Veracruz Is Mexico's Most Dangerous Place To Report

The tourism website Mexconnect, claims that "The Mexican State of Veracruz brings to mind beautiful Gulf of Mexico waters, steamy jungles and mouth-watering seafood." If you read the news, it may bring to mind a turf war waged by three drug cartels, and a heap of mutilated bodies.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block at NPR West.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel in Washington, D.C. The tourism website, MexConnect, claims that the Mexican state of Veracruz brings to mind beautiful Gulf of Mexico waters, steamy jungles and mouthwatering seafood.

If you read the news, though, it may bring to mind a turf war waged by three drug cartels who kill and mutilate people, including journalists. Brooke Gladstone, co-host of WNYC's On the Media, traveled to Veracruz earlier this month and she sent us this report.

BROOKE GLADSTONE, BYLINE: On the day I went to the state of Veracruz, another reporter was murdered. Victor Manuel Baez Chino worked the crime beat for the daily, Milenio, in the state capital, de Xalapa. A message from the Zetas found near his body read, this is what happens to those who betray us and try to be clever.

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GLADSTONE: Veracruz is now the most dangerous place in Mexico to do journalism. Nine killed in 12 months, many by the Zetas, deemed the most sadistic of the cartels. Roughly 60 miles from Xalapa sits the port of Veracruz, with a lovely central square lined with cafes and a band that gamely plays to mostly empty chairs.

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GLADSTONE: A few blocks away, the Parroquia, a cavernous coffee house where journalists cluster with their cameras, rising wearily to photograph a steady stream of candidates in these final days of a contentious election season. A woman in a white coat wanders through with a blood pressure cuff. It's a great location to sell a stress test. Reporters are fine targets.

A recent kill list of journalists was rumored to have come not from the cartels, but from the prosecutor's office. Rumors are rampant. The only certainty is that reporters can expect no protection. This 23-year-old newspaper reporter who writes lifestyle pieces is terrified.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through translator) Maybe because I don't know who can be listening to me, can be watching me. It feels like every journalist is walking around with a target on his back.

GLADSTONE: Elia Baltazar is cofounder of Journalists on Foot, a woman-centered nonprofit that provides support and training to journalists.

ELIA BALTAZAR: (Through translator) Try to think in another country where you would have the same amount of journalists murdered in such a short period of time. I mean, our colleagues who were murdered in Veracruz three weeks ago, these three people, they peeled their faces off. What kind of democratic country is that? The country is being silenced.

GLADSTONE: But Veracruz is not entirely mum. There's a new paper in town.

LUZ MARIA RIVERA: (Through translator) My name is Luz Maria Rivera. I am the correspondent of La Jornada Mexico daily in Veracruz. I am also a director of (unintelligible) that has recently been created. The Mercury of Veracruz.

GLADSTONE: The new newspaper in Veracruz. Are you crazy?

RIVERA: Yes. I crazy. I crazy.

GLADSTONE: The front page of your first issue has two articles devoted to violence against journalists. It doesn't seem as if you're shying away from covering the violence in Veracruz.

RIVERA: (Through translator) It is a contradiction. Sometimes I say I want to - I don't know how to call it. I will not keep a distance. Otherwise, I have already left. When they killed Regina, we all got very scared, especially the women.

GLADSTONE: This is a beautiful place where, by all accounts, the institutions are entirely inoperative. If you get the story out, it's likely to make no difference. Do you feel like you're just putting a message in a bottle and throwing it out into the bay?

RIVERA: (Through translator) Of course. Clearly, that's the every day effort of journalism here, with the advantage that we have the sea. Our colleagues in the north don't have it. They will have to go to the desert. Of course, it is throwing messages in bottles into the sea. I'm thinking that maybe nobody is picking them up, but one day, someone will find them.

GLADSTONE: We step out onto her tiny balcony and face the sea.

RIVERA: I feel too much love. I love Veracruz. I love my people, my country, my state and this city is beautiful.

GLADSTONE: Luz bravely blows a kiss to the port she seems literally willing to die for.

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SIEGEL: Brooke Gladstone is co-host of WNYC's On the Media, which airs a full hour from Mexico this weekend.

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