"They silenced his pen, but not his legacy." Thirty-three years after the unresolved murder of Víctor Manuel Oropeza Contreras

IAPA's Campaign "Voices Claiming Justice"

Miami (July 3, 2024) – The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) urged the Mexican state to reopen the murder case of columnist Víctor Manuel Oropeza Contreras to prevent it from remaining unsolved and to establish the criminal responsibility of all perpetrators, according to recommendations from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Thirty-three years after the attack on July 3, 1991, in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, the international organization demanded, once again, a thorough, impartial, and effective investigation into what happened on that tragic day.

Oropeza, a critical columnist and homeopathic doctor, was stabbed in his office. Two men entered the consultation room, struggled with him, and stabbed him fourteen times in the torso, according to the forensic report. At the time of his death, he was 60 years old and had 28 years of journalistic experience, according to IAPA records.

Among the possible motives for the murder were the harsh criticisms and accusations in his column "In My Own Way," which he had been publishing since 1984 in the Diario de Juárez, regarding the alleged relationship between police forces and drug traffickers. On several occasions, Oropeza named police officers responsible for abuses and human rights violations.

As part of its campaign "Voices Claiming Justice," IAPA seeks to persist in demanding justice and preserving the memory of the journalist, whose murder also resulted in anonymous threats against Patricia Martínez Téllez's father, widow of Oropeza, to stop her daughter from pressing for more active investigations.

In 1997, the IAPA presented the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) arguing that irregularities in the murder investigation violated norms of the American Convention on Human Rights regarding the rights to life, personal integrity, equality before the law, freedom of expression, due process guarantees, and judicial protection.

On November 19, 1999, the IACHR approved recommendations to the Mexican state that remain unfulfilled to this day. These include conducting a thorough, impartial, and effective investigation to determine the criminal responsibility of all perpetrators of the murder; another investigation into possible acts of cover-up and crimes against the administration of justice, including the possible involvement of judicial officials, and, if relevant, the application of appropriate criminal, administrative, and/or disciplinary sanctions and adequate reparations to Oropeza's relatives.

"We observe, and as has been communicated on several occasions to the IACHR, that more links are still being added to the chain of impunity for the murder that occurred 33 years ago, due to the inaction and negligence of the State to provide timely and appropriate responses," emphasized Carlos Jornet, president of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information.

Although in 2003 IAPA and the government of Mexico signed a follow-up commitment to review the case file – which led to numerous meetings between 2005 and 2010 with representatives of the national government and the state of Chihuahua – the organization suspended talks due to lack of progress.

Jornet, editorial director of the Argentine newspaper La Voz del Interior, urged authorities to comply with the recommendations and break "the cycle of impunity surrounding this and dozens of other crimes against Mexican journalists."

In March 2022, the widow delivered a letter to then undersecretary for Human Rights, Alejandro Encinas, during a visit by the senior official to Ciudad Juárez. It demanded accountability for impunity, mistakes, and irregularities in the murder investigation. So far, there has been no response.

For his widow, "remembering that the case remains unresolved, and that historical truth isn't even sought, is indicative in itself that there are important and powerful people who are very concerned about reopening [the investigation] and reaching a clarification that would corner all accomplices."

Martínez added that "adversaries could not prevent Víctor Manuel Oropeza Contreras' struggle from opening the door to democracy in Mexico, just as they could not erase his contribution, as they tried from the beginning. They silenced his pen, but not his legacy."

IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It comprises more than 1,300 publications from the western hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.