The Tragic Murder Of Manuel Buendia

The job of exposing and fighting crime either as a law enforcement agent or even as a reporter, can come with a lot of risks. And oftentimes the latter comes with an even greater threat due to the general lack of security. According to the United Nations, dozens of journalists are killed every year and it continues to be a problem today as it was decades ago. 

This is how the story of Manuel Buendía ends. The Mexican journalist was a well-known investigative reporter for Excelsior — a daily newspaper based in Mexico City. There, Buendía was covering corruption, and the country's notorious drug cartels. His work was important in exposing just how deeply involved and intertwined some top political officials were connected in shady government business. Buendía also tackled several subjects as a long-time columnist of the paper, and as an author. But his notable work came to an untimely end when he was shot to death in 1984. It would take several years before an arrest would be made in his case (The New York Times).

Manuel Buendia's early life and career

Manuel Buendía was born on May 24, 1926, in the city of Zitácuaro, which is located in the Mexican state of Michoacán. His interest in journalism began when Buendía was a teenager (Animal Politico). At 14 years old, he got his start with a magazine for a conservative political party. He later found himself in the early stages of his career when he snagged himself a reporting gig for a daily newspaper called La Prensa. Buendía would eventually earn a full-time role and stay at this paper for decades, even becoming the editor. It was there he worked the news beat of covering policing and several government agencies. As a reporter, he built up a lot of rapport and his name soon became very familiar, not only to readers but also to government officials who read Buendía's exclusives. And it was with his own daily column that Buendía would expose the corrupt dealings of politicians going on behind the scenes, and detailed what was going on within the Mexican government.

Manuel Buendia's popular column

By the late 1950s Buendía was a growing figure in the journalism field. He even wrote for other publications, particularly the Excelsior — one of the biggest daily newspapers based in Mexico City. In 1957, several years after working with La Prensa, Buendía officially started writing his first column (Encyclopedia of Literature in Mexico). He called it: "Private Network" (or Red Privada in Spanish). The column would follow him to the Excelsior when he left La Prensa. 

The daily column he authored would soon be a hot buzz for readers of the paper. Initially, he started out writing the column under several fake names to hide his identity, of course — because of the nature of what he was writing. "Private Network" grew in popularity as it was also published in over 200 other newspapers around Mexico, creating a larger audience for Buendía (via TeleSur). And Buendía didn't only go after politicians — he also spoke about the U.S. and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) influence in Mexico.

Buendia exposes corruption

In one of his most notable columns published in 1982, Buendía reported about a shocking crime that took place in Mexico City, where multiple bodies were found in a sewer. In it, Buendía allegedly pointed fingers at a police force for the crime, contradicting what they reported (via Cambridge).

Then in 1983, Buendía published his book titled "The CIA in Mexico," highlighting the American agency's presence in Mexico. To the average reader who had no knowledge of what was going on, Buendía's consistent exposés were informative. But to the ones actually behind the scandals he wrote about, Buendía was a growing thorn. In one of his last columns before his death, Buendía published a story linking drug kingpins to several government officials (via Open Democracy). And he was probably getting very close that likely sent fear to the officials accused. It wouldn't be long after that Buendía had a target on his back.

Buendia's assassination

On May 30, 1984, just a few days after celebrating his 58th birthday, Buendía was en route to his car in a parking lot (via TeleSur). But unbeknownst to him he was being followed and hunted. Buendía was shot four times in the back, including once in the head, and died from his injuries. His assassination shocked Mexico (The New York Times), and of course, it immediately raised suspicion on who in the government might've been involved in his murder because of his column. But just like his reporting, even the investigation into Buendía's death would go high up to a top official. Further exposing the very corruption that Buendía dedicated his life to exposing.

It took five years for there to be a break in the case, and it would evidently lead to the arrest of the investigator in charge of solving Buendía's murder, reported The New York Times in 1989.

Who killed Buendia?

In the aftermath of Buendía's murder, the Mexican president at the time ordered a special investigation into the case (via The New York Times). The man he put in charge was named Jose Antonio Zorrilla Perez, and he also headed the Federal Security Directorate — the country's federal investigative law enforcement agency. He didn't know it at the time but Zorrilla Perez was in fact the orchestrator behind Buendía's assassination. In 1989, authorities arrested him after a standoff and charged him.

Authorities said Zorrilla planned and ordered a hitman to kill Buendía. Zorilla was one of the first investigators at the crime scene, along with then being the appointed lead investigator, Zorrilla later raided Buendía's office. In his storming of Buendía's documents, Zorrilla was not looking for evidence. Instead, he was getting rid of the journalist's findings — effectively thwarting the case. But he was deep in corruption and get caught anyway. Zorrilla would be charged in connection to another murder, reported Associated Press. He served 36 years in prison for the crime and was released in 2013, says Marquesina

The story of Buendía's death will be the subject of a forthcoming Netflix documentary "Private Network: Who Killed Manuel Buendía?" premiering onJ uly 14.