“HEARST” for Borderland Beat
A journalist was shot to death by a cartel hitman in the state of Puebla. The journalist had a history of investigating cartel groups and exposing the sexual abuse of minors by local Catholic priests.
President Lopez Obrador has ruled out that he was killed for his journalism but the United Nations has called for an investigation which considers that motive.
The story the murdered journalist covered just five days before his murder focused on the former Governor of Puebla, his phone call with the the richest-man-in-Mexico, and a child sexual abuse ring.
The Murder of the Journalist
At approximately 1:30 pm during the afternoon of May 23, 2023, cartel hitmen began following journalist Marco Aurelio Ramírez Hernández. The hitmen had been surveilling his house and they began stalking him shortly after he left his home and entered his vehicle, a gray Volkswagen Jetta.
Ramírez Hernández, 69 years old, lived in the Agua Blanca neighborhood in the town of Tehuacán, which is located in the state of Puebla. Ramírez Hernández had been working as a journalist for over 30 years and in 2018, he briefly worked in the local mayor’s office, according to the human rights organization Articulo 19.
Soon after Ramírez Hernández began driving, one of the hitmen ran up to his vehicle and opened fire on him through the driver’s side window. The hitman reportedly shot him at least five times. The shooting caused the journalist to crash his car into a tree on a nearby sidewalk.
Soon after the crash, residents of the area reached out to police for help. When paramedics and municipal police officers arrived at the scene of the crash, Ramírez Hernández was found to no longer have a pulse and he was declared deceased on scene. Whether he died from gunshot wounds or car crash injuries has not been released as of the writing of this story.
Witnesses told police that the hitman was seen running in the direction of Geranio Street. Newspaper El Sol de Puebla writes that “it is presumed that he was not working alone and blocks ahead they [the accomplices] were waiting for him [on Geranio Street].”
The state Attorney General’s Office (FGE) is currently investigating the homicide. El Sol de Pueblo also points out that “there are security cameras in the area that could have captured part of the attacker’s escape.”
His Professional Career
Marco Aurelio Ramírez Hernández began working in journalism at an unusually young age, following in the footsteps of his father José Ramírez Bravo, who ran the local printing press and worked at the news publication El Cuarto Poder.
Ramírez Hernández began his professional career at El Cuarto Poder, working alongside his father. He went on to work at a number of different news publications, such as Periodico Central, Milenio Puebla, and El Sol de Tehuacán.
El Sol de Puebla writes that “In 2006, Ramírez Hernández was recognized as an important part of the investigations carried out related to the case of pedophilia of the priest Nicolás Aguilar in Tehuacán, where the priest’s rape of more than 80 minors was uncovered. The investigation was later detailed by the journalist Sanjuana Martínez, who won the National Journalism Award for his work.”
Ramírez Hernández’s investigative work into cartel groups led to him becoming a member of a government Security Roundtable, where he consulted on how to best fight organized crime. In 2018, he was appointed by the mayor of Tehuacán to the position of Director General of the Government.
In recent years, Ramírez Hernández began co-hosting a local radio program on Estéreo Luz FM alongside journalist Ángel López Cárdenas.
The President’s Statement
On May 25, a representative of the United Nations Human Rights Council said the organization “urges the authorities to include the journalistic work of the victim as a line of investigation, without prejudice to advancing in other relevant strategies in parallel.”
On May 26, President Lopez Obrador was asked about the homicide of Marco Ramírez Hernández during his morning press conference. The exchange went as follows:
QUESTION: About Tehuacán [referring to the killing of Ramírez Hernández].
PRESIDENT ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR: Ah, progress is being made. Yesterday the governor already gave a statement on this, the physical perpetrators have already been found, nothing more than that I cannot say more.
QUESTION: [More information] By Monday?
PRESIDENT ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR: Yes, I hope as soon as possible. And also, I can give a little bit of background.
He [Ramírez Hernández] was a close friend of the late Miguel Barbosa. Remember that Miguel Barbosa is from a nearby municipality, not from Ajalpan, but from another municipality, from Tehuacán. The late Barbosa grew up there in Tehuacán. So, this gentleman was a close friend of Barbosa’s, and he was secretary of the city council of Tehuacán, where he was born, which is very close to Tehuacán.
JESÚS RAMÍREZ CUEVAS: Yes, from the area, from the region.
PRESIDENT ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR: From Ajalpan, yes, towards Teotitlán, towards Oaxaca, Teotitlán de los Flores Magón. Well, and a good person. That is the information we have, the deceased. And it is already being seen, it seems that it has nothing to do with recent journalistic activity, it is a matter…
JESÚS RAMÍREZ CUEVAS: He was an official of the City Hall.
PRESIDENT ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR: He was a secretary of the City Hall, yes, but we are already working on it and we will inform you.
Reactions to the Homicide by Major Organizations
United Nations Human Rights Council
Note: The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is a United Nations body whose mission is to promote and protect human rights around the world.
The Mexico Office of the UNHCR, and its representative Jesús Peña Palacios, put out the following statement:
The Mexico Office of the UNHCR condemns the murder of journalist Marco Aurelio Ramírez Hernández, committed on May 23, 2023, in Tehuacán, Puebla, and calls on the authorities to redouble their efforts for a prompt and effective investigation of this crime.
[…] During 2022, the UN-DH documented that at least nine journalists and five media collaborators were killed in possible connection with their journalistic activities.It is essential to ensure that the authorities investigate, clarify the facts and punish those responsible.
In parallel, progress must be made in addressing the structural causes that favor these attacks, to sustainably guarantee the safety of those who practice journalism.
Given the seriousness of the situation, the UN-DH urges the corresponding authorities to ensure the protection of family members and colleagues who may face risks related to this murder. The Office urges the authorities to include the journalistic work of the victim as a line of investigation, without prejudice to advancing in other relevant strategies in parallel.
Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos
Note: The Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (CNDH) is a Mexican human rights institution which is accredited at the United Nations with “A” status.
They put out the following statement:
“The CNDH has pointed out that the best way to combat aggressions against journalists and defenders is not simply limited to preventive actions. It also requires the investigation and punishment of those responsible for such aggressions, clearly differentiating the reasons that motivate violence against communicators in order to influence its causes, one of which is drug trafficking and the limitations of local police to confront it.
[…] National Commission will remain attentive to the work carried out by the competent authorities of the state of Puebla in order to clarify the homicide of journalist Marco Aurelio Ramírez Hernández, without omitting any line of investigation, but at the same time it makes a respectful call to the different actors of the State, and to society in general, so that, together, we build a country where values and respect for human life and dignity prevail. The CNDH expresses its condolences to the family of journalist Marco Aurelio Ramírez Hernández.”
Reporters Without Borders
Note: Reporters Without Borders is an international non-profit organization which has consultative status at the United Nations and UNESCO.
The organization put out the following statement:
“Reporters Without Borders is calling on the Mexican authorities to carry out a thorough investigation to determine whether the murder is related to the victim’s journalistic work. […] Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns the murder of Marco Aurelio Ramírez Hernández. So that this crime does not join the long list of unpunished murders of journalists in Mexico, we ask the Puebla state prosecutor’s office to carry out a prompt and transparent investigation to determine if the murder is related to his work as a municipal official or with his work as a journalist.”
The National Press Club
Note: The National Press Club is the world’s leading professional organization for journalists.
Eileen O’Reilly, the president of the National Press Club, and Gil Klein, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, made the following statement:
“There is an urgent problem reemerging in Mexico evident in the tragic murder of Marco Ramirez Hernandez — the third journalist to be killed in Mexico this year. Mexico is once again one of the most dangerous countries for journalists outside a war zone. We have seen this pattern before and are very concerned for the safety of all journalists working in Mexico. Most of these crimes are not solved and charges are rarely brought against those suspected of the murders. We understand the government is actively working to protect the family of Ramirez Hernandez at this time, and we applaud those efforts, but much more must be done to solve this crime and others. We urge the government of Mexico to prioritize the protection of journalists.”
The most recent stories that Marco Aurelio Ramírez Hernández covered were presented on the radio program hosted by Ángel López Cárdenas on May 18, five days before his murder. (You can watch the full broadcast here.)
During the segment, Ramírez Hernández criticized the local Urban Development and Drinking Water departments for their mismanagement of public works projects.
He then covered the latest news on the various criminal trials against the former governor of Puebla, Mario Marín. Let’s take a step back and briefly cover the scandals and crimes of former-governor Marín.
In 2004, the journalist Lydia Cacho released a book called Los Demonios del Edén in which she documented evidence that Jean Succar Kuri, the wealthy owner of a popular hotel in Cancun, Mexico, was leading a child pornography and child sexual abuse ring. At the time, Jean Succar Kuri was a very influential businessman whose net worth was estimated to be $30 million dollars.
Lydia Cacho detailed the official statements given by Succar Kuri’s victims and revealed incriminating footage of Succar Kuri that had been filmed on hidden camera. Her book also accused businessman Kamel Nacif Borge, a man once-considered to be the richest man in Mexico, of pulling strings with politicians to protect Succar Kuri.
Shortly after the book was published, Kamel Nacif Borge sued Lydia Cacho for defamation and she was arrested by Puebla state police officers in Cancun, which is located in the state of Quintana Roo. Lydia alleges that the police officers drove her to a local pier and told her to jump, and the only thing that saved her from having to jump was a last-minute call made by one of her supporters.
Lydia claims that officers took her to a jail in Puebla while hinting that there was a plan to rape her. Puebla authorities were eventually forced to release her from custody, half a day later, due to public outcry.
In 2006, La Jornada newspaper released audio (that was recorded a year earlier) of Mario Marín, the governor of Puebla, and Kamel Nacif Borge, one of Succar Kuri’s wealthy collaborators. In the recording, the two men can be heard congratulating each other on having had Lydia Cacho arrested and they can be heard plotting to have Lydia Cacho beaten and raped while she was in jail.
In response to the Jornada article, Governor Mario Marín went on national television and denied it was his voice on the audio recording. The day after he made his televised denial, the Governor Marín publicly accepted that the voice heard in the recording of the conversation with Kamel Nacif may be his.
In 2007, Mexico’s Supreme Court decided to hold an investigation into the involvement of Governor Marín in the jailing of Lydia Cacho.
The New York Times wrote that “the case has been closely watched in Mexico as a test of whether the country has changed since the days of one-party rule, when jailing journalists and dissidents on questionable charges was a longstanding method of silencing dissent or intimidating the press.”
Controversially, the Supreme Court did not allow the Jornada recordings of Marín and Nacif Borge to be entered as evidence in the case. The court ultimately ruled that Marín did not violate the rights of a journalist (Cachco).
Lydia Cacho countersued and in 2019, an arrest warrant was issued for former governor Marín. In 2021, Marín was arrested by the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) on charges of having Lydia Cacho tortured.
Now, let’s go back to the murdered journalist Marco Ramírez Hernández and the stories he covered right before he was assassinated. During his last broadcast, Ramírez Hernández discussed how former governor Marín was currently in Altiplano prison, awaiting sentencing for the torture of Lydia Cacho.
Ramírez Hernández used scathing terms to describe how two Puebla government officials, Marín and Javier López Zavala (former Puebla Congressman) were currently in jail, while making jokes about how local government projects like the planting of a cherry tree couldn’t even be finished without major delays and cancellations.
Although this sort of criticism of Puebla’s government corruption has regularly been made by national media outlets, local media outlets are considerably more vulnerable to retaliatory attacks.
Other potential motives for his homicide include retaliatory attacks for his investigation into the child sexual abuse perpetrated by priest Nicolás Aguilar and the Catholic church’s handling of controversy. He also could have been killed for his coverage of cartel-related crimes.
In February 2021, the National Guard prepared an intelligence document which gave an overview of the cartel groups operating in the state of Puebla. This document was later leaked as part of the Guacamaya hacks.
The document alleges that the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG) is the major cartel group which operates in Tehuacán, citing a CJNG group led by Antonio Martínez Fuentes, alias “El Toñín”.
El Toñín has an interesting social media presence in which he is regularly seen engaging in farming and harvesting of vegetables, with a baseball cap on and his face turned away. El Universal and La Silla Rota both have more extensive article covering Toñín’s “influencer” lifestyle and the ways in which he uses donations of vegetables to curry favor with locals, who protect him from law enforcement.
There are a number of smaller, local street gangs in Tehuacán which primarily compete with each other over territory to sell crystal meth. Some of these groups were named in press reports and by the government as being:
Las Bigotonas (cited in 2020)
Los Colombianos (cited in 2020)
Los Gordos de Tehuantepec (cited in 2022)
Los Sonora (cited in 2021)
Los Hermanos Rosales (cited in 2021)
Los Socios (cited in 2021)
Los Zúñiga (cited in 2021)
Las Bestias (cited in 2021)
Los Burras (cited in 2021)
El Cartel de San Diego Chalma (cited in 2021)
Los Conejos (cited in 2021)
Los Cholos (cited in 2021)
Reaction to His Homicide Sources: United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Reporteros Sin Frontera, The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) FAPE Statement, National Press Club Statement, La Jornada
Special thanks to Redlogarythm for help the criminal groups in Puebla.