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Journalist narrowly escapes armed attack in Mexico after 3 killed this month

The Deadliest Assignment
The Deadliest Assignment: Where reporting can get you killed 10:56

Another journalist was attacked Wednesday in Mexico, where three have been killed so far this month. Jose Ignacio Santiago said he narrowly escaped when a car carrying armed assailants tried to cut his vehicle off on a rural highway in the southern state of Oaxaca.

Santiago said he was able to escape because he was accompanied by two bodyguards assigned to him under a government program to protect journalists. Santiago had been assigned the guards after he was abducted by a gang in 2017.

The attack came one day after press groups held more than a dozen demonstrations throughout Mexico Tuesday to protest the killings of three journalists since the start of the year.

Santiago said the bodyguard driving him was able to outmaneuver the attackers, but the assailants opened fire when they saw the journalist's car escaping. Santiago, the director of an online news site, was not injured.

He had been taping video in a remote Triqui Indigenous area, and that may have angered one of the groups battling for control of the region.

"I don't think I have any problems in that area, but they may not have liked seeing news media in the area," said Santiago. "It is a Triqui area."

Some 10,000 Triquis live in remote, impoverished communities in the mountains of Oaxaca. Three Triqui groups are locked in a decades-long armed struggle that has seen dozens of killings. In 2010, a Finnish human rights observer and a Mexican political activist were shot to death in the same area.

Attacks on journalists have spiked this month.

In the border city of Tijuana, two journalists were killed in the space of a week. On January 17, crime photographer Margarito Martínez was gunned down outside his home. And on January 23, reporter Lourdes Maldonado López was found shot to death inside her car. Three years before her death, Maldonado asked Mexico's president for help — "because I fear for my life," she said.

A journalist stands near the coffin of Mexican journalist Lourdes Maldonado during her wake in Tijuana
A journalist stands near the coffin of Mexican journalist Lourdes Maldonado who was killed in the northern border city of Tijuana, during her wake in Tijuana, Mexico January 26, 2022.  JORGE DUENES/REUTERS

On January 10, reporter José Luis Gamboa was killed in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz.

Officials have acknowledged that more than 90% of murders of journalists and rights defenders remain unresolved, despite a government system meant to protect them.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists puts the percentage at 95%, said its Mexico representative Jan-Albert Hootsen.

"The ongoing brutality against the journalists in this country is a direct consequence of the authorities' unwillingness and inability to combat the festering impunity that fuels these killings." Hootsen said.

Laura Sanchez, a journalist from Baja California living in Mexico City, ridiculed the government program that is supposed to protect journalists Tuesday. The government program often gives journalists a button fob that can sound an emergency alarm, but some say it is useless.

"What they give us is a damned panic button, and you know what that button is? It is the number of the municipal police supervisor who is corrupt and sold out," Sanchez said.

Mexico remains the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere for journalists. The government says 52 journalists or media workers have been slain in Mexico since December 2018.

It says seven of the 52 killed were enrolled in the protection program.

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