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'In the Mouth of the Wolf' examines the murder of a Mexican investigative reporter

In the Mouth of the Wolf: A Murder, a Cover-Up, and the True Cost of Silencing the Press by Katherine Corcoran
Bloomsbury Publishing

In 2011, corrupt Mexican police and cartel members murdered Javier Sicilia's son and six others. In the aftermath, Sicilia — a journalist for Proceso magazine — published an open letter headlined "Estamos Hasta la Madre" (We've had it up to here), launched a peace initiative and demanded government reform.

A year later, Regina Martinez, another Proceso journalist, was beaten and strangled in her apartment.

Since 2000, 150 Mexican journalists have been killed, according to Reporters Without Borders. Hundreds of thousands of Mexican women and students disappeared during this time of intense turmoil in Mexico. This year, on the 11th anniversary of his son's murder, Sicilia lamented the lack of reform, writing that "there's nothing left to say."

But Katherine Corcoran has plenty to say, in her epic new book In the Mouth of the Wolf, a deeply reported and riveting account of Regina Martinez's murder.

To some, what Corcoran has uncovered shows how broken Mexican society is. But paradoxically, her reporting also reveals the best of Mexico — the courage and integrity of Mexican journalists, the resilience of citizens determined to find justice where the rule of law is itself hostage, and the love of family and country that unifies the Mexican people.

Martinez, who was born in 1963, was a veteran journalist and crime reporter for Proceso, known for investigative journalism and its focus on politics and social issues. Direct, unflinching, outspoken — these are the traits that led to Martinez's murder for reporting on government corruption, human rights abuses, and the relationships between government and organized crime in the Mexican state of Veracruz.

The Veracruz government quickly claimed to resolve the murder with the arrest of a suspect, but the accused said his confession was coerced. Martinez's colleagues were deeply skeptical of the government's handling of the case — which discounted her reporting as a motive for her murder and included testimony from dead eyewitnesses — and conducted an independent investigation.

Corcoran, a former Mexico City bureau chief for The Associated Press, traveled throughout Mexico while researching In the Mouth of the Wolf. She met with reporters that Martinez had mentored and followed various leads at great personal risk to identify Martinez's killer.

In gripping detail, the book documents the existential gaslight that passes for institutional credibility in Mexico and the U.S.: the serial cover-ups, criminal bureaucrats, red tape, torture, the money trail to U.S. banks and race tracks, the deadly sweet spot where the private sector, the state and organized crime intersect.

Mexican journalists work in a setting of rampant criminal violence and impunity coupled with the active subversion of civic institutions, according to a joint report from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and Free Press Unlimited.

Corcoran's reporting illuminates these statistics, revealing details of perfidy and courage, such as the time a reporter woke up in his Mexico City hotel room to find that overnight, a mysterious box of chocolates had been placed in the dresser drawer where he kept his reporter notepads. (He kept reporting and ate the chocolates.)

In the end, Corcoran's closing thesis on the who, what and why of Martinez's murder not only makes sense, it also highlights threats to freedom of the press in the U.S. and hints at American complicity in Mexico's crisis.

The latter includes American intervention in Mexican domestic affairs, the laundering capacity of American banks, the sales reports of American gun exports to Mexico and the U.S. consumer market for illegal drugs. Corcoran's next book should follow the money north.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Marcela Davison Avilés