It was seconds but seemed like hours. It was one in the afternoon of the last day of January and the journalist Roberto Toledo had gone out for a moment to the corner store to buy a soft drink and some ‘choco roles’ [pastelitos de chocolate]. That short walk from the office to the grocery store was part of the daily routine of this 54-year-old man to kill the mid-morning craving. Toledo worked in a law firm in the city of Zitácuaro (State of Michoacán), where the headquarters of Monitor Michoacan, a local news portal. Returning from the store, he found himself face to face with two men. One dressed in a white and gray sweatshirt; the other, wearing a black cap. The two subjects, almost adolescents, wanted to know who “the lawyer” was. Don Rober —as his friends called him— had no problem identifying himself and talking to them. What he answered them will always remain a mystery. Still holding soda in hand, Toledo was unaware that he was about to be killed. The gunmen took advantage of the moment the reporter opened the door of the building to shoot him in the back.
EL PAÍS has had access to the images that show the attack and the moments before the journalist’s murder. The video is in the hands of the Prosecutor’s Office and has been independently verified by this newspaper. The recording shows how three assassins arrive on two motorcycles to a street near the offices. Two of them, covered with face masks and their heads covered, get off the motorcycle and approach the entrance just as Toledo returns from the store. Inside the patio, the assassins open fire on Toledo. The one in the white sweatshirt takes the gun out of his pocket. The other, seconds later, puts his hand on his waist and draws his holster. After committing the crime, both run away with guns in hand. Don Rober’s body lay on the ground riddled with eight bullets. The medical services that took him to the hospital could do nothing for him. Weeks later, the bullet holes in the armored door of his office still remind us of the day of the tragedy.
“Our only defense is a pen”
Toledo is the fourth journalist killed by groups linked to drug trafficking in the last month in Mexico, one of the most dangerous countries in the world to practice journalism. Monitor Michoacan, the media outlet for which Toledo worked, had been threatened on several occasions for its informative work. This time, the assassins carried out the threat.
After the murder, one of them returned to the scene of the crime to throw two cards with a written message, allegedly attributed to an organized crime group, according to the reconstruction of the authorities. The message that appeared next to the body alludes to a possible settling of accounts with the lawyers for working for an antagonistic group.
Joel Vera, the director of the office and deputy director of the medium, categorically denies this version. “They want to create a smoke screen of the real mobile and they say it was because I was dealing with drug trafficking cases, but it is not true, I do not cover that type of information,” he assured in an interview with this newspaper two weeks ago. Armando Linares, director of the portal, pointed out hours after the murder that the threats against the outlet they began more than a year ago and became more virulent days before the reporter’s death. The team of Monitor Michoacan He has no doubt that the attack has to do with the journalistic work they do. The fear was such that they contacted the Attorney General’s Office to alert them to the risk they were in. “We are not armed, our only defense is a pen,” said the director.
Roberto Toledo was a versatile journalist. The same covered a demonstration that was in charge of the paperwork of the office. He always carried his cell phone in his shirt pocket, ready to take photos or record a video. As is the case with so many Mexican reporters, Don Rober had more than one job to make ends meet. In total he received about 5,000 pesos (about 300 dollars).
The Michoacán Prosecutor’s Office has opened an investigation to clarify the crime following the protocol of crimes against journalists and the motorcycles on which the murderers were supposedly traveling have been seized. At the moment, there are still no arrests. Article 19, a Mexican organization that defends freedom of expression, points out that Toledo was “a worker who carried out editorial work in Monitor Michoacan” and that the authorities should investigate his death as an attack on freedom of expression.
Two weeks after the attack in Michoacán, the list of murdered journalists continues to grow unstoppably. Heber López, an announcer from Oaxaca, was gunned down in his recording studio in Salina Cruz. January was the most violent month against the press in Mexico in the last decade. The first month of the year began stained red with the murder of Margarito Martínez, Lourdes Maldonado and José Luis Gamboa. All journalists murdered in Tijuana and Veracruz. Don Rober was fourth on the list
Meanwhile, the Mexican government continues to be targeted for its tense relationship with the press and the absence of a specific strategy to put an end to the murder of journalists. For the first time, a group of reporters has refused to ask questions at President López Obrador’s morning conference, in rejection of the violence against communicators. On Tuesday there were protests in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. Journalists, photographers and cameramen demonstrated against the attacks on the press. “We want each other alive! Freedom of the press!” they shouted in the legislative chamber.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has counted from 1992 to 2021 the murder of 138 informants in Mexico. Article 19 computes even higher figures: 145 journalists have been murdered in Mexico since 2000.
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