Unable to protect journalists where they work, Mexico resorted to hiding them in safe houses across the country. After years of increasing entanglement with criminal groups, the Mexican government is in some sense in a battle with itself, with case after case in which the government is, or at least appears to be, as involved in the crime as in the punishment. Sometimes the connection is clear. In 2017, Miroslava Breach Velducea, a journalist in Mexico’s northern state Chihuahua, was shot dead by a drug gang after years of reporting on corruption and criminal groups. A former mayor Breach had reported on, Hugo Amed Schultz Alcaraz, later admitted to passing along recordings of the journalist to members of the gang that killed her and was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in her death.
But concerns about government complicity often fall on deaf ears. In 2014, Rubén Espinosa, a 31-year-old photographer, began receiving threats after the newsmagazine Proceso published a picture he took of Javier Duarte de Ochoa, then governor of the state of Veracruz, in an article declaring it a “lawless state.” In 2015, after fleeing Veracruz, Espinosa was shot to death with four others in an apartment in Mexico City. At least 17 reporters from Veracruz were killed while Duarte held office, a gruesome record. The former governor is now in prison on organized-crime charges, but he has never been indicted in connection with any of the killings. Of 105 investigations of killings of journalists in Mexico since 2010, only six resulted in homicide sentences, according to Human Rights Watch.
Far from defending journalists, some of the country’s most prominent officials have turned on them. In 2021, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador added a new weekly segment to his morning press briefing called “Who’s Who in Lies.” In December, he took aim at three reporters, including Ciro Gómez Leyva, a prominent television anchor, saying that “if you listen to them too much, you could even get a brain tumor.” The next day, Gómez Leyva was driving home from his broadcast when two men on a motorcycle opened fire on his car. The anchor survived only because the car was equipped with bullet-resistant glass windows.
Armando Linares knew that investigating the local government could be risky on many levels. At his last news outfit, a daily broadsheet called El Despertar, he had spent months looking into connections between the state prosecutors’ office and the drug gangs it was supposedly pursuing. His colleagues had warned him that the newspaper was dependent on ads from the local government. Soon enough, the state attorney general called a meeting with the newspaper’s owner seeking to shut down the reports. When Linares heard about the meeting, he confronted the owner and soon left the paper, several of his colleagues told me, though it was unclear if he had been fired or resigned out of protest.
One former colleague described Linares to me as the kind of street reporter who was so plugged in that he sometimes showed up at crime scenes before the police. But he also had had drinking problems and years before went to rehab for drug addiction. He was married but hadn’t lived in the same house as his wife and three children in years. Joel Vera Terrazas, his colleague at Monitor Michoacán, told me that reporting “is what saved Armando from Armando, from his demons.” When Vera, a prominent attorney in Zitácuaro, spotted Linares at a traditional Mexican sweat lodge on the outskirts of town after he parted ways with El Despertar, he said he could see the toll the last months had taken on his friend. And so Vera made Linares a proposal: He would bankroll a new outlet in town with Linares at the helm.