~ This story was originally published by BlogExpediente on July 21, 2016 ~
-What’s up, they killed Milo Vela (Miguel Ángel López Velasco) and his family?
-Yeah, Pedro, in their house, in the north of the city.
-The authorities are still working to bring the bodies down; all the compañeros are here at his house.
-How awful, buddy, I knew him, he was a champ when we worked together at Notiver… It can’t be… a hug to everyone, I’m here for whatever you need, my solidarity with you all.
4:00 AM on July 26, 2011. Once again, the Nextel cellphone blinking Pedro Tamayo’s on the screen:
-They killed Yolandita, how terrible, buddy, it’s not possible, when is this going to end, I’m sending my solidarity, you know! Yolanda was a brave woman, tough, a real go-getter on the police beat… RIP.
In May of 2012, once again Pedro Tamayo from distant Tierra Blanca:
-I heard about Mariachi (Gabriel Huge) and his nephew (Guillermo Luna)… that guy was awesome, always willing to help someone even if he didn’t know them… it’s horrible, we have to watch ourselves, please, be very careful, my solidarity with all of you, with the entire guild, all my moral support from Tierra Blanca.
That was how Pedro Tamayo Rosas was. The 45 year-old reporter is now the latest to be killed in Veracruz, the 19th during the gubernatorial administration of Javier Duarte. He was killed in Tierra Blanca, at his home in the Centro neighborhood, in front of his wife and children. For Pedro Tamayo, death came while he helped his wife at her small eatery.
The attack took place at 10:45 PM outside the house on Cinco de Mayo avenue. Those who came to kill Pedro greeted him and asked for food to go. “No menus; we want four beef hamburgers,” they shouted to the kitchen, and a few seconds later two shots were heard. Some witnesses say there were eleven shots, others claim more. On the coroner’s slab in Tierra Blanca, the first examination only found two 9 mm bullets in the body of Pedro Tamayo. His lungs had been shredded.
Pedro had not studied journalism. As a young man, he joined the Public Security Ministry (SSP, by its Spanish initials) as a beat cop. Unexpectedly, on December 8, 1994, he debuted as a reporter, according to his family. He was accompanying investigators who were digging into the case of a woman accused of having stolen a baby. “The case became a big deal in Tierra Blanca and across the state because the baby couldn’t be found and the parents were doing everything possible to find it, and when they finally did, it had been taken by a lesbian.”
The operation to arrest the woman, who was later sentenced for the crime, attracted spectators and journalists to the house where she was hiding. “The woman’s family was upset and did not let anyone in, they ran off the reporters,” the story goes, “but Pedro was her neighbor and they trusted him. A journalist, who was the editor of the La Crónica newspaper, saw that and made a proposal: ‘Hey, go in and talk to the woman, ask her why she did it, what she was thinking, if she was going to sell the baby or what’ and with a tape recorder hidden in his uniform, Pedro went in and interviewed the woman for more than 30 minutes, and he did a great interview.”
When the newspaper’s director heard the interview, he was stunned by the scoop he had in his hands, and even more stunned by the way the beat cop had drawn out the psychological motivations and fundamentally human desires that had led the woman to risk stealing an infant: she wanted to feel like a mother. And so it was that the interview was published the following day in La Crónica, under the byline of Pedro Tamayo Rosas.
Encouraged by the publication, Pedro Tamayo asked La Crónica’s director for a job, and for the opportunity to learn, and the man agreed. Today, the former director is older, and no longer works in the press. When the wave of killings began in the port of Veracruz, he tossed his camera, notebook, and recorder aside, and after resting a few days, quit his job as a reporter and started a business selling clothes at markets in poor neighborhoods.
While drinking with the author, the old reporter shared his memories of Pedro Tamayo:
He recalled seeing the talents of that short, chubby, swarthy cop, who was adept at getting information at the scene, reporting it, and even without training, identifying the most important details and setting aside those that were less significant.
After two weeks of reporting, the SSP commander, Pedro’s boss, called him in, and Pedro expected to be chastised. But no. The commander was happy, and there were several copies of La Crónica on his desk. He slapped Pedro’s back and wished him luck in his new job, and told him that he could keep his police job, if he wanted, while he learned the journalism trade. The commander even gave him a motorcycle to help him along.
Tamayo Rosas left his boss’s office more convinced than ever of his destiny.
Pedro Tamayo Rosas was sent out on the street with a film camera, a notebook, and a pencil to take down information on accidents, murders, protests, and every sort of political event in the region of the Cuenca del Papaloapan, along the unmarked border with Oaxaca. The area was among the most violent in the state of Veracruz, a place where on a daily basis bodies would appear on one side or the other. If the dead were found on the Oaxacan side, scant meters from Tierra Blanca, then the report would be made to the authorities in Veracruz, and viceversa: almost always, the victims were from Tierra Blanca or Tres Valles. The killers would deprive their victims of one last privilege: that of dying in their homeland.
The director of La Crónica taught Tamayo how to edit, write, narrate, describe, and structure a story, how to give shape to the blank page in the typewriter, to cover all the background, especially if there was a politician or sugar industry leader involved.
Tamayo’s success on the street in getting scoops and exclusive photographs was immediately reflected in the newspaper’s increased circulation, and, predictably, in the irritation of some political sectors.
“By then we were a big deal, La Crónica was the paper of record in the area, and in city hall they got pretty angry with us, because we would catch their slip-ups. At Carnival, the organizers of the festival had the idea to put my name on an effigy, as a representation of bad temperament, and so I was burned in the city square,” the veteran journalist recounts.
Tamayo Rosas always laughed when telling that story, of how the authorities in Tierra Blanca aired out all their animosity toward La Crónica’s team, and how the effigy was labeled “El EvaCrónico.”
“I always told Pedro, the most important part of a story was the headline, if you don’t have a headline, you have nothing. You have to know what the story is, and that’s what you learn at the scene of the events, seeing the story yourself, getting their fast so you don’t miss anything, taking the best pictures, and getting the information directly from those involved,” the former editor remembers.
In Pedro Tamayo’s own words:
“Look, Nachito, journalism is the most beautiful thing that has happened to me in my life, along with my two children and my wife. It has given me great satisfaction. Let me tell you about something that happened to me once.
“I was working for La Crónica de Tierra Blanca, and had been for a while, when there was a car accident in the area of El Amate (on highway 145 between La Tinaja and Tierra Blanca). It was a nice car, a Mustang I think, and it had flipped because of a blown out tire.
“There had been two people in the car, a gringo and his girlfriend, and she had died and he was badly hurt. We published the story on the front page, and a while later, from the U.S., a law office got in touch with me. I don’t recall the name, it should be somewhere in my papers. They wanted the photographic negatives and wanted me to testify for a U.S. court, since the car’s owner was suing the company that made the tires that had failed, since they had a guarantee and he alleged that there was a defect that had caused the accident.
“I told him yes, that I would, and I took the photographs, and a bit later I testified, they set up a sort of courtroom in a luxury hotel in Boca del Río, next to the World Trade Center and Plaza Américas, and there were other people there, investigators and authorities who had been involved in the case. I gave my testimony and they won. The owner of the car received a few million dollars and I got a couple of cents that I invested in my house.”
In the Den of the Zetas
For many years, Tierra Blanca’s fame was as the land of both good baseball players and the home of the most efficient and effective hitmen. For killing sugar cane industry labor leaders, local politicians, and enemies, for settling scores, criminal groups in the Cuenca del Papaloapan have relied on gunmen from Tierra Blanca. Until the arrival of the Zetas and their crushing strategy of imposing fear.
Along the tracks of La Bestia, the train used by Central Americans to travel from the southeast of the country to the border with the United States, Tierra Blanca became one of the worst locations for riders coming from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, because in Tierra Blanca the Zetas implemented their bloodiest strategy for controlling the migratory route.
With the beginning of the war on the cartels launched by former president Felipe Calderón, there were shootouts and executions across the country, and the Zetas grew stronger with the profits from mass kidnappings of migrants in Chiapas, Tabasco, Veracruz, and Oaxaca. That reality was first denounced following the January 10, 2007 imprisonment of Father Alejandro Solalinde by municipal police in Ixtepec, Oaxcaca, when the priest tried to rescue a group of migrants kidnapped by the Zetas. The police, infiltrated by organized crime, prevented him from doing so in order to protect the cartel.
Those events vaulted the rebellious priest to the national stage, where he told of the massive kidnappings of Central Americans, of the beatings, rapes, murders, and disappearances of those who could not pay. But it was a reporter in Tierra Blanca, Pedro Tamayo Rosas, who, on July 17, 2008, was the first to take photos and document a Zeta safe house where such events occurred.
The army had raided the safe house, where some 30 foreign citizens had been held. It was discovered that the toll was 500 dollars each. Pedro Tamayo’s photographs captured the horror: under the eyes of a large image of Santa Muerte, the migrants were bound, blindfolded, barefoot, some were naked. Their buttocks were destroyed from the beatings that tried to force them to reveal phone numbers of relatives in the United States who could be extorted, and if they did not pay, their heads would be cut off, they would be dismembered, and their remains thrown in metal drums to be incinerated or dissolved in acid.
From covering accidents, suicides, and murders, Pedro Tamayo had to report on the topic of migration, as Tierra Blanca, with Zetas throughout the region, became a hell. The documentation and publication of these stories of cruelty, told at the few shelters on the route, led to visits by delegations from human rights organizations, and a few years later the publication of a report by the National Human Rights Commission with data on migrant kidnappings in Veracruz, Coatzacoalcos, and Tierra Blanca, the regions of worst violence against those without migratory documents.
The Region of Death
On one occasion, the author listened to Pedro Tamayo tell stories of terrible violence about the violence on the border between Tierra Blanca and Veracruz, a wide band of potholed highways and open swaths of sugar cane.
“As long as I can remember, they have always killed each other, it seems like the hatred will never run out. They kill, killing sugar industry leaders and it never stops,” Tamayo reflected, noting that the best strategy for travelling those roads along the Oaxaca-Veracruz border was to always carry a good shotgun or pistol, discretely hidden in the car and ready to use in defense.
Born in Piedras Negras, in the municipality of Tlalixcoyan, Pedro Tamayo joined the SSP as a policeman with only a secondary school education. Later, he completed preparatory school and, after much effort, had recently completed a degree in law from the Autonomous Popular University of Veracruz, “and he was even now thinking about a Masters, he wanted to practice and help people with their cases,” another family member comments, recalling the hours of lost sleep Pedro Tamayo spent studying and working on homework.
Need? He did not have any. His children were grown, “my father gave us food, shelter, clothing, and a career in journalism, and he gave us the greatest gift: he taught us to work,” one of them remembers.
After demonstrating his talent at La Crónica de Tierra Blanca, after years on its staff, Tamayo Rosas left due to internal problems and his increasing irritation with the paper’s editorial line, which had sold out to the PRI government of Veracruz: today, the newspaper appears on the list of government contractors claiming they have not been paid, with a debt of 976,000 pesos.
After leaving La Crónica, Pedro Tamayo moved to La Voz de Tierra Blanca, first working as a reporter before becoming director general. He was a director, reporter, photographer, paperboy, distributer, errand boy, and marketer – he did everything. All for the same salary. All because he loved the job and believed in the project.
Among the biggest stories Pedro Tamayo covered for that paper was the discovery of several clandestine graves at the El Diamante ranch in the neighboring municipality of Tres Valles, where some 35 victims were exhumed in July of 2014. He was only able to spend ten minutes at the scene, but he documented with photographs the hidden burial grounds, the barracks used by the killers, and the rooms used to rape female victims before an image of Santa Muerte as a witness.
Hours after the operation to unearth the bodies, with the gubernatorial administration of Javier Duarte beginning the process of covering up the case, the journalist had arrived at the ranch with the help of a friend in Tres Valles, another reporter, who from two kilometers away had—with terror in his eyes—pointed to the entrance to the El Diamante ranch and, without saying a word, had fled. But Pedro had the photos that proved the massacre and the existence of the ranch. Another defeat for Duarte’s administration attempt at censorship.
“The next day, La Voz de Tierra Blanca sold out completely and they had to order extra copies,” one of Tamayo Rosas’ relatives recalls. But strangely, even with the paper doing well, the owner, Francisco Aguirre Vélez, decided to close it down, firing the director and all the staff, trampling on their rights, in order to open a restaurant in the building where the newspaper had been. “The boss thanked me, told me that he had been told that it would be better to have a restaurant, that he did a study and that it was a better investment,” Tamayo recalled on one occasion, when discussing his firing.
But scarcely had he been thrown out on the street when the psychologist Joaquín Rosas gave him a job as a correspondent in Tierra Blanca for the news website Alcalorpolitico.com. He also remained a collaborator with the newspaper El Piñero de la Cuenca.
His last story, during this era of his career, was covering the disappearance of five young people from Playa Vicente, who vanished from Tierra Blanca after being detained by agents from the SSP who then handed them over to an organized crime cell. The five were later found to have been killed at a ranch in Tlalixcoyan known as El Limón. The case shook the entire state, and Tamayo was forced into exile on January 25, after being intimidated at his home by suspicious men posing as Telmex employees.
Tamayo Rosas did not see them, rather he heard about their surveillance of his home in the morning while driving around the city with his wife. He could smell the danger.
-Drop me here, I’m going to see about a story, come back for me in a bit—Pedro Tamayo said to his wife, giving her the keys to the car.
He got out of the vehicle, but rather than pursuing a story, he took a taxi to the sugar cane region, looking for the frontier with Oaxaca, where he exited the taxi and began walking. He traveled several hours, leaving behind Tierra Blanca and the suspicious men asking strange questions and making veiled threats.
His wife received a message from him: “Don’t come back for me, I went to a safe place. I’m afraid. When I get there, I’ll let you know. I’m turning off my phone.” The story he was supposed to be covering was a ruse, so that his wife would not have been exposed if she was being followed.
Far from anywhere, amid gullies and fields, crossing rivers, hills and winding paths, always keeping away from highways, he reached Vicente Camalote, Oaxaca at dawn. Worried, and unable to reach him, his wife had already filed a report of his disappearance and the case was creating a firestorm on social media. The next morning he checked in. He was alright, and was staying with a friend. Police agents then guarded his journey from Oaxaca to Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz, where he joined his family in exile.
The exile occurred in the context of the arrest of Francisco Navarrete Serna in Tierra Blanca. Navarrete Serna was the alleged head of organized criminal activity in the area, and Tamayo Rosas confirmed that before his arrest, Navarrete Serna was making plans to relaunch La Voz de Tierra Blanca, and had purchased equipment, material, and had rehired the previously fired workers, and had reinstalled Tamayo in the directorship. Navarrete was arrested the weekend before the paper was supposed to begin publishing, and the project collapsed.
After three months of exile, Tamayo and his family returned to Tierra Blanca, opening a business selling street food as a means of earning a living. They had suffered financially during the time that they could not work. “We had to sell what little we had and we came back to work. Pedro said that he had not done anything wrong, and he didn’t have a reason to be fleeing with his family, that is why we came back,” a relative commented.
In the Line of Fire
When the attackers arrived, Tamayo had just delivered an order of hamburgers. He was sitting on the street, and although witnesses heard several shots, only two hit Pedro’s body. The rest, presumably, were fired at the ground to intimidate him. He suffered for 20 minutes, during which time he said goodbye to his loved ones. The ambulance was delayed in arriving because although it had been dispatched, the police who were nearby gave the Red Cross the wrong address. [Editor’s Note: It has been claimed that the police who witnessed the shooting were only 20 meters away and did nothing to stop it or to detain the killers, and may have actively obstructed attempts to get Tamayo Rosas assistance]
The death of the 19th journalist to fall during the regime of Javier Duarte, unlike the others, was not accompanied by hours of anguish following a kidnapping; there was no torture, no dismemberment as in the case of the four photojournalists massacred in Veracruz; he was not decapitated like Yolanda Ordaz; his family was not targeted, as in the case of Miguel Ángel López, massacred with his wife and son. Pedro Tamayo died as he always lived: In the Line of Fire.*
*In the Line of Fire was Tamayo Rosas’s byline with El Piñero de la Cuenca following his return from exile.
Ignacio Carvajal is a journalist in Veracruz. This article was originally published by BlogExpediente and is available at: http://www.blog.expediente.mx/nota/20472/portales-de-noticias-de-veracruz/19-reporteros-asesinados-en-veracruz
Translation by Michael Lettieri, Trans-Border Institute