As Mexico marks journalist Valdez's murder, another colleague killed

by Miriam Ram�rez
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Mexican journalist Javier Valdez was gunned down in broad daylight near his newspaper's offices on May 15, 2017

A Mexican journalist was murdered Tuesday, the fourth of 2018, as the country mourned acclaimed reporter and writer Javier Valdez on the first anniversary of his killing.

Juan Carlos Huerta was shot dead as he left his home in a suburb of Villahermosa, the capital of the southern state of Tabasco, the state government said.

The 45-year-old radio and television journalist had a wife and two children, according to Mexican media reports.

The latest killing in what has become one of the world's deadliest countries for the press fueled further outrage as protesters took to the streets demanding justice over the murder of Valdez and more than 100 other journalists killed since 2000.

Valdez, the co-founder of the newspaper Riodoce and a longtime contributor to Agence France-Presse, was gunned down in broad daylight near his newspaper's offices on May 15, 2017 in Culiacan, capital of the violent state of Sinaloa.

The killing drew international condemnation.

Valdez, 50, was one of the most prominent chroniclers of Mexico's deadly drug war in a state where notorious kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, now imprisoned in the United States, once reigned.

Protesters marked the first anniversary of his death with a series of marches around the country -- the main one in Culiacan -- calling on the authorities to punish those responsible and stop the wave of violence.

"This national day of protest is about reminding people that this murder happened, that it shouldn't go unpunished, that there must be justice," said Valdez's longtime colleague and Riodoce co-founder, Ismael Bojorquez.

Valdez was among at least 11 journalists murdered in Mexico last year, making it the deadliest country in the world for the profession after Syria, according to watchdog group Reporters Without Borders.

The vast majority of the cases have gone unpunished -- as do more than 90 percent of violent crimes in Mexico.

Racked by brutal violence linked to the multi-billion-dollar narcotics trade, the country posted a record number of homicides last year: 25,339.

- Killed for asking questions -

Asking questions about powerful drug cartels or government corruption can be a deadly job in Mexico.

According to investigators, Valdez was likely a victim of an internal power struggle that erupted in the Sinaloa cartel after "El Chapo" Guzman was extradited to the US in January 2017.

That February, Valdez scored a rare interview with Damaso "The Graduate" Lopez Nunez, who denied he had ordered a hit -- ultimately unsuccessful -- on Guzman's sons, his rivals for control of the cartel.

But Lopez Nunez apparently did not like the story. The day it came out, someone bought up every single copy of Riodoce and carted them away.

Three months later, the award-winning journalist and father of three was dead.

Investigators say a witness told them three hitmen for Lopez Nunez confessed to the crime at a party, showing off specially engraved pistols they received as a reward.

One of the three, nicknamed "The Koala," was arrested last month.

Another is in prison for a different crime and expected to be charged soon in Valdez's killing. The third was found burned to death in an abandoned car in September, according to a report by Riodoce.

Protesters in Culiacan demanded justice.

"Until both the killers and those who ordered the murder have been arrested and sentenced, this case will not be closed," said Valdez's widow, Griselda Triana.

Triana has left Culiacan with her family for their safety, but returned for Tuesday's march.

She was joined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights's Mexico representative Jan Jarab, who said solving Valdez's murder "would bring hope for so many other cases in Mexico."

- 'They came to execute him' -

Tabasco Governor Arturo Nunez meanwhile condemned Huerta's killing.

"Juan Carlos was a top journalist... you could also say a friend," he said.

Police have blocked all roads out of Villahermosa and are searching for a vehicle apparently used in the attack, Nunez said.

"It was not a robbery. They came to execute him," he added.

Mexico's National Human Rights Commission said it "vehemently condemns" the killing, while the Tabasco state prosecutor, Fernando Valenzuela Pernas, promised a "sweeping investigation until we catch those responsible."

Mexican journalist Javier Valdez was gunned down in broad daylight near his newspaper's offices on May 15, 2017

A painting by foreign and local journalists, which reads "140 journalists murdered in MX," is seen at a US-Mexico border fence in Tijuana