Seven journalists were detained, robbed and threatened by some 100 masked gunmen Saturday after being stopped at a makeshift roadblock on the Iguala-Ciudad Altamirano highway in the beleaguered state of Guerrero.
The journalists, from media outlets La Jornada, Bajo Palabra, Hispano Post, Imagen TV, Quadratín and Vice News, were returning to Iguala after covering the deployment of federal security forces to the municipality of San Miguel Totolapan in the state’s Tierra Caliente region.
The newspaper La Jornada reported that the assailants, suspected to be members of the drug cartel La Familia Michoacana, stopped two vehicles in which the reporters were traveling at a “sticks and stones roadblock” at about 6:00pm, just one kilometer from an official Army roadblock near the city of Acapetlahuaya.
The journalists were ordered to get out of the SUVs, a Jeep Liberty and Patriot, upon which they were immediately stripped of their personal belongings, including cash and the keys to the vehicles.
The correspondents were then taken to a nearby road while their assailants stole items from the cars including computer equipment, cameras and mobile telephones.
Back at the roadblock 15 minutes later, one of the criminal leaders informed the victims that one vehicle would remain with them. When they protested he retorted, “If you don’t go, we’ll take both cars and really fuck you over.”
The journalists then decided to leave but not before another armed man held a gun to the head of Vice News photojournalist Hans-Máximo Musielik, warning him, “If we see you stop at the roadblock and you tell them what happened, we’ll eat you alive. We have ‘hawks’ [spies, or look-outs] patrolling there.”
The total value of the stolen property, including the car, was approximately 1 million pesos (US $53,000).
The reporters said yesterday that most of their aggressors were no more than 17 years old — one was thought to be 13 — and visibly under the influence of drugs. Several were seen snorting cocaine during the attack.
The Federal Attorney’s office has opened an investigation into the incident.
La Jornada’s Sergio Ocampo Arista said yesterday the reporters, who were the first to arrive in the area after Friday’s deployment of police and military, had been under surveillance prior to being stopped. “I think they were waiting for us . . . .”
The Tierra Caliente region, notorious not just for its hot weather but also for drug production and associated violence, has been devastated by confrontations between criminal organizations.
Police and military personnel entered the region Friday to retake control of an area from feuding drug cartels La Familia Michoacana and Los Tequileros, encountering resistance in the form of at least 14 roadblocks set up by the self-defense militia group, Movimiento por la Paz y la Justicia (Movement for Peace and Justice).
Guerrero is one of Mexico’s most violent states and already more than 700 homicides related to organized crime have been recorded in 2017, many of them in the poppy and marijuana growing Tierra Caliente.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Mexico is the most dangerous country for journalists in Latin America and one of the most dangerous in the world with over 100 journalists killed since 2000 including three this year.