Journalists bear invisible scars of Mexico’s drug war

(RAPPLER) — CHILPANCINGO, Mexico – After drug cartel thugs kidnapped him and threatened to burn him alive, Mexican journalist Jorge Martinez was so traumatized he couldn’t leave the house.

He and 6 colleagues were returning home after covering a police operation in the violent southern state of Guerrero on May 13 when some 100 masked gunmen from La Familia cartel hijacked their cars.

The narcos ended up letting them go after about 15 minutes. But it took Martinez, 44, two weeks to go outside again.

“Maybe it’s just nerves, but I feel like people are following me,” he almost whispered into the phone at the time, afraid to come out for an interview.

Two days after the kidnapping, another journalist – noted crime reporter and Agence France-Presse contributor Javier Valdez – was shot dead in broad daylight in the state of Sinaloa, scene of some of Mexico’s most brutal drug violence.

It was one of the highest-profile attacks targeting journalists in Mexico – a country where the phenomenon has become almost banal.

Journalists face harrowing risks to cover the bloody wars between Mexico’s rival cartels and the army, which have left a trail of tens of thousands of mangled bodies and hundreds of mass graves in their wake.

Reporters take their lives in their hands when they write anything that could be perceived as threatening, or even unflattering, by narcos or the corrupt government officials in bed with them.

Watchdog group Reporters Without Borders ranks Mexico as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists after Syria and Afghanistan.

Since 2006, when the government first sent the military to fight the cartels, nearly 100 journalists have been killed, more than 20 have disappeared, and more than 200 have been assaulted by drug traffickers.

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