Honduras’ government has said that the murder of journalist Alfredo Villatoro is a backlash by drug traffickers against the country allowing extradition to the US, though members of the country’s press were the target of attacks well before the recent legislation.
Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla said that the killing of Villatoro, found dead in Tegucigalpa on Tuesday a week after being kidnapped on his way to work, was ordered by powerful drug traffickers. The minister said that these groups were trying to “terrorize” Honduran society in response to a recent change to the law allowing extradition of nationals, and other blows struck by the government against organized crime, reports El Heraldo.
On January 19, Honduran Congress passed a constitutional amendment to allow citizens charged with drug trafficking, terrorism or organized crime to be extradited to the United States.
The authorities have named two inmates of Danli prison in El Paraiso, in the south of the country, as suspects in the Villatoro case. Juan Ramn Fonseca is accused of handling negotiations with Villatoro’s family while the journalist was being held, while Miguel Angel Alvarez is suspected of being a key part of the plot, reports La Prensa.
A former police official who was an initial suspect in the case remains at liberty, despite evidence linking his vehicle to Villatoro’s kidnapping.
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It’s not clear exactly what links Villatoro, a presenter on radio station HRN, to the issue of extradition. According to Bonilla, the journalist was selected as a victim due to his prominance, in order to create fear in the population.
Another factor counting against Bonilla’s theory is that Honduran journalists have been targeted at a high rate over recent years, before the recent extradition law. The big jump in killings took place not in response to the extradition legislation but after the 2009 coup — according to Reporters Without Borders, of 26 journalists murdered in the country in the last decade, 20 were killed since the coup.
It is plausible, however, that Honduran drug traffickers would try to pressure the government against carrying out extraditions. The Supreme Court is set to assess the US’s first extradition request for a Honduran national since the reform, which concerns suspected drug trafficker Carlos Arnoldo Lobo, alias “El Negro Lobo.” A clear forerunner for this is Colombia’s Pablo Escobar, who launched a violent campaign against the Colombian state in the late 1980s and early 1990s in a bid to stop the country allowing the extradition of suspects to the United States.
The fact that the Honduran authorities have actually named two suspects in the case gives weight to Bonilla’s argument, suggesting that the authorities have concrete evidence and are not merely offering theories in order to placate public opinion or distract from the facts of the case.The Committee for Protection of Journalists has accused the Porfirio Lobo government of being unwilling to investigate attacks on members of the press, but the prominance of Villatoro’s case may have pressed them to act fast.