Regional media threatened after criticizing local officials

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New York, August 4, 2000 — In an apparent attempt to silence press criticisms of local officials in the province of Santiago del Estero in northern Argentina, unidentified individuals have threatened and harassed two local newspapers, according to CPJ sources and local press reports.

The newspapers received anonymous phone threats in response to their investigations of Carlos Juárez, the governor of Santiago del Estero, and his wife, Mercedes Aragonés, who is also the provincial vice-governor.

On July 1, a man driving an unregistered white Fiat Duna intercepted a delivery van carrying copies of the daily La Voz del Interior in Santiago del Estero and told its driver, Eduardo Gómez, that subsequent editions of the paper would disappear or be burned if it continued running articles about Juárez, the 83-year-old, five-term governor from the Justicialist Party (PJ).

La Voz del Interior subsequently filed a complaint, but Santiago del Estero judicial authorities have yet to identify the vehicle or its occupant.

On the morning of August 1, according to local press reports, an unidentified man called the main offices of La Voz del Interior, in Córdoba Province, and asked to speak with a newsroom editor. The call came a few hours after the newspaper sent a correspondent to Santiago del Estero Province.

“You take note,” the caller said. “We know your journalist is here, at a hotel. He may suffer an accident if you keep bothering Juárez.” At around 5 p.m. that afternoon, another anonymous male caller threatened to “crush” the newspaper.

The latest threats coincided with a two-part series titled “El reino de los Juárez” (“The Reign of the Juárezes”) that ran in the July 30 and 31 issues of La Voz del Interior. The series criticized what the paper described as the ruling couple’s authoritarian style of government. In addition, the paper denounced allegedly pervasive corruption in the local judiciary.

Meanwhile, the Santiago del Estero-based daily El Liberal has told CPJ that its staff was harassed after they published leaked official intelligence reports that suggested Juárez’s involvement in an espionage ring set up to monitor opposition members and local church leaders.

In a series of investigative reports, the newspaper had also reported numerous irregularities in the awarding of public-housing contracts. Since mid-July, El Liberal staffers have received several threatening phone calls, and unidentified individuals have distributed flyers insulting three of its journalists. According to the InterAmerican Press Association, the newspaper has also complained that its phone lines have been tapped.