Attacks on the Press 2005: Americas Snapshots

Attacks and developments throughout the region


• Giovanna Rodríguez Castro and David Zagardia Muños, members of a news team from the private television channel Bolivisión, were harassed and threatened while covering antigovernment protests in Santa Cruz on January 11. Protesters blocked their vehicle and punctured its tires, Rodríguez Castro told CPJ. Rodríguez Castro, who was four months pregnant, said that one man threatened to beat her.


• Paola Briceño Verdina, a reporter for Radio Bío-Bío, was detained and beaten by police after covering a student protest in Santiago on May 4. A police agent approached Briceño Verdina shortly after she aired a report on the demonstration, which included clashes between students and police. Although Briceño Verdina identified herself as a reporter and showed her press credential, she was taken to a police vehicle and beaten with a baton on the arms and legs. She was jailed briefly before a commanding officer intervened and ordered her release.

• After three years of delay, Congress and President Ricardo Lagos enacted a measure in August that eliminated desacato (disrespect) provisions in the penal code and the code of military justice. Articles 263, 265, and 268 of the penal code were repealed. Article 264 of the penal code redefined attacks on public officials to exclude insulting language. Article 276 of the code of military justice, which defined the offense of “improper sedition” in broad terms, was recast to prohibit any action that “induces or incites military personnel to disorder, indiscipline, or nonfulfillment of military duties.”


• In a bid to limit the grounds and liability in defamation cases, and to broaden access to information, local journalists and press freedom advocates created an independent organization called Instituto de Prensa y Libertad de Expresión (IPLEX) on June 8. The group was established to provide training for journalists, encourage independent and diverse media, and defend local journalists in their work. Eduardo Ulibarri, former editor of the leading daily La Nación, was named the group’s president.


• Julio Augusto García Romero, a photographer, died on April 19 while covering a demonstration in Quito against then-President Lucio Gutiérrez. Protesters were moving toward the Palacio de Carondelet, the seat of the executive branch, when police fired tear gas grenades into the crowd. García Romero, who worked for the Chilean news agency La Bocina and the weekly Punto de Vista, collapsed and went into cardiorespiratory arrest. Protests were frequent after Supreme Court magistrates–appointed by Gutiérrez and his allies in Congress–dismissed corruption charges against two former presidents. Gutiérrez was later forced from office and faced prosecution himself.


• The Constitutionality Court, the nation’s highest court, suspended enforcement of desacato provisions in the penal code on June 14. The court said it would review the constitutionality of Articles 411, 412, and 413, which criminalize expressions deemed offensive to public officials and state institutions. The move followed a number of recent rulings in Latin America striking down desacato laws.


• The Supreme Court struck down the desacato provision in the penal code. In its May 19 ruling, the court found that Article 345 was unconstitutional because it provided special protection to public officials and restricted freedom of expression. The article set penalties of two to four years in prison for insulting a public official, and three to six years for insulting senior officials, legislators, or Supreme Court justices.


• A judge found a local politician guilty in the November 2004 murder of journalist María José Bravo. Eugenio Hernández González, convicted on January 26, was later sentenced to 25 years in prison. Bravo, a correspondent for the Managua daily La Prensa, was covering an electoral dispute in the city of Juigalpa. She had just left a local vote-counting center and was talking to several people when she was shot once at close range. Police arrested Hernández González, ex-mayor of the town of El Ayote, later that night.


• On August 3, unidentified attackers set fire to the studios of Catholic radio station Quebracho Poty, based in the town of Puerto Casado on the Brazilian border. The attackers set the station’s broadcasting equipment ablaze and cut the antenna’s cables, according to local journalist Charles Saldívar. Radio Quebracho Poty had supported the national government’s expropriation of land surrounding the town. The land was owned by the sect of Sun Myung Moon, head of the Unification Church.


• Marcelo Borrat, a former television reporter for media company Multimedio Plural, was abducted, beaten, and threatened with death by unidentified assailants on October 17, the journalist’s lawyer, Edison Lanza, told CPJ. While driving home, Borrat was intercepted by three hooded assailants who forced him to get into their car, Lanza said. Borrat was taken to a nearby beach and assaulted, suffering facial injuries. His attackers demanded he destroy unspecified cell phone recordings, then left Borrat in the water, the lawyer said. Borrat had received death threats earlier in the year after investigating irregularities in the public health system. He also aired a controversial report in September about workers fired from one of Multimedio’s outlets, TV Libre. Multimedio canceled Borrat’s show soon afterward but said it had nothing to do with the fired-worker report.