The Guatemalan daily El Periódico and Fundación MEPI have published an exposé of corruption in the current Guatemalan government. The story, with information and documents gathered during the first year in office of president Otto Perez Molina and vice president Roxana Baldetti, detailed a multi-million dollar web of corruption in a country where 50 per cent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day.
After the story was published on 8 April, the newspaper was immediately the hit with a cyber attack, according to El Periodico’s publisher, José Rubén Zamora. The website went dead and nobody could read the story for a few days. Readers who did manage to access the website had their computers infected with a virus. The attack was the latest salvo against the daily, which focuses on exposing government corruption. Zamora said it was the sixth attack against its website in the last year. He said each attack had occurred after the newspaper published investigations into corruption in Molina’s government. Zamora said that they have been investigating the attacks — which have been coming from a neighbourhood in Guatemala City. “We will pinpoint the exact area soon”, he said. The Inter American Press Association wrote a letter to Guatemala’s government expressing their concern over the attacks.
According to Zamora, officials have pulled government advertising from the newspaper, and constantly harass independent advertisers who work with the daily. In the last two decades, Zamora has been at the helm of two newspapers. His first paper was Siglo Veintuno, which he left after disagreeing with his co-owners over the paper’s robust coverage of corruption and government abuses. He has been target of kidnappings and death threats, and even had his home invaded by armed men in 2003, who held his wife and three sons hostage for several hours at gunpoint. Zamora won the Committee to Protect Journalists Freedom of the Press award in 1995, and in 2000 was named World Press Freedom Hero by the International Press Institute.
I asked Zamora why he continues to put his life in danger with government exposés:
Ana Arana: You knew the danger with this story, why did you want to publish it?
José Rubén Zamora: It is indispensable to stop the corruption and self-enrichment by the Guatemalan political class. They forget that our country is overwhelmed by misery, malnourished children, and racism. Guatemala is a country without counterweights or institutional balances to protect it from abuses. That is why to write about these stories is our obligation. If we did not focus on these issues, why should we exist?
Our stories are written so Guatemalans get strong and do not accept abuses of those in power. We also do it to get information on corrupt practices and human rights violations in Guatemala out in the international community.
AA: What is the real problem in Guatemala?
JRZ: I think there is an excessive concentration of power and money, and a serious penetration of organised crime, especially drug trafficking organisations, in spheres of power.
AA: Do you fear any further attacks against the newspaper?
JRZ: Yes, I expect them to harass us through taxes, and to engage in defamation campaigns to discredit the newspaper. Sources close to the Presidency have said that the government is trying to organised a commercial boycott that could take the newspaper towards bankruptcy.