Guatemala : Free press threatened by paramilitaries and vigilantes
20 Dec 2011

Threats against freedom of the press in Guatemala have been highlighted by the case of freelance journalist Lucia Escobar. While government directed attacks against the press are not currently an issue, paramilitary groups could still pose a threat to journalists. Death threats forced Escobar to flee her home with her family after she denounced a vigilante group in the town of Panajachel. Escobar claimed the group’s “social cleansing” activities were promoted by local government officials.

Escobar‘s story was published in the Guatemalan daily El Periodico, it accused the town mayor, Gerardo Higueros of turning a local citizens group into a death squad with the help of an unidentified fundamentalist Christian group. The vigilante organisation is apparently cleansing the town of Panajachel of “undesirables”, including beggars and homeless people.  Within days of writing about the problems,the mayor, Higueros, who is also  director of a local television news show, dedicated a couple of hours in a television broadcast to accusing Escobar of lying about the story and trafficking drugs.

Escobar said she knows that despite a number of complaints to local police about the armed group’s activities, none of the cases have been investigated by the authorities.  Escobar left her home in Panajachel in early November, and she is still at a loss. “I had no idea it was going to turn into this,” she said in Guatemala City.  She is not planning to return to Panajachel until the situation is cleared up.  El Periodico complained about the lack of reaction from government authorities in Guatemala City to the attacks against its reporter.

In May another journalist in the provinces was killed after receiving death threats. Yensi Roberto Ordoñez Galdámez, a television reporter was found murdered in his car. His case has not been solved.


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