Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
We are aware of an internet issue impacting our KRTS 93.5 signal and are working to resolve it.

In Chihuahua, an undercover effort to solve a Mexican journalist’s murder

Forbidden Stories

For years, Miroslava Breach was among the most renowned investigative journalists in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Working for national and regional newspapers and publishing a well-known political column, Breach covered everything from water scarcity to narco-trafficking. Then, in 2017, she was murdered.

In Mexico, the murders of journalists are regularly met with impunity. But this time, Breach’s colleagues formed a secret collective to bring her killers to justice.

Long-time border journalist Melissa del Bosque recently shared the collective’s story for the first time in the New Yorker Magazine. Marfa Public Radio spoke with del Bosque about the covert investigation and its implications in Mexico and abroad. You can hear the conversation above.

Highlights from the conversation

On the reporting that led to Breach’s murder

In the final years of her life, Breach focused her reporting in the Sierra Tarahumara, where she’d grown up. Her work exposed links between local politicians and narco-traffickers — in particular, the Salazar family, who controlled the drug routes in the region through an alliance with the Sinaloa cartel, del Bosque said.

“She was writing openly about how elected officials have been handpicked by the Salazars, allowing them to traffic drugs and clear forests for big drug plantations. And she was putting all that together and publishing it, which is a very, very dangerous thing to do in Mexico,” she said.

On the failures of the government's investigation

Mexico is among the most dangerous countries in the world for reporters: more than 150 journalists and media workers have been killed there over the last two decades, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Parts of the government are now specifically tasked with protecting journalists and investigating their deaths.

But the Mexican government failed Breach in both respects. In March 2017, after reporting threats against her to the then-Governor of Chihuahua, Javier Corral, Breach was gunned down outside her home.

And despite promises from Corral that he would get justice, del Bosque said the state's investigation ultimately amounted to “a very complicated cover-up.”

“What they ended up doing was indicting a sicario who worked for the Salazars, but then saying that he was the mastermind, intellectual author of the murder,” she said. “There was this very convoluted effort to sort of point things away from the Salazars.”

On the collective of reporters who took on the case

Losing confidence in the state’s investigation, a group of Breach’s colleagues — most of them women — came together to solve the murder themselves. Recognizing the danger of the effort, they chose to work anonymously as the “March 23rd Collective.”

“They said, we're gonna go to Chihuahua City, and we're going to investigate this murder ourselves, and we're going to find out who's at the bottom of it,” del Bosque said. “And we're going to point out all of the holes in the state's investigation into her murder. Which is exactly what they did.”

The collective’s investigation, published collectively as “Project Miroslava,” put pressure on the federal government to take over the case and go after the people who’d actually ordered Breach’s killing, del Bosque said.

In reporting the story of the collective, she said, del Bosque hoped to highlight the bravery of reporters taking on immense personal risk to get justice.

“I really wanted to offer some hope through the work that they're doing because they are showing the way for other communities and other countries where journalists are under threat,” she said. “By shining a light on it, you are making the impunity a little bit more difficult and under scrutiny — so that they don't literally get away with murder.”

Annie Rosenthal is Marfa Public Radio's Border Reporter and a Report for America corps member.