MEXICO CITY—Ciro Gómez Leyva, one of Mexico’s best-known radio and television reporters, heard the shattering sound of gunshots ricocheting off his car window pane while driving home from work in his armored vehicle last month. The bulletproof glass saved him from becoming one more statistic in a deadly series of attacks against journalists in Mexico.
In 2022 alone, at least 13 Mexican journalists were assassinated, the most ever in a single year. The country holds the record for the highest number of assassinations of journalists working outside a war zone, and also has the highest number of missing journalists worldwide, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The attack on Levya sparked massive outcry from fellow Mexican journalists, who put out a video and hundreds of tweets in support of Leyva in the aftermath of the assassination attempt.
“The countless demonstrations of affection and solidarity that I received, including those from practically the entire journalistic union in Mexico, is something I’ll never stop being grateful for,” Leyva told The Daily Beast in a recent interview
Rife with corruption and organized crime, Mexico is a dangerous place to cover the news. And while the country is known for its drug-related violence, experts point at state authorities as the main aggressors against journalists. Over half of the registered attacks are linked to coverage of corruption and politics.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has only inflamed the situation. He repeatedly attacks journalists, saying that they “lie like they breathe.” On Dec. 14, the day before the attack, Obrador lambasted Levya and other high-profile Mexican journalists, calling them “very dishonest people,” who are “even harmful to your health. If you listen to them a lot, you can develop a tumor in your brain.”
Obrador baselessly suggested that the attack might have been organized to destabilize his government.
“He [Obrador] is faithful to what he has said all his life,” Levya says. “His discourse and actions are those of an endless struggle of a good people, which he claims to symbolize and represent, against a sinister conspiracy of corrupting forces, made up of all those who do not agree to follow his guidelines or, worse still, dare to criticize or contradict him.”
Uncertainty remains about the motives behind the attempted assassination. “Yesterday, I suffered an attack,” he announced when he returned to his TV show the following day. “Somebody wanted to kill me. I don’t know who. I don’t know why.”
It is still unclear but Mexican authorities arrested 16 suspects in the state of Mexico and the state of Michoacán on Dec. 11 and 12. Pool Pedro “N”, the leader of a criminal cell linked to homicides, extortion, and drug dealing, is among the key suspects arrested but there is no obvious motive for attacking Levya.
Leopoldo Maldonado, regional director of Article 19—a global organization defending free expression—finds the president’s relentless attacks on the press deeply problematic. “This discourse is permissive for other attacks,” he said in an interview with The Daily Beast.
Levya still believes he’s in a better position than most.
“Despite everything, I’m a privileged journalist,” he says. “I work in two very strong companies. I direct and host two national newscasts on radio and television.”
Yanely Fuentes, reporter and co-founder of Diario Alternativo, a small local media outlet in the state of Guerrero, says she’s been subject to numerous threats and aggressions. They range from knocks on her door to intimidate her, to physical harassment and the killing of animals at her parents’ home. The attacks, she says, are a consequence of her reporting on abuses by local community police in the state, such as torture in local prisons.
Hootsen agrees that in smaller communities, “the situation gets really sketchy” for journalists. Law enforcement is poor, and local journalists are easily identifiable. “It’s a small village. Everybody knows everybody,” she said, noting that some of the most aggressive police live just a few blocks from her home in Marquelia, Guerrero.
As the threats got worse, Fuentes had to leave her home with her 10-year-old twin sons. She moved to Barcelona, Spain, for 6 months through Taula por Mèxic, a program that provides temporary protection to Mexican journalists and activists at risk. Fuentes now lives in a Mexico City shelter, scrambling to resume her reporting career.
Although their backgrounds and level of celebrity couldn’t be more different, Leyva and Fuentes share a fear for their lives.
Hootsen says he hates the cliché of “fearless journalists” because “these journalists fear for their lives every single day.”
Leyva no longer dares to walk alone, saying the assassination attempt changed his life overnight. “The attack was a very sad, painful, unfortunate event. One of the joys in my life was living as just another citizen, without bodyguards and personal protection. Walking alone through the streets and parks, shopping in small stores, coexisting with others , driving my car. That’s over, at least for a while.”
Fuentes can’t avoid the dangers of walking alone.
“When I’m done talking to you here, and I take the metro by myself, anything can happen,” she told The Daily Beast. “I can’t control my anxiety anymore, not under these conditions.” She added that rarely gets to see her kids, who live with their father in Guerrero, and got teary-eyed as she recalled her son once telling her: “Mom, we don’t want to go out with you, because they’ll kill us.”
Despite all the trauma they’re dealing with, both Leyva and Fuentes refuse to be silenced.
Fuentes remains hopeful about returning home someday. “No,” she said, shaking her head after being asked whether she considered leaving journalism.
Leyva has no intention of quitting either, “I made the decision to continue working,” he said. “I’m a journalist, not an academic. A journalist in a violent and dangerous country.”