Journalists throughout border region mourn the loss of crime photojournalist
Speaker 1: (00:00)
A Tiana photojournalist was shot to death outside of his home Monday before heading to work, margarita Martinez, esque, Val covered crime and security issues in TJ. He worked as a journalist and fixer across different outlets, including BBC, the Los Angeles times and the San Diego union Tribune, Sandra DL, former union Tribune reporter who covered the Tijuana area for decades said without Martinez's work a lot of murders, would've gone unreported somebody
Speaker 2: (00:29)
Like Mato was like an essential person to document these scenes. And I think to have someone go out there, um, you know, did sort of keep the eyes of the world on, on an important issue for Tijuana that otherwise would be easy
Speaker 1: (00:45)
To overlook. Now, esky Val's murder has shaken up many in the area and industry K PBS investigative border reporter, Gustavo Salise crossed paths with esky Val to cover the region and joins us now. Gustavo, welcome. Hello, Jade. First I sorry to hear about your colleague. Tell us about margarita and his career as a photojournalist over the
Speaker 3: (01:07)
Years. Thank you. Um, and yeah, Margarito, actually, he got a late start to journalism. He, he didn't start covering crime until he was 30. Uh, and it was because of his mom who was also a journalist in Tijuana. I, I remember Margarito telling me about the first time he took a picture of a body. He was out shopping with his mom when all of a sudden they heard gunfire, uh, down the street. And obviously most people ran. And I remember Marita saying like a normal mom would've told her son to run, but my mom wast a normal mom. She was a journalist and his mom told him to grab a camera and head to the scene, which he did. And I think from there, he just fell in love with the Russian excitement of covering crime. In one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Marto had a reputation for being the first at this scene. Sometimes the only one at this scene, he really earned a trust of local police officers who would tip him off and he helped other journalists too. One of the things that stood out about him is he was always smiling, even though he was just surrounded by death and covering the most gruesome thing in Tijuana. And at the time of his death, Marto, I believe was freelancing for seven different publications. So he definitely left a big void in terms of coverage over there,
Speaker 1: (02:12)
You mentioned that he was a fixer, one of the unsung heroes of the journalism industry. Can you tell us about his role in the cross border journalism community? Yeah.
Speaker 3: (02:21)
Well, for those who don't follow the industry, fixers are people who journalists call whenever they travel to places that they haven't been before. So think of someone like the BBC coming from great Britain to Tijuana to report on the city's murder rate, those journalists who aren't local, they don't have the sourcing. They don't know the city, how to get around which neighborhoods to avoid or who to talk to. So they rely on fixers like Maita, local journal list who are sort of their guide, right? The fixers will hook them up with contacts, uh, information only locals who have years of experience would have, they do all of the heavy lifting behind the scenes, but they don't really get any of the recognition or glory. Right. They don't appear on TV, their bylines aren't on the story. But like you said, right, Marto worked with journalists from New York, uh, Los Angeles, Italy, Germany, all over the world. And in, especially in Mexico journalists, don't often get paid a lot. So in some cases they made more money as fixers than, than reporters.
Speaker 1: (03:14)
What do you know about the incidents so far?
Speaker 3: (03:16)
Well, we don't know much right in now. Right. We know the basics. He was shot outside his home. Uh, Monday morning as he was heading to work, police haven't publicly identified any suspects. Although there are a lot of rumors and theories, uh, circulating. We do know that Maria's death has gotten a lot of attention really throughout Mexico and internationally, uh, as well, just because of his reputation of being, uh, the goat, who crime guy in Tijuana, but, you know, elected officials like the mayor of Tijuana, the governor of Baja, California, all the way up to the president of Mexico have called for justice. They say they wanna try to find the killer. Although it's important to note that the odds are, are stacked against him, right? I mean, most of murders in Mexico and really violent crime goes unsolved. The Washington post reported just a few years, that as much as 98% of all violent crime in Mexico, including murders go unsolved, were
Speaker 1: (04:05)
There any recent signs that Esquivel was being threatened?
Speaker 3: (04:10)
It's been reported that he did face some threats while he was streaming on Facebook live. Uh, and he did file a complaint about that with the officials. Uh, I do know ago has a federal government protection program for journalists. Uh, and it's been said that Margarito was in the process of applying for that protection, but obviously didn't get it or it wasn't effective enough to save his life on Monday.
Speaker 1: (04:33)
Do you know if authorities are looking into the possibility that his murder was an attempt to silence him and stop something he was working on?
Speaker 3: (04:40)
I think it's definitely a possibility, although it hasn't really been verified, uh, it wouldn't be out of the ordinary, you know, reporters are killed in Mexico at a, at a really high rate. So I'd say it's a possibility, but it's too early to tell. We don't really have enough information to definitively say what the motive was.
Speaker 1: (04:57)
And talk a bit more about the climate for journalists in Mexico. I mean, globally journalism is dangerous work. How does Mexico stack up
Speaker 3: (05:05)
It stacks up there with countries that are active war zones, and then that's not hyperbole, right? The, uh, committee to protect journalists counts the numbers of killings around the world. Uh, and they consider it one of the most dangerous places, uh, outside of active war zones. The committee to protect have counted 134 killings of reporters in Mexico since 1992, uh, other organizations at track this reported more about one 50 or so. And that is part of the reason why Martos death is getting so much attention in and outside of Mexico. He's the second journalist to be killed so far this year. And it's only the 19th of January. The other one was Gabo who was found, uh, with stab wounds in VTA Cruz.
Speaker 1: (05:47)
Is there any effort to stop these violent crimes?
Speaker 3: (05:51)
I mean, not much, right. We, we talked about some of the protections for journalists. There's talk about expanding those, but Margarito is working in, in one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico. Uh, he lived in, in a dangerous neighborhood and, and exposed himself to that risk. Um, I think a lot of the sadness and frustration from journalists in Mexico is that there isn't really that much that's being done to protect journalists over there. There there's a, a sense of outrage and indignation, but there is in a sense of, you know, Marto will be the last one, right? They kind of expect it to happen again, if not in Tiquan in other parts of Mexico, which is kind of the, the tragedy in all this, I think a lot of the attention right now is going to be focused on trying to honor Martos death by really provid better protection for journalists, at least raising more awareness or helping out in any way they can. I mean, the most immediate example for Marto is a GoFundMe page that they set up for, for his family, his, his widow and 16 year old daughter who unfortunately are left to live without him.
Speaker 1: (06:53)
I've been speaking with KPBS, investigative border reporter goose, Stavo Salise Gustavo. Thank you very much.
Speaker 3: (07:00)
Thank you, Jade.
Photojournalist Margarito Martinez, who took on the grisly task of chronicling Tijuana’s crime, was gunned down outside his home on Monday.
If you’ve read high-profile stories coming out of Tijuana from big news outlets in recent years, you likely didn’t see Margarito Martinez’s byline.
But there’s a good chance he played an important role in the story.
Martinez worked as a freelance photographer for several local news outlets in Tijuana. But he was also one of Tijuana’s top fixers — an industry term for those who help foreign journalists report on the city’s violence.
Martinez was shot and killed outside his home on Monday, becoming one of more than 134 journalists who’ve been killed in Mexico since 1992. Journalists throughout the border region have responded with an outpouring of tributes and support.
“It hurts,” said Jorge Nieto, a freelancer who worked with Martinez in Tijuana.
Despite covering the darkest aspects of life — often working through the night moving from one bloody scene to the next — Martinez was known as a positive and friendly person.
Nieto remembered Martinez for his smile.
“In between the blood, between the gunshots, the worse scenarios, he’d make you feel like ‘hey buddy, we are going to be OK,’” he said.
The Association of Tijuana Journalists issued a statement calling for a thorough investigation into Martinez’s death. Reporters from both sides of the border set up aGoFundMe page to raise money for Martinez’s widow and teenage daughter.
Police have not identified a suspect or motive for Martinez’s death.
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Martinez helped reporters from all over the world as a fixer, including those working for the Union-Tribune, Los Angeles Times and New York Times.
He was known as the go-to fixer for anyone wanting to report on crime and narco-violence. Tijuana is one of the most dangerous cities in the world, averaging roughly 2,000 murders a year, according to local figures.
With numbers so high, it is easy to become desensitized to the violence. But Martinez’s relentless effort to chronicle the carnage made it difficult for people to ignore, said former Union-Tribune reporter Sandra Dibble.
“Somebody like Margarito was an essential person to document these scenes,” Dibble said. “I think to have someone go out there did sort of keep the eyes of the world on an important issue for Tijuana that otherwise would be easy to overlook.”
Martinez is the second journalist to be killed in Mexico so far this year. Jose Luis Gamboa was fatally stabbed in Veracruz last week.
Journalists in Tijuana are demanding justice for Martinez and greater protection for journalists in general. The Committee to Protect Journalists says Mexico is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world — outside of active warzones — to be a reporter.