Spanish authorities restart Haiti murder investigation

New York, July 16, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is encouraged by the decision of Spanish authorities to reactivate the investigation into the 2004 murder of Antena 3 correspondent Ricardo Ortega, who was fatally shot in Haiti while covering the ouster of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide. As part of this process, CPJ European consultant Borja Bergareche was one of several journalists who briefed Judge Pablo Ruz of the Central Criminal Court in Madrid on CPJ’s research into the case.

On June 24, Judge Ruz reopened legal procedures in the Ortega case. The Criminal Court has jurisdiction over violent death cases of Spanish citizens that occur in a foreign country. In April 2007, Spanish authorities called on Haiti to create a joint official commission to look into the case, but no such commission has been formed.

“We welcome the decision of Spanish authorities to reopen the investigation into Ricardo Ortega’s murder,” said CPJ Senior Americas Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. “More than four years after the killing, no one has been prosecuted. It is crucial to establish who fired the fatal shot and bring those responsible to justice.”

Ortega was killed in a demonstration in Port-au-Prince on March 7, 2004, following Aristide’s chaotic departure. Weeks after the murder, Aristide supporter Yvon Antoine and Police Inspector Jean-Michel Gaspard were arrested and investigated for their involvement in the incident. Both have been released since and were not charged.

Bergareche referred the judge to CPJ’s report about press freedom conditions in Haiti in 2004. The European consultant told Judge Ruz that CPJ filed a U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the U.S. military’s Southern Command in December 2007. The FOIA request seeks any documents, coded messages, cables, photographs, briefing cables, memoranda, e-mail, affidavits, charts or maps, transcribed or electronically recorded correspondence, and conversations (including, but not limited to: mail, telephones, computers, and radio) related to the Ortega case.

After conducting its own investigation and interviewing witnesses in Haiti in October 2004, Antena 3 concluded that the U.S. military could have fired the bullet that killed Ortega. After Aristide’s ouster, U.S. Marines and foreign soldiers were sent to restore stability in Haiti. A U.S. Embassy official disputed that assertion in an interview with the station. The Marine Corps did not respond to inquiries from CPJ seeking comment at the time.

Last May, Ortega’s family disclosed a court decision from a Haitian judge, which asserted that the bullet that killed the Spanish reporter may have been shot by foreign soldiers.

Bergareche also told the judge that impunity is the norm in most cases of murdered journalists. Over the last 15 years, about 500 journalists have been murdered around the world in direct relation to their work, CPJ research shows. Justice has been served in less than 15 percent of these cases. With support from the Knight Foundation, CPJ launched a global campaign to combat impunity in November 2007.