Eight years after journalist Regina Martínez’s sudden death, an international consortium of 60
journalists from 25 media outlets, coordinated by Forbidden Stories, took up her unfinished
investigations and tried to uncover the mystery behind her murder. This investigation is the first
part of The Cartel Project, a series of five investigations published by Forbidden Stories and its
partners starting from violence against journalists in Mexico.
His phone wouldn’t stop ringing, but the instructions were clear: don’t pick up. Hidden away in a
Mexico City hotel, Andrés Timoteo awaited his fate. He was going to be exfiltrated to Europe under
the protection mechanism for threatened journalists. The only idea in his head: get out alive.
For days, the journalist had been lying to his loved ones, telling them that he had gotten a visa to
study in Paris. But in reality, he was leaving everything behind. He knew he would probably never
go back to Mexico.
Five days earlier, on April 28, 2012 in Xalapa, a city in southeastern Mexico, the lifeless body of his
friend Regina Martínez had been discovered. Martínez, also a journalist, had been beaten and
then strangled to death in her own bathroom. Her murder was a warning sign to other reporters in
the region of Veracruz, many of whom knew or knew of Martínez. For them the message was
clear: you could be next.
“If a journalist like Regina, who worked for a national media outlet, could be killed, it could happen
to anyone,” Andrés said.
Martínez’s death sent shockwaves across Mexico. Many saw it as a sign of things to come. In the
following years, Veracruz became the world’s most dangerous place to be a journalist. Martínez’s
murder case was badly bungled by local authorities, and even after a culprit was arrested local
journalists never believed the official story. Eight years later, an international consortium of 60
journalists from 25 media took up her unfinished investigations and tried to uncover the true story
behind her death.
Speaking with sources who had never gone on the record before, the consortium found that
Martínez’s death most likely was the result of her journalistic work — uncovering multiple theories
as to why she was killed. They also discovered a network of cronyism implicating two former
governors and a coordinated campaign to manipulate the narrative surrounding her murder.
A dogged journalist
“Everything that the local press didn’t dare to publish was published via Regina Martínez,” said
Jorge Carrasco, the director of Proceso, the investigative weekly that Martínez worked for as a
correspondent from 2000 until her untimely death in 2012.
A modest woman, born into a family of 11 children, Martínez knew Veracruz by heart — down to
the smallest village. She studied journalism and began working as a reporter in 1980 for a local
television station. She quickly learned that in the profession many reporters were paid by people in
power to publish the news they wanted to hear.
Martínez — whose friends called her “La Chaparrita,” or the “little woman,” in reference to her
miniscule size of 4’11” — made a name for herself as a professional reporter, always deeply
ensconced in her work. Her professionalism isolated her bit by bit. A homebody, she preferred to
stay in her house on the weekends chain-smoking cigarettes and tending to her plants.
Norma Trujillo, her longtime friend and a journalist in Xalapa, remembers her as a hyperactive and
“Her work was her life,” Trujillo said. “She was really interested in social issues, human rights
violations. She was close to the people. That was her superpower.»
She was also a gifted, unparalleled reporter. In 2006, three years before the H1N1 crisis exploded, Martínez covered the horrible sanitary conditions of pig farms in La Gloria, the tiny village in Veracruz that was later determined to be the probable epicenter of the virus. A year later, she accused the Mexican Army of raping and killing a 72-year-old indigenous woman. Her doggedness and determination led her to investigate the excesses of power and corruption ravaging Veracruz. Fidel Herrera and Javier Duarte, who served as back-to-back governors, became central figures in her investigations.
Under the two leaders, Veracruz became the world’s most dangerous place to be a journalist.
Since 2000, 28 journalists have been killed in the region and another 8 disappeared — more than
half of them during the 12 years Herrera and Duarte were in power.
The state’s geography has long made Veracruz a sought-after region for cartels, leading to
elevated levels of violence. With the longest coastline in Mexico and a major international port, the
state is a strategic zone for drug trafficking. Isolated footpaths linking northern and southern
Mexico make it an ideal location for the extortion of migrants from South and Central America while
mountainous forests serve as the perfect hideout for drug traffickers. “El Chapo” Guzmán, the
infamous head of the Sinaloa Cartel, even found refuge there when he was on the run.
Beginning in the early 2000s, Xalapa, the state capital, began to morph under the influence of drug
cartels. At first this change was subtle: the low hum of 4×4 trucks in the distance. Before long,
unknown men were buying up bars and casinos and ads for prostitutes covered the city’s walls.
The arrival of the Zetas cartel in 2008 unleashed a new wave of violence in the region.
“There were shootings in the streets at all hours of the day when Fidel Herrera was governor,”
Trujillo said.“The barrier between the cartels and the people in power was blurry. Police officers
did nothing to stop the violence. On the contrary, they were part of organized crime.”
‘Band of undesirables’
Martínez regularly criticized Duarte and his predecessor Herrera for letting the state fall into the
hands of the cartels. She reported from shoot-outs and revealed the true number of deaths, which
the local authorities often tried to cover up. Her articles began to become a thorn in the
government’s side. In 2010, her name appeared on a list of critical journalists that was reportedly
leaked from inside the governor’s palace.
Two former high-level officials with experience in several administrations confirmed that authorities
set up an underground spy unit to monitor journalists, among others. “The local government could
connect to people’s phones and know at any moment what they were up to,” one of the officials
told Forbidden Stories.
This network of political informants maintained a black book of critical journalists. Each journalist
had a file containing a list of their family members, coworkers and places they frequented, in
addition to their political affiliations and even their sexual preferences.
Martínez wasn’t the only black-listed journalist, but she was considered to be the ringleader of a
group of five incorruptible journalists who received extra attention from the authorities. One of
these journalists, who preferred to remain anonymous because of security concerns, nicknamed
this group “the band of undesirables” on account of the frequent government attacks against them.
Martínez and the other journalists in this group would publish sensitive news simultaneously in
order to throw the authorities off their trail and ensure that no one journalist was “stranded at sea.”
Martínez was the most experienced and also the bravest among them. After publishing her stories,
she frequently received phone calls from unknown callers threatening to bring her to court. In the
face of these threats, she began to take precautions.
Martínez, who normally took the threats against her lightly, felt the danger creeping closer to her. In
an article published anonymously about half a year before she was killed, the journalist wrote that
she “lived in a climate of terror.”
“I lock every door in the house,” she wrote. “I don’t sleep and when I go out I am always looking
behind my back to make sure that there’s no danger.”
“La Chaparrita” lived alone and refused to let anyone into her house. Even the other journalists
who made up the “band of undesirables” weren’t allowed in.
Her house was her refuge — until that too was infiltrated.
In December 2011, after coming back from spending time with family during the holidays, Martínez
returned home and immediately realized that someone had recently been inside her house.
Everything was in order except for the bathroom. The room was filled with steam, as if someone
had just gotten out of the shower. Her new soap bottles had also been opened, she told her closest
Despite her friends’ suggestions, Martínez decided not to go to the police.
“She was afraid, but she didn’t want to make her situation public because she didn’t trust in the
justice system,” Trujillo said.
Regina’s lifeless body was found in her house four months after the break-in. A neighbor had
called the police after seeing the door left open in the middle of the night. Martínez was found lying
on her back in the bathroom, her head against the tub. Her body was covered with bruises and she
appeared to have been strangled with her bath mat.
A bungled investigation
Twenty-four hours after she was found dead, Amadeo Flores Espinosa was announced as the
local prosecutor in charge of the case. “All leads that might clarify this unfortunate case will be explored,” he said in a statement at the time.
A federal investigator from the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against the Freedom of
Expression, created in 2010 to fight against the impunity for journalist killings in Mexico, was also
called in. The young woman in charge of the agency — FEADLE by its Spanish initials — was
Borbolla arrived in Xalapa alongside her team of 14 officials four days after Martínez’s murder.
With her young face and pink headband, Borbolla doesn’t seem like the type of person who would
have participated in the extradition of some of the biggest Mexican criminals, including the son of
Ismael «El Mayo» Zambada, the head of the Sinaloa Cartel. Until now she had never spoken on
record in detail about Martínez’s case.
In front of the camera, Borbolla recounted what she saw as a colossally-flawed investigation that
she believes ended with an innocent man behind bars. “Looking back on this case puts me into a state of complete anger,” she said, unprompted, at the start of the interview.
Borbolla remembers discovering a strange crime scene at Martínez’s house. She said that local
police in charge of the case destroyed fingerprints in the house by putting an excessive amount of
revealing powder — a skill she noted is taught in the first year of criminology studies.
“It wasn’t an accident,” she said, adding: “That error didn’t only happen once.”
Borbolla was able to successfully reveal two sets of fingerprints that had not been found by other
investigators but that were never identified.
Other objects that had reportedly been found at the scene of the crime — such as beer bottles —
were not given to her to be analyzed until months later when they were handed over in a plastic
bag. The bottles had been manipulated, making it impossible to perform any kind of analysis, she
“Never in my career had I seen such an altered crime scene,” she said.
Borbolla believes that the mishandled crime scene wasn’t just the product of amateur detective
work. She accuses the police chief Enoc Maldonado of willing negligence. “He would say, ‘Of
course, Madame the Procurer, anything you need,’ and then he would turn around and tell the
others to give me nothing,” she said.
A perfect scapegoat
Borbolla found out — like many others in Mexico — through watching television that a suspect had
been arrested. Six months after the investigation was launched, Flores, the state prosecutor with
whom she was supposed to have worked on the case, announced in a press conference that they
had “successfully cleared up the murder of Regina Martínez.” The motive of the crime, he said, was a burglary. The killer, furthermore, had already confessed to
At the press conference, the suspect was brought out in handcuffs by hooded and heavily armed
police officers. “Raise your head, imbecile,” the officers said to him in front of the crowd of gathered
The guilty suspect was revealed to be Jorge Antonio Hernández Silva, better known by his
pseudonym ‘El Silva.’
According to the prosecutor, ‘El Silva’ went to Martínez’s house along with a friend, José Adrián
Hernández Domínguez — also known as ‘El Jarocho’ — who local authorities said was Martínez’s
romantic partner. According to their version, a dispute arose and the presumed killers made her
reveal where she kept her valuables. ‘El Jarocho,’ they said, then beat her repeatedly until she was
lifeless before fleeing the scene and disappearing for good.
Borbolla never believed in this theory. The federal prosecutor said that numerous indications at the
crime scene did not seem to suggest a robbery gone wrong.
“Everything was in order,” she said. “If it had been a robbery, everything would have been in
A number of valuable objects, she added — such as a brand new CD player, a printer, her purse
and her gold earrings — were not taken from on top of the dresser.
The day after the press conference, ‘El Silva’ walked back his confession, saying that it had been
extracted under torture. “They had a sort of taser and they gave me electric shocks on my chest,”
he said in a statement to the magistrate. “I couldn’t tell who did it because they had blind-folded
‘El Silva’ said that it was most likely the police who tortured him. Maldonado, the police chief at the
time, refused to respond to these allegations. Contacted by Forbidden Stories, Maldonado denied
all of the accusations against him. «The police staff who conducted this investigation performed
their work in accordance with the law,» he said.
Hernández’s lawyer Diana Coq Toscanini used all of the legal recourses available to her to try to
get her client out of prison, but has not been successful. “He’s 34-years-old, HIV-positive and he’s going to die,” she told Forbidden Stories. “He’s the
The official story
Forbidden Stories and its media partners were given access to Martínez’s entire case file.
According to the more than 1,000-page document, Hernández’s fingerprints were never found at
the crime scene. The only charge against him comes from a single eyewitness account from a
neighbor who said they saw him and ‘El Jarocho’ going together toward Martínez’s neighborhood.
Borbolla was never able to find this mysterious witness, nor was she allowed to interview ‘El Silva’
“We might never know who killed Regina, but I know who didn’t kill her,” she said.
‘El Silva’ was sentenced to 38 years in prison for aggravated robbery and homicide. He has since
maintained his claim of innocence in conversations with his lawyer, the only person who visits him
in prison. Borbolla, who stayed at FEADLE until 2015, refused to close the case.
Flores, the former prosecutor who is now a notary public in Xalapa, did not respond to multiple
requests for an interview. “Everything is in the case file,” he said.
The official version of Martínez’s death given by the Veracruz authorities — that of a crime of
passion — quickly spread across social media. An article from the site El Golfo Veracruz was
widely circulated on Twitter. “The PGJ [local prosecutor] clears up the homicide of Proceso
correspondent Regina Martínez,” the title read.
Among the Twitter accounts that shared this story, Forbidden Stories discovered a number of fake
accounts. Partnering with “The Disinformation Desk,” a Barcelona-based organization that
specializes in disinformation, Forbidden Stories was able to identify 190 so-called ‘robot’ or ‘bot’
accounts that automatically shared the El Golfo Veracruz article. These bot accounts also shared
other favorable coverage of Governor Javier Duarte.
Forbidden Stories was able to identify the owner of El Golfo Veracruz as Othón González Ruiz,
who was also a consultant for Governor Duarte at the same time. Interviewed by Forbidden Stories
about the article in question, González, who calls himself a journalist, said that the case was not so
“For me, there was never a clear resolution of the affair,” he said. González denied any implication
in — or knowledge of — the bots.
Jorge Carrasco, Martínez’s colleague and now the director of Proceso, also witnessed the effort to
construct an official narrative about her death. After Martínez was killed, Carrasco was put in
charge of covering her case for Proceso. After several round trips to Veracruz and months of
reporting, Carrasco published an article on March 14, 2013 that shed light on the inconsistencies of
the investigation in Veracruz.
“The way that the truth had been constructed felt like a bad screenplay,” he said.
Immediately after publication, Carrasco began to receive anonymous threats by text message.
“Stop investigating,” the texts read. “If you continue, they will come after you.”
Carrasco also received threatening text messages containing his home address. The threats had
the intended effect. The director of Proceso was forced to stop the investigation and none of his
colleagues ever picked it back up.
Local authorities, rather than treating Martínez’s journalistic work as a lead, instead began to
investigate Martínez’s own network of friends. Many of them were fingerprinted and questioned,
making them feel as if they were the murder suspects rather than witnesses. Authorities asked
them who the journalist liked to hang out with and about her sexual orientation. Not a single
question, they said, was about her journalistic work.
Carrasco, speaking to Forbidden Stories eight years later, said that he never had any doubts that
Martínez was killed for her journalism.
“We wanted the authorities to investigate her journalistic work as a lead, and for the people who
might have been bothered by her publications to be identified,” he said.
The corrupt governors
Many of Martínez’s articles shook the political class in Veracruz. Three weeks before her death,
Martínez and a colleague at Proceso published a damning article about supposed links between
two former Veracruz officials — Reynaldo Escobar and Alejandro Montano — and the Zetas cartel.
The article listed all of the assets Montano had acquired through ill-gotten means. The next day,
around 3,000 copies of Proceso mysteriously disappeared from the shelves of kiosks across
Forbidden Stories and the 60 journalists who make up The Cartel Project investigated the leads of
Martínez’s reporting and traced the international networks of individuals she wrote about, starting
with Fidel Herrera and Javier Duarte, the two former governors who ran Veracruz for more than a
The 2010 election of Javier Duarte marked the beginning of a reign of terror for journalists.
Including Martínez, 16 journalists were killed during the six years of his mandate alone. Contacted
by Forbidden Stories, Duarte, for his part, responded with a Tweet from prison, where he is
currently serving a nine-year sentence: «I have never censored anyone’s freedom of expression or
freedom of the press,» he wrote.
Despite the clear danger, Martínez investigated Duarte’s lack of financial transparency and
spiralling debt in the state of Veracruz during his mandate.
Duarte resigned from his position in 2016, after being accused of illicit enrichment and
embezzlement. An international arrest warrant was released against him and he fled the country by
helicopter, landing in Guatemala. Six months later, he was arrested and extradited to Mexico. The
investigative news outlet Animal Politico discovered 400 shell corporations that he reportedly used
to embezzle public money. In 2018, he was sentenced to nine years in prison for money laundering
and criminal association. The sentence was accompanied by a $3,000 fine — a laughable amount
considering the millions of dollars he is accused of having embezzled.
“I’ve seen governors over my time involved in embezzlement and violence but he stands head and
shoulders over all of them,” said one senior DEA official with extensive tours in Mexico.
In her articles, Martínez regularly pointed her fingers at the heritage left over for Duarte by his
predecessor Fidel Herrera, a bigwig in the PRI, the political party that has almost exclusively
governed Mexico for 70 years.
Herrera had amassed considerable wealth, even for a state governor, according to Proceso: a
private jet, 22 cars, including an armored vehicle, ranches, a hotel, a yacht. Herrera says that he
was able to gain all of this wealth through nothing more than dumb luck, which he said he had had
“since his childhood.” He won the lottery in consecutive years: winning $6.8 million in 2008 and
$3.6 million the following year.
A perhaps more likely source of his incredible wealth was a system of corruption known in Mexico
as the “diezmo,” or the “tenth.” This kickback system may have helped the governor to embezzle
large amounts of money from public contracts.
According to a former official who served under multiple administrations in Veracruz, contractors
who obtained public contracts — for example to build a road or highway — would pay 10 percent
of the value of that work indirectly to Herrera through his associates. That same source confirmed
having personally delivered multiple suitcases full of money destined for Herrera to his associates.
“It could be at the airport, at someone’s house, at a cafe, a hotel, in a different city,” the former
official said, “wherever he ordered me to go.”
The DEA confirmed this vast system of corruption. “Herrera would take money from everyone. He
was always into a kickback,» said one senior DEA official with extensive tours in Mexico. «In oil,
horse-racing, mining, heavy equipment.»
Martínez didn’t only look into Herrera’s embezzlement schemes. The journalist also investigated
his connections to organized crime. In 2011, Martínez wrote that at least half of the Herrera administration had been infiltrated by the Zetas cartel. Several months after her death, a photo published in the local press showing Herrera riding horses alongside Francisco ‘Pancho’ Colorado Cessa — a businessman later tried in the US for laundering money for the criminal group — rekindled suspicions of Herrera’s ties to the Zetas. The Mexican news outlets that published the photo later received physical and legal threats from a journalist close to Herrera.
The 2013 court case against Colorado in the state of Texas revealed more details about the
arrangement between the two men. During the trial, former Zetas’ accountant José Carlos
Hinojosa said that he transferred $12 million to Colorado in order to finance Herrera’s 2004
gubernatorial campaign. Mexican media later revealed that the Herrera administration gave out 22
public works contracts to a company that Colorado used to launder the Zetas’ money. Scott
Lawson, the FBI agent in charge of the investigation, said at the trial that in exchange for helping
get Hererra elected, the Zetas would be allowed to freely operate their drug trafficking operations in
In Mexico, no investigations were ever launched against Herrera. Herrera, for his part, publicly
denied any involvement with organized crime in a television interview. “My hands are clean,” he
said. “I never received a single illegitimate cent for my campaign.”
Security experts, however, contend that the relationship between Pancho Colorado and Fidel
Herrera wasn’t purely anecdotal.
“Fidel was the boss of the bosses,” said Jorge Rebolledo, a security expert for a number of foreign
governments and companies who spent more than 10 years in Veracruz. “The Zetas couldn’t have
operated in Veracruz without his permission and he used them to maintain order in some parts of
Arturo Fontes, a retired FBI agent who spent 28 years investigating drug trafficking networks and
money laundering in Mexico and Colombia confirmed this.“The Zetas called Fidel Herrera ‘Zeta 1’ because he was the one who ran the state,” he said.
The consul and the criminals
Despite suspicions of corruption and possible links to organized crime, Herrera’s political career
was largely unaffected. In 2015, he was named Mexican consul to Barcelona by President Enrique
In the Catolonian capital, the designation of a former governor suspected of collusion with drug
cartels was met with disapproval. The chief criminal investigator of the Catalan police, “Mossos
d’Esquadra,” Toni Rodriguez, revealed to Forbidden Stories and its media partners that his team
had begun collecting information about the links between the consul and money launderers in
At the center of this criminal network was Bernardo Domínguez Cereceres, a businessman who
owned a publishing house that was investigated in 2018 for money laundering. Contacted by
Forbidden Stories, the businessman admits to having known Herrera and having visited him on
multiple occasions — even inviting him to his wedding — but denied any commercial relationship
with Herrera.“He never made any sort of commercial proposition,” Cereceres said. “He only asked me to edit his books, that’s it.”
The Catalan police also looked into Herrera’s relationship with Simón Montero Jodorovich, a
member of Barcelona’s underworld who stands accused of running one of the most active drug
trafficking rings in the area and laundering money for consuls. Although Jodorovich and a number
of his associates were arrested in 2019 for money laundering, Herrera was able to slip through the
cracks. The former governor left his position in January 2017, effectively ending the Catalan
Since returning to Mexico, Herrera still has never been sentenced. The former governor did not
respond to any of the emails sent to him by Forbidden Stories. His son, Javier Herrera Borunda,
told Forbidden Stories that his father’s health condition made it impossible for him to respond to the
questions we sent.
At 71-years-old, he has become untouchable. Despite a number of investigations brought against
him since 2010 none have ever bore fruit. Nor has the former governor, or his successor, ever had
to answer for the thousands of people who disappeared in Veracruz during his mandate.
Mexico’s mass grave
Through several matching testimonies, Forbidden Stories was able to determine that before her
untimely death, Martínez was getting ready to publish an explosive investigation into Veracruz’s
disappeared and had even located the location where some of them may have been buried. The
journalist had published a few lines about this topic in a separate piece for Proceso, but the indepth
article she was preparing in the months before her death never saw the light of day.
Preferring to stay anonymous out of fear for his own life, a former high-level official explained that
the disappeared people Martínez had been investigating were individuals the government and
cartels wanted to get rid of. Among them were business owners who refused to submit to cartel
extortion and young women that drug traffickers found to their liking and who were never able to
return to their homes.
“Finding these bodies was like searching the sand for turtle eggs,” the source said. “You would
scratch the surface and find bodies upon bodies.”
The official estimated that between 24,000 and 25,000 people disappeared in Veracruz during the
mandates of Herrera and Duarte. Official statistics from 2015 put that number at about 5,000.
According to the official, “the instructions were that this information never become public.”
In 2015, after the discovery of a number of mass graves and the continued silence of the
authorities, journalist Marcela Turati began to map the clandestine graveyards containing bones,
skulls and other human remains. “It seemed crazy that the state was not keeping track of the clandestine graves in Mexico,” she said.
For a year and a half, Turati and her team discovered on average two new hidden graves per day.
In total, she counted 2,000 across the country. Mexico, she found, was becoming an open air
cemetery. For the journalist, this count was just the beginning.“In some regions, the prosecutors were still in cahoots with the cartels,” she said. “They preferred to hide the bodies and not be transparent about the statistics.”
According to individuals close to Martínez, the reporter had begun to investigate Mexico’s
disappearances in 2009. At the time, nobody imagined the sheer scale or horror of the situation in
Mexico. The family members of disappeared people held out hope that their loved ones had been
simply kidnapped, and were not buried ten feet under. Oftentimes fear of speaking out prevented
them from going to the authorities for help.
Despite the danger, Martínez started to look for the bodies of the disappeared. She told Andrés
Timoteo, the journalist who fled Mexico after Martínez’s death, that she had been looking for the
bodies in public morgues, but to no avail. She asked him to come with her to speak with police
sources.“It was like going into a lion’s den,” he thought. “I told her that neither myself nor anyone else
wanted to go there with her.”
Martínez didn’t stop there. In July 2011, she interviewed Father Solalinde, who ran an inn for
migrants attempting to reach the United States through Mexico. The priest recounted a number of
testimonies from migrants who had made it past the Zetas cartel, who kidnapped them and asked
for ransom money before allowing them to continue heading north. If they refused or couldn’t pay,
they were executed and their bodies piled up in clandestine graves in the desert.
At the end of 2011, several months before her murder, Martínez’s investigation had begun to pick
up steam. ‘La Chaparrita’ had confided to a friend that she had embarked upon the most
dangerous investigation of her career. She believed that she had determined where some of the
disappeared had been buried. This time, however, it wasn’t the cartels that made them disappear,
she believed, but the authorities themselves.
Martínez contacted photographer Julio Argumedo. Argumedo, who had never spoken publicly until
now, said that he remembers going along with Martínez to a number of mass graves, including one
at Palo Verde, near Xalapa. “The graves were so full that the bodies were overflowing,” he said.
As Argumedo took pictures, Martínez spoke to the gravediggers to try to find out where the bodies
were coming from. According to her calculations, the number of bodies buried in these mass
graves had increased by 1,000 percent between 2000 and 2012.
According to the photographer, Martínez’s investigation was very near publication. “I didn’t know
the exact date, but I knew that she was getting ready to publish very soon,” he said. Proceso’s editorial team explained that Martínez had not been assigned to this investigation and was never informed that she was pursuing it.
In the years that followed Martínez’s assassination, the biggest scandal in Mexico was uncovered
bit by bit. Loved ones whose family members had disappeared organized brigades that scanned
the ground for human remains. Starting in 2014, the Mexican authorities had no option but to follow
suit. Thousands of mass graves were subsequently discovered across the country.
Today in Palo Verde, where Martínez investigated nearly 10 years ago, a man continues to look for
traces of a mass grave. He is looking for his daughter Gemma, who disappeared in 2011 at the
age of 29. After much insistence, the authorities admitted to him that her remains had been found
in a plastic bag that had been deposited at Palo Verde. But they refused to dig around the entirety
of the three-and-a-half acre plot of land where his daughter is almost certainly buried, along with
“I have nowhere to put flowers for my daughter, to speak to her,” he said. “It’s like I’m rowing
against the current. The authorities have no reason to dig. They just want to cover each other’s
In 2016, mass graves were found in the backyard of the Veracruz state police academy. Arturo
Bermúdez, who served as public security secretary under Duarte, has since been put on trial. He’s
accused of having headed a death squad implicated in the death of at least 15 people. He was
conditionally freed in 2018 and is currently awaiting trial.
Even today, reporting on mass graves in Mexico remains dangerous. Turati and her team had to
stop their on-the-ground investigation abruptly after receiving death threats. “They told me that if
we continued, we wouldn’t get out alive,” she said.
On November 9, 2020, Israel Vázquez, a reporter for El Salmantino, was killed as he investigated
the discovery of human remains in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato.
A high-level government official who was privy to sensitive internal conversations said that the
mass graves could have been the subject that led to Martínez’s death. “She was a journalist who
stirred things up,” he said. “I think that the mass graves could have been the straw that broke the
“Disappearances are a very sensitive subject,” he added. “It’s not a crime like a homicide where
the person is killed and it’s over. With a disappeared person, you don’t know whether they’re dead
or alive. So the families keep putting pressure on the government and the government doesn’t like
that bad press.»
A presidential compromise :
It’s impossible to know how far Martínez had gone in her investigation because her materials were
stolen on the morning of her death. Borbolla, the federal prosecutor, noted that “they didn’t steal all
of her work affairs, but rather her computer and two cassette tapes with her latest interviews.”
According to one of her friends, killing Martínez was a way to bury the truth. “By killing her, they
burned down the library of Babel.” he said.
In 2015, the investigation into her death was officially closed by local Veracruz authorities. Asked
about her case by Forbidden Stories at his November 17 press conference, Mexican President
Andrés Manuel López Obrador committed to reopening the case if he could find a legal basis for
doing so — a promise that may not do enough to heal Veracruz’s wounds.
Eight years after Martínez’s death, the cloak of silence is still palpable. Her friends preferred to
meet with us at our hotel — looking right and left, fearful of being spied on. All of them were
threatened after the journalist’s death and remain afraid to this day.
Andrés Timoteo has still not stepped foot back in Veracruz, where now the Jalisco New Generation
Cartel (CJNG by its Spanish initials) has replaced the Zetas cartel. Journalists in the region — and
across Mexico — avoid naming specific cartels, instead opting to refer to them as “organized
crime.” Many journalists in Veracruz won’t say the names of Fidel Herrera and Javier Duarte out
loud. Duarte, currently in prison, could be freed as early as 2022 thanks to a lightened sentence.
Each year, this silence is broken on one day. On April 28, the anniversary of Martínez’s death, her
friend Norma Trujillo organizes a march in front of the governor’s palace — a building Martínez
was never allowed to enter. And every time organizers put up a plaque in the central square,
renaming it “Regina Martínez Square.”
Each year, the authorities take down the plaque. Even in her death, Martínez continues to disturb.
Jules Giraudat (Forbidden Stories), Arthur Bouvart (Forbidden Stories), Nina Lakhani (The
Guardian), Dana Priest (Washington Post), Antonio Baquero (OCCRP), Veronica Espinosa
(Proceso) and Lilia Saúl (OCCRP) contributed to this article, among others.
Translation: Phineas Rueckert