Prosecutors in Guatemala believe a current congressman ordered the killing of a local journalist in 2015, a reminder of the potentially fatal consequences of reporting on corruption in a nation that until recently was considered to be a mafia state.
Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG), a United Nations-backed anti-impunity body, requested a preliminary hearing for Congressman Julio Juárez during a January 26 press conference, reported El Periódico.
Prosecutors suspect Juárez of ordering the murder of journalist Danilo López in the town of Mazatenango, Suchitepéquez. A second journalist was also killed in the March 2015 attack. At the time, Juárez was the mayor of Cuyotenango, another municipality in Suchitepéquez department.
Recovered text messages show that López had gotten into a disagreement with Juárez because the mayor had retracted his support for a candidate vying to be his successor, according to EFE. López followed up by publishing an investigation which alleged that Juárez had not met his tax obligations. This resulted in Juárez viewing the journalist as a “threat to the consolidation of his candidacy as a district congressman and a questioning of his power in the area,” said CICIG Commissioner Iván Velásquez, adding that it is “highly probable” that Juárez is behind the murder.
The prosecutors also announced the arrests of two individuals who are believed to have been the intermediaries between Juárez and the criminal network that carried out the hit, reported Prensa Libre.
InSight Crime Analysis
The allegations against Juárez highlight the dangers faced by investigative journalists in Guatemala, and the power of corrupt politicians to silence them. López filed an official complaint in 2013 saying that he had received threats following his investigation into a different mayor in Suchitepéquez, but the authorities were evidently either unable or unwilling to prevent his murder.
His case is hardly unique. Guatemala was ranked by one watchdog as the deadliest nation in Central America for journalists in 2013, beating out notoriously violent neighbors El Salvador and Honduras. Shortly after López’ murder, the Attorney General’s Office said reports of journalists being threatened had risen every year since 2010.
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Violence against journalists is especially worrisome in a country as notoriously corrupt as Guatemala. Former President Otto Pérez Molina and his Vice President Roxana Baldetti are in jail on corruption charges, along with several members of his cabinet. And corruption allegations are now threatening to take down yet another administration following the arrest of current President Jimmy Morales’ brother and son last week.