from Reporters Without Borders.

“Society pays the cost. There is a society that gets used to a situation of violence and to feeling more vulnerable. The people in those areas say that if that happens to a journalist who works for a news outlet and who works to inform, what could happen to citizens?”