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Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Guatemala

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1997
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Guatemala, February 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c5650323.html [accessed 17 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Guatemala was once again one of the most perilous places for journalists in Latin America. The nation's judicial institutions remained ineffective in safeguarding the media and implementing a general rule of law, and the press, which has aggressively pursued stories on corruption, contraband, and kidnapping rings, was subjected to threats and violent assaults.

The murders of two journalists last year remain unsolved, a chilling reminder that despite a transition to democratic rule over the last decade, the culture of impunity that has long plagued Guatemala continues to be a serious concern. While the government's overt censorship and the press's self-censorship have diminished, there persists a troubling undercurrent of intolerance on the part of the government toward the news media. Journalists complain that the government continues to restrict the press's and public's access to official information.

In December, the government and former guerrilla insurgents signed a historic peace accord mediated by the United Nations, ending the longest civil war in Latin America. The 36-year conflict had ravaged much of the country, claimed more than 100,000 lives, most of them civilian, and resulted in the disappearance of thousands more. Under the terms of the accord, a general amnesty was approved that will most likely leave the murder or disappearance of numerous journalists unresolved and unpunished. CPJ denounced the amnesty in a letter to President Alvaro Arzú Irigoyen, saying that, "Contrary to contributing to national reconciliation, a general amnesty would further aggravate the reigning climate of impunity." The family of Jorge Carpio, the former publisher of the daily El Gráfico and leader of the National Centrist Party who was murdered in 1993 and whose death is still unsolved, also denounced the amnesty.

The Guatemalan media have matured and diversified. Radio programs and publications in Mayan languages and other new media outlets have emerged, broadening the range of the news media in Guatemala and providing information to sectors of the population that had been excluded because of language barriers. In addition, two new daily newspapers have begun publication, including El Periódico, started by José Ruben Zamora Marroquin, former editor of the newspaper Siglo Veintiuno. "The press became more professional in 1996, was more openly critical of the government, and wrote about massacres committed during the civil war, drug trafficking, and a series of topics that were once taboo," said Haroldo Shetemul, an editor with Crónica, the country's leading newsmagazine.

February 2
José Ruben Zamora Marroquín, Siglo Veintiuno, THREATENED

Zamora, editor in chief of the independent daily Siglo Veintiuno, received several anonymous death threats after his newspaper published the transcript of a videotaped interview with a former military officer. In the interview, the now- exiled officer accused a group of high-ranking military officers of participating in organized crime activities, including drug trafficking and car theft.

February 28
Vinicio Pacheco, Radio Sonora, ATTACKED, THREATENED

Pacheco, a reporter with the radio station Radio Sonora, was abducted in the center of Guatemala City by unidentified men who forced him into their vehicle. Pacheco, who covers the judicial system for his station, was freed only after being beaten and tortured for several hours. His captors blindfolded him and burnt him with cigarettes, and they played recordings of his reports on a wave of car thefts, kidnappings and drug trafficking. Before he was released several miles outside of Guatemala City, they slashed his feet. According to Radio Sonora's director, Eduardo Mendoza, the captors held a gun to Pacheco's head and told him, "The only reason we won't kill you is so that you will give this message to other journalists." In a letter to President Alvaro Arzu, CPJ called on the government of Guatemala to order an investigation into the incident and to bring those responsible to justice. Three weeks after his abduction, Pacheco left Guatemala for Costa Rica due to continuing threats directed at Radio Sonora.

March 8
Haroldo Shetemul, Crónica Semanal, THREATENED
Gustavo Berganza, Crónica Semanal, THREATENED
Estuardo Zepeta, Crónica Semanal, THREATENED
Mario Alberto Carrera, Crónica Semanal, THREATENED
Marta Altolaguirre, Siglo Veintiuno, THREATENED
Carlos Rafael Soto, El Gráfico, THREATENED

Berganza, director of the weekly magazine Crónica Semanal; Shetemul, its deputy director; its columnists Zapeta and Carrera; Altolaguirre, a columnist for the daily Siglo Veintiuno; and Soto, a columnist for the morning paper El Gráfico, were named in an anonymous death list distributed by an unidentified organization in Guatemala City. A notice with the list stated that the journalists named would be put to death for having "betrayed the fatherland." The group sent the list to each journalist listed and announced that it would reveal its name once it had carried out the first execution. CPJ urged the government to investigate the death threats.

April 11
Juan José Yantuche, TV Noticias, KILLED
Oscar Mazaya, TV Noticias, THREATENED

Yantuche, a reporter with the cable television news program "TV Noticias, " died from injuries inflicted by gunshots. The gravely injured Yantuche was found in his car in the city of Mixco one week earlier. He was hospitalized and remained in a coma until he died. Yantuche's murder came a few weeks after an anonymously penned death list of journalists was circulated in Guatemala City. His name, however, was not on that list. One week after Yantuche's assassination, Oscar Mazaya, the director of "TV Noticias, " reported receiving anonymous death threats. In a letter to Guatemalan President Alvaro Arzú, CPJ protested the lack of thorough police investigations into Yantuche's murder and the death threats against Mazaya.

May 15
José Rubén Zamora Marroquín, ATTACKED

Zamora, former editor in chief of the independent daily Siglo Veintiuno and a recipient of CPJ's 1995 International Press Freedom Award, was dining at a Guatemala City restaurant when unidentified assailants in a moving vehicle threw two grenades at his car parked out front. One exploded, damaging the car. The assailants, two men and a woman, escaped. Two days prior to the attack, Zamora had resigned as editor in chief of Siglo Veintiuno over conflicts with the board of directors. Zamora told CPJ that he believes the attack was intended to deter him from launching another newspaper in Guatemala. He also believes that the attack was a warning to his yet-to-be-named successor at Siglo Veintiuno. In a letter to Guatemala's President Alvaro Arzú, CPJ expressed its deep concern about the incident and urged Arzú to ensure that the police conduct a thorough investigation into the matter.

December 10
Israel Hernández Marroquín, Infopress Centroamericano, KILLED

Hernández Marroquín, editor of the weekly newsletter Infopress Centroamericano, was found murdered on the outskirts of Guatemala City. According to police reports, Hernández Marroquín, who also taught economics at San Carlos University, had been shot once in the head. Police said he had been driving in his white Nissan automobile when the unknown assailants stopped him and then shot him. His car was found near the site of the murder.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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