Venezuelan columnist shot to death in front of home

New York, August 29, 2006—An unidentified assailant shot and killed Venezuelan columnist Jesús Rafael Flores Rojas last week in front of his home in El Tigre in southwestern Anzoátegui province. The Committee to Protect Journalists is investigating whether Flores’ murder is related to his journalistic work.

Flores, known locally as “El Pavo Flores,” was editorial coordinator of the Anzoátegui edition of the daily La Región, which is based in Cumaná in neighboring Sucre province. Flores also wrote a weekly column in which he often criticized local government officials, Luis Marcano Barrios, editor of La Región, told CPJ.

The slaying occurred when Flores and his daughter Nancy Rojas Mota arrived home at 9 p.m. on August 23, Rojas told local reporters. As they were putting their car in the garage, she said, Flores was approached by an armed man. Rojas said that she implored the attacker to take their car and money, but the assailant told her that he wasn’t there for either and then shot the journalist repeatedly, the Venezuelan press reported.

Flores was struck eight times, in the face, neck, and arm, Marcano said. Press reports said that Flores had been involved in politics in the past. Gregorio Salazar, secretary-general of the National Union of Press Workers, told CPJ that Flores was not connected to politics at the time of the murder.

Marcano said Flores had told him that he had received several death threats, the most recent coming a month ago when an unidentified caller told Flores to stop criticizing the municipal government. Family members said they didn’t know of any threats against Flores, the local press reported.

The local police commissioner, José Rivero Alfonzo, told reporters that authorities believe that Flores ’ murder was the work of a professional hit man. Rivero said a robbery had been discarded as a motive but gave no indications as to what motivated the crime. He added that police are reviewing Flores’ columns in search of a motive or suspects.

“We are alarmed by the murder of our colleague Jesús Rafael Flores Rojas,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on Venezuelan authorities to conduct a speedy and thorough investigation into this crime and to bring all those responsible to justice.”