Radio journalist gunned down in southeastern Paraguay

New York, August 23, 2007—
Radio reporter Tito Alberto Palma was shot to death Wednesday night at a friend’s house in Paraguay’s southeastern city of Mayor Otaño. The Committee to Protect Journalists called today on Paraguayan authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and bring all those responsible to justice.

Palma, a reporter for the local radio station Mayor Otaño and correspondent for the Asunción-based Radio Chaco Boreal, was having dinner at a friend’s home when two armed individuals in camouflage broke in at 10:40 p.m., according to press reports and CPJ interviews. Without saying a word, the two assailants began to fire their weapons, the owner of the house, Aparicio Martínez, told local reporters. Palma was shot in the head, neck, arms, and legs, Vicente Paéz, secretary-general of the Paraguayan Journalists Union, told CPJ. Palma’s friend, Wilma Martínez, was shot in the leg and was in stable condition today, according to local press reports.

Palma, 48, a Chilean national, often denounced organized crime, illegal smuggling of gas, and local government corruption in the southeastern province of Itapúa, a colleague at Radio Chaco Boreal, Erico González, told CPJ. Palma had also reported recently on the existence of illegal radio stations in Mayor Otaño, a small city on Paraguay’s border with Argentina, 285 miles (460 kilometers) from Asunción.

Palma had received death threats for years, González told CPJ. However, anonymous calls threatening the reporter and his family had intensified in the last month, González said. A week prior to his death, Palma announced on the air that he was returning to Chile because of the threats, Paéz told CPJ. Palma had lived in Paraguay since 1991.

According to Paraguayan press reports, local police issued a statement this morning saying they were investigating the murder but not speculating on a motive. González told CPJ that Palma’s colleagues believe he was murdered in retaliation for his work.

“We offer our deepest condolences to Tito Palma’s family, colleagues and friends,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on Paraguayan authorities to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation into Palma’s murder, find all those responsible, and punish them to the full extent of the law.”

CPJ has found that journalists who report on drug trafficking or local corruption in Paraguayan border towns are often victims of violent reprisals. In February 2006, unidentified gunmen fired at Augusto Roa, a correspondent for the Asunción-based ABC Color in Encarnación, after he had written investigative pieces about marijuana production and trafficking in southern Paraguay. Roa was not injured.

In July 2006, Luis Alcides Ruiz Díaz, reporter for the weekly Hechos in Pedro Juan Caballero, was threatened after publishing the names of alleged traffickers in the border city. And in May of this year, Oscar Bogado Silva, correspondent in Encarnación for the Asunción-based daily Última Hora, received repeated death threats after reporting on local corruption and drug trafficking.