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Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Guatemala

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1998
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Guatemala, February 1998, available at: [accessed 24 November 2017]
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.

In the year since a peace treaty ended Guatemala's 36-year-long civil war, the press has become more pluralistic and professional, but is still hindered in its work by a climate of violence and growing tensions with the government of President Alvaro Arzú Irigoyen.

While the government-sponsored death squads that targeted journalists during the civil war have disappeared, political violence continues, especially in the countryside. Jorge Luis Marroquín Sagastume editor of small local monthly called Sol Chortí, was one of the victims. He was murdered on June 5 in Jocotán on the orders of Jocotán mayor José Manuel Ohajaca, who was angered by Marroquín's reporting on corruption. At least three other journalists were murdered this year in Guatemala, but against a backdrop of growing crime it was impossible to determine if the killings were motivated by their reporting.

Despite the apparent risks, journalists have reported aggressively on once-taboo subjects such as government corruption, the drug trade, and human rights abuses by the military. Indigenous issues receive increasing attention, not only from regional newspapers but also from Guatemala City dailies like Siglo Veintiuno. Cerigua, a news agency that because of the civil war violence once operated exclusively from Mexico but opened a Guatemala office in 1994, provides news from a leftist perspective. Indigenous-language radio stations have proliferated across the highlands.

In August, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) held its "Unpunished Crimes against Journalists" conference in Guatemala City. The purpose of the event was to focus attention on the lack of progress in the investigations into the murders of journalists throughout Latin America. Six cases were chosen as representative, including two from Guatemala. Speaking to the assembly, President Arzú promised that his government would pursue investigations into the 1993 murder of Jorge Carpio Nicolle, publisher of El Gráfico, and the 1980 disappearance of journalist Irma Flaquer.

While Guatemalan journalists applauded Arzú's commitment to investigate the murders, they were taken aback by comments the president made during an official visit to Spain in October. In an interview with a European journalist, Arzú blamed the Guatemalan press for exaggerating its reporting on violent events in order to attract more readers. He was also one of only two Latin American leaders who supported an initiative put forward at the November Ibero-American summit by Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera, which would have affirmed a "right to free and truthful information."

Guatemalan journalists also allege that a publicly funded television news program called "Avances" – ostensibly created to inform the Guatemalan public about government polices – is being used to promote the interests of the governing Partida de Acción Nacional. "Avances" has devoted much of its time to criticizing the press for negative coverage, particularly the daily Prensa Libre. The once-weak Guatemalan press does not seem to have been intimidated. Instead of holding its fire, the press has let fly a fusillade of accusations against the government, calling the president's attacks on the media a smoke screen intended to distract the population from pressing social problems.

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