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Border & Immigration

Murdered Tijuana journalists remembered one year later

A year ago, journalists Margarito Martinez and Lourdes Maldonado were shot to death in Tijuana. Their murders happened just days apart, and were part of a spate of journalist killings across Mexico in 2022.

"Allegedly, Tijuana, despite its danger, was a place where all journalists, we can work sort of freely. These two murders let us know that no, we're not," said AFP photojournalist Guillermo Arias, who was a friend of Martinez.

Martinez was well known among journalists in Tijuana and internationally for helping fellow reporters navigate the world of "narco" reporting, often with no credit or pay.

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Guillermo Arias
Photo journalist Margarito Lopez is shown in this undated photo.

Arias told KPBS he can't believe it's been a year since he saw his friend. "He left a void covering narco police-related issues in Tijuana not only in our hearts but in the news matter, but I think that’s all our loss," Arias said.

Two drug cartel hitman were sentenced in December to 25 years in prison for Martinez's murder.

Arias said what hurts is that Martinez's life was taken for no reason. He said Martinez was killed because someone falsely accused him of writing a narco blog.

"It wasn't truth and it certainly didn't put a bullet in his head but it at least encouraged the people who did it," Arias said.

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Just days after Martinez's murder, veteran broadcast journalist Lourdes Maldonado was gunned down outside her home in Tijuana.

Matthew Bowler
The driveway in Tijuana where journalist Lourdes Maldonado Lopez was gunned down, still wrapped in police tape, with her dog Chato who refused to leave, eat or drink water after Maldonado's murder. January 25, 2022.

KPBS spoke to Vicente Calderon of Tijuanapress.com, who met Maldonado in the 80s, when she came to the border city to grow a news brand.

"She adapted very quickly and she made a name for herself," he said, noting that female reporters in Mexico looked up to her "from the time when they were kids."

Calderon says she had recently won a longtime labor dispute with a TV station owned by the former governor of Baja California, and she made a lot of news herself leading up to the win.

"She was willing to stand up to the president (of Mexico) and demand her rights when she knew that this local politician was a good friend of the president — that takes some guts," Calderon said.

Calderon and a colleague interviewed Maldonado a couple of days before her death, "And my colleague asked her, 'Are you afraid?' And she said, 'No, I'm very very happy ... and that’s when she was killed."

Three people have been convicted of Maldonado's murder, but Mexican officials have not given a motive for the killing.

Arias says it’s important to take the time to remember those who gave their lives to inform society, and that society must be careful about the words they use against those who provide that service, like "fake news," which he said is used by the powerful.

"(It) creates a narrative that only our truth is the truth, and everything else is just fake. And that puts us journalists (in) a lot of danger worldwide…Sometimes I ask myself, 'Is this worth it?'"