US Journalist Disappears in Mexico Drug Cartel Stronghold

PHOTO: Zane Alejandro Plemmons Rosales

A 30-year-old American photojournalist has become the latest reporter to go missing while covering Mexico's drug war, after he left his hotel room in the violent drug cartel stronghold of Nuevo Laredo to take pictures of a shooting and never returned.

The Mexican newspaper where Zane Alejandro Plemmons Rosales had been working disclosed Friday that the San Antonio resident had gone missing in the border town of Nuevo Laredo, the headquarters of the Zetas drug cartel, on the night of May 21. "[He] found himself at his hotel and, upon hearing gunshots, left for the street in order to cover the news," said the Mazatlan-based paper, El Debate. "Since then his whereabouts are unknown."

Plemmons' sister, Lizanne Sanchez, told a San Antonio television station that when she contacted his hotel, she was told that two masked, armed men had entered the hotel at 3 a.m., demanded his room keys from the receptionist, and removed all of this belongings. Sanchez said his bank accounts have not been touched.

Mexico is the most dangerous country in the Americas for the press, according to the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. "Since 2000, 80 journalists have been killed in Mexico -- eight so far this year -- and 17 journalists remain missing," said Summer Harlow of the Knight Center.

Freedom House, an organization that tracks international human rights and civil liberties, says Plemmons is the third journalist to disappear in Mexico this year.

"What's happening in Mexico is that organized crime is trying to control all the information," explained Dario Fritz, a program officer for Freedom House in Mexico City. "The problem of impunity [of the cartels] and persecution is not only a problem for journalists."

Violence against the media is especially acute in Nuevo Laredo; a series of bloody attacks against journalists has functionally silenced the local press in the past year. In September 2011, three different reporters who had published on-line stories about the drug cartels under pseudonyms were found out and murdered. Two were tortured and hung from a bridge, while a blogger was beheaded. Last month, gunmen from the Sinaloa drug cartel attacked the office of a local newspaper in a five-minute shoot-out.

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"The community should be appalled that another journalist has gone missing," said Harlow. "And the public should be horrified that journalist after journalist is fleeing Veracruz, and that newspapers in Nuevo Laredo had to take the unprecedented step of stopping reporting on organized crime because it was too dangerous for their reporters. Clearly, things are way beyond 'out of control' and it's long past time for authorities to step in and do something."

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