Nicaraguan journalists say they are often able to work freely, but reporters in isolated regions where the government has little control remain at particular risk from drug traffickers and corrupt officials.
Relations between the government and the press have improved since President Enrique Bolaños Geyer took office in 2002. Journalists say they are able to criticize Bolaños without reprisal, unlike under former President Arnoldo Alemán. Plagued by corruption scandals, many uncovered by the press, Alemán’s government retaliated by doling out state advertising to reward or punish news outlets for their coverage.
Journalists remain concerned that the government gives a disproportionate share of advertising to large media outlets that support its agenda at the expense of smaller organizations without government ties. But some say the distribution has become more equitable under Bolaños.
One commentator was murdered in 2004 in retaliation for his work. Carlos José Guadamuz, the outspoken host of “Dardos al centro” (Darts to the Bull’s-Eye) on TV station Canal 23, was killed as he arrived at work in the capital, Managua, on February 10 by William Hurtado García, a one-time state security agent under the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) government. Hurtado shot Guadamuz several times at point-blank range before Guadamuz’s son and Canal 23 employees subdued him, authorities said.
Hurtado, who pleaded guilty in April and was sentenced to 21 years in prison, said in court that he killed Guadamuz because of the commentator’s frequent criticism of the FSLN. The journalist, once a senior FSLN official himself, parted ways with the party in the 1990s and became a fierce opponent of the FSLN and leaders such as Daniel Ortega. Two others charged as accomplices were acquitted, although prosecutors appealed.
María José Bravo, a correspondent for the Managua-based daily La Prensa (The Press), was shot and killed on November 9 while covering a municipal election dispute in Juigalpa, the capital of Chontales Department.
In neglected and destitute regions such as the Atlantic Coast, journalists face retaliation if they report on pervasive drug trafficking and corruption. Sergio León Corea, Bluefields correspondent for the La Prensa, said he has been threatened and intimidated for his reporting on the drug trade and police malfeasance.
On August 17, someone broke into León Corea’s house and tried to force open the door to his bedroom, where he was sleeping with his wife and daughter, he said. León Corea scared off the intruder and no one was hurt, he said, but the next day police intelligence agents followed him. León Corea filed an official complaint, but police did not follow up on promises to provide security. He said journalists in the Atlantic Coast region are very careful about what they write because corruption is so widespread.
A bill to improve access to government information stagnated after its introduction in the legislature in late 2003. The measure would define public information and set forth a process to obtain such records. Some journalists say the National Assembly was nearly paralyzed in 2004 because of conflicts between political parties and between the legislative and the executive branches.