‘Behave Yourselves’

08.12.15 5:03 AM ET

Did a Mexican Governor Have This Journalist Killed Over an Unflattering Photo?

A year after snapping Javier Duarte without his usual slimming suit jacket and podium, Ruben Espinosa fled Veracruz. Then he was found murdered. Now investigators are asking questions.

Governor Javier Duarte of Veracruz could have simply laughed it off and said the news magazine’s cover photo made him look like Mexico’s answer to Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey.

But Duarte is a self-declared admirer of Franco, and he responded much as the Spanish dictator might have to a photo whose most pronounced feature was a big-time belly.

Duarte dispatched a horde of minions to snatch up every possible copy of that April 2014 issue of Proceso.

Of course that only heightened the demand.

“Do you have the Proceso with Fat Duarte?” folks are reported to have clamored at newsstands across Veracruz.

They just seemed to know why the magazine was being snatched from public view.

Proceso

Duarte probably would have be able to shrug off the headline, “Veracruz: A State Without Law.”

And he could not have been much bothered that he was wearing a police hat.

But not for nothing did he button his sports coats, which more often than not were a slimming dark color.

He also seemed fond of podiums.

The photographer, Ruben Espinosa, subsequently found himself barred from official events, including a press conference after the discovery of 35 bodies in the latest narco atrocity.

“A person in charge of media relations…asked me what was I doing there and told me I had no business there and that I was in the way,” Espinosa told the news site SinEmbargo in June as translated by the Trans-Border Institute. “Then people working for the state government started to take pictures of me.”

Espinosa no doubt fell into further disfavor when he attended an unofficial event, the installation of a plaque in honor of one of the 12 journalists who had been murdered in Veracruz since Duarte took office in 2011.

“It has been made clear to me that I am a problem for the state government,” the 31-year-old photographer told SinEmbargo.

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Espinosa noted that Duarte and other officials sought to keep reporters in their sway by hosting “Free Expression Breakfasts” where raffles offered such prizes as an iPad or a TV or even a car. Espinosa used the big crowds to formulate an estimate of how many of his colleagues in Veracruz took bribes.

“I think it’s about 98 percent of the media,” he said.

One police reporter who won a car apparently did not understand the expectations that went along with it.

“A week later the car was smashed to pieces,” Espinosa reported.

The same reporter was subsequently murdered.

Espinosa became worried enough he might suffer the same fate that he departed Veracruz for Mexico City.

He decided against taking advantage of a government program established in 2012 that offers such security devices as panic buttons and emergency telephones to journalists who feel threatened.

Perhaps he knew that in all 13 instances a panic button had been pushed it had failed to function. And in 14 of the 22 occasions an emergency phone was used, nobody answered.

But, as has been previously reported in The Daily Beast and elsewhere, Mexico City was considered a safe haven. Espinosa continued to worry about his colleagues back in Veracruz. He hoped that the death toll for journalists would remain at 12.

“I don’t want there to be a No. 13 or 14,” he said in June. “It is hard to think about Veracruz, there are not words to describe how bad the state is.”

He then said, “Death chose Veracruz, death decided to live there.”

Only July 31, death paid a visit to Espinosa’s modest apartment in Mexico City. He and four women were later found beaten, tortured, and shot to death. A number of the women were sexually assaulted.

A fingerprint led to the arrest of a suspect who had done time in prison for rape. But surveillance video showed three figures leaving the building. Two of the suspects drove off in a red-and-white Mustang belonging to one of the victims. The third walked away with a wheeled suitcase.

On Monday, Mexico City Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera announced that prosecutors would be traveling to Veracruz to question Duarte.

“There is willingness on behalf of the state government of Veracruz to offer information and, in this context, I told [Duarte] that we needed a sworn statement from him,” Mancera said, as if it meant something.

The prosecutors arrived on Tuesday, and they were presented with a sworn written statement by Duarte. He appeared before the news cameras with his girth once more tucked behind a buttoned suit jacket as well as a podium.

He who had once declared himself a fan of Franco now declared himself a fierce defender of the freedom of the press.

He pledged to do all he could to help bring the killers to justice.

“There is no impunity,” he intoned.

His words were duly reported by the local media, as had been a speech he made the day after the killings.

In that July 1 talk, he had addressed the media directly. He had suggested that murdered journalists brought it upon themselves.

“Behave yourselves, please, I ask of you,” he said.

And whatever you do, do not make Fat Duarte look fat.

You could almost laugh and nickname him “Paunch-o.”

Then you remember the murders.