Thursday, March 26, 2015

Five Journalists Killed in Paraguay During President Horacio Cartes' Administration

From the time President Horacio Cartes of Paraguay took office in April of 2013, five journalists have been killed in what some Paraguayan leaders are calling a narco-political effort to silence voices of opposition. Andrés Gaudín covered the killing of the fifth and most recent journalist, Gerardo Servia, in last week's issue of NotiSur. "Journalists and campesino groups accuse President Cartes of being a ‘partner and protector of the mafias.’ During a March 6 memorial service for Servián, the secretary-general of the Sindicato de Periodistas de Paraguay (SPP) Santiago Ortiz called Cartes the ‘godfather of these mafia groups’ and said his ‘government of narcopolitics’ is directly to blame for the five journalist killings. ‘Since Cartes took over the presidency, the mafia murders with impunity,’ he said. ‘We’ve got to stop being silent and afraid. We must put an end to narcopolitics. Either that or narcopolitics will put an end to us.’

The repeated killings of journalists and campesinos have also gone unacknowledged by groups such as the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), and by regional organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (UNASUR)."

Despite this apparent lack of attention from others, Reporters Without Borders has taken notice. On their webpage focused on Paraguayan reporters, stories of the five journalists and the broader issues highlighted by their murders are provided for the public, as well as activists, other journalists, and anyone generally interested in the rights of press workers and the freedom of information.

Photo: Reporters without Borders
Gerardo Servian Coronel, a radio journalist in the Paraguayan border town of Zanja Pytá, was assassinated on March 4, 2015, by two men riding a motorcycle near the border city of Ponta Pora. Servian was critical of the local government on his radio program, which was not hard to do in a nation riddled by rampant corruption at the highest levels. Servian’sbrother and fellow journalist Gerardo Servian received numerous death threats after working alongside Santiago Leguizamon. Leguizamon was murdered in 1991 and to this day no one has been held accountable. Servian’s is the 17th murder of a Paraguayan journalist in the last two decades, and the fifth since the election of Horacio Cartes. Reporters Without Borders reports that the vast majority of these murders were reprisals for investigative reporting on the links between organized crime and politics.

Photo: Reporters without Borders
Pablo Medina, a correspondent for Paraguay’s leading daily periodical ABC Color, was murdered on his way back from reporting near the indigenous community of Ko’e Pora on October 16, 2014. Known for covering the drug trade in Paraguay, Medina had received numerous death threats before. His assistant, Antonia Almada, was also fatally wounded. Medina was formerly under police protection, but that protection was lifted in 2013. Reports say that two men stopped his vehicle, asked him to identify himself, and then fatally shot him and his assistant. Medina’s brother and fellow journalist, Salvador Medina, was also murdered in the same region in January of 2001 after covering drug traffickers.

Edgar Fernández Fleitas, a Concepción-based lawyer and presenter of a daily radio program called “Ciudad de la Furia” (City of Fury), was murdered on June 9, 2014, just one month after the murder of fellow journalist Fausto Alcaraz. Fleitas’ radio program openly criticized local government and judicial officials and repeatedly drew attention to their involvement with drug traffickers. Death threats on his life were repeatedly reported to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. A single gunman assassinated Fleitas inside his Concepción office.

Fausto Gabriel Alcaraz, a popular radio journalist who covered drug trafficking and the involvement of government officials in illicit trade on the border town of Pedro Juan Cabaellero, was murdered on May 16, 2014. Reports show that Alcaraz was shot 11 times. Alcaraz often accused officials by name on his program for involvement in illicit trade near the border and in other regions. Pedro Juan Caballero has been the site of at least two other murders of journalists in recent memory, including that of Santiago Leguizamon and the radio director Marcelino Vasquez, whose murder took place just months before Cartes entered office.

Carlos Artaza, a press photographer who had recently been covering the aggressive race gubernatorial race in the state of Amambay, was murdered on April 25, 20013 in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero. The homicide occurred just days after Cartes election, a month after the similar murder of Marcelino Vasquez, and on the 24th anniversary of the murder of Leguizamon in the same city. Other journalists in the area who were also covering the heated race and supporting the left-leaning candidate, Pedro Gonzalez, received death threats on their phone reading, for example, “you are next” in both Spanish and Guaraní. Artaza was shot in his car by two men on a motorcycle.

Paraguay ranks 109 out of 180 countries in The Reporters Without Borders 2015 Press Freedom Index.  The index ranks the performance of 180 countries according to a range of criteria that include media pluralism and independence, respect for the safety and freedom of journalists, and the legislative, institutional and infrastructural environment in which the media operate. Other countries in the Latin America-Caribbean region that rank higher than Paraguay are Costa Rica (16), Uruguay (23), Suriname (29), Belize (30), Eastern Caribbean (37), Chile (43), El Salvador  (45), Haiti (53), Argentina (57), Guyana (62), Dominican Republic (63), Panama (83), Peru (92), Bolivia (94), Brazil (99), and Ecuador (108).  In contrast, Guatemala ranked 124, Colombia 128,  Honduras 132, Venezuela 137, and Mexico 148. 

When examining the situation in Paraguay in particular, we see that the northeastern border departments of Concepción, Canindeyú and Amambay (the location of  Pedro Juan Cabellero) continue to be the region in which the greatest effort to silence reporters is exerted. Comprised mainly of rural communities with small and medium-sized urban centers, this is the region traffickers must pass through when traveling from Asunción to the consumer markets of Brazil.

-Jake Sandler

Also in LADB on March 18-20

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