Attacks on the Press in 2008: Americas Developments

Canada | Chile | Dominican Republic | El Salvador | Haiti | Nicaragua | Panama | Peru

• A Canadian court ordered news organizations not to report on the details of the bail hearings of 17 suspects accused of terrorism in March. The court acted under a provision in the Canadian Criminal Code that requires judges presiding over bail hearings to impose media bans automatically at the request of the accused. National and international news organizations including The Toronto Star, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, CTVglobemedia Inc.–Canada’s largest multimedia company and private broadcaster–and The Associated Press appealed the blackout to the Ontario Court of Appeal.

• A police officer on horseback struck Víctor Salas, a photographer for the Spanish news agency EFE, on the face with a whip as the journalist was photographing a protest outside the Chilean Congress in the central city of Valparaíso on May 21, a colleague said. Salas’ right eye was seriously injured and required extensive surgery, according to press reports. In June, after an internal police investigation, nine officers were sanctioned, according to local news reports. However, no one officer was identified as having used the whip. According to local news reports and a CPJ interview, the Chilean Public Ministry began an independent investigation into the attack in July, but no results were made public by late year.

• An unidentified man punched journalist Javiera Lopez in the face as she was returning home on the evening of October 24, the local daily La Estrella de Iquique reported. The assailant warned Lopez, a reporter for NorTV in the northern city of Iquique, “not to mess with la Jorge,” referring to the Iquique neighborhood of Jorge Inostrosa where Lopez had been reporting, the daily said. Lopez said she also received two telephone death threats after producing a story on drug trafficking in Jorge Inostrosa that week, local and international news reports said. Local police were investigating, the Spanish news service EFE reported.
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• On August 7, unidentified individuals shot and killed Normando García, a cameraman for the daily news program “Detrás de la Noticia” (Behind the News) and producer of the music program “Pachanga Mix” on television station Teleunión, as he was dropping his car off at a car wash in Santiago, 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Santo Domingo, according to CPJ interviews. A taxi driver who was talking to García at the time of the attack was wounded and later died at a local hospital, news reports said. Esteban Rosario, host of “Detrás de la Noticia,” said García had received multiple death threats in the months before his death. Santiago police spokesman Col. Jesús Cordero Paredes told CPJ that authorities were investigating.
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• William Chamagua, owner of the San Salvador-based Radio Mi Gente and host of the political news show “Hablando con Mi Gente” (Talking to My People), received a call on his U.S. cell phone January 7 from an unidentified woman threatening him with death. (Chamagua maintains homes in the United States and El Salvador.) During the weeks that followed, several calls were placed to the radio station and to Chamagua’s house in El Salvador threatening his employees and family, the journalist told CPJ. Chamagua said he believed the threats were linked to the station’s critical reporting on the Salvadoran government.
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• On April 8, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Port-au-Prince calling for the ouster of President René Préval after an increase in prices for commodities such as rice and sugar. Three Haitian reporters were injured while covering the violent clashes between protesters and Haitian and U.N. forces, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. Jean-Jacques Augustin, a photographer for the national daily Le Matin, and Leblanc Macaenzy, a cameraman for Channel 11 television, were struck by rubber bullets, Guyler Delva, president of the local press freedom group S.O.S. Journalistes, told CPJ. David Wimhurst, head of communications for the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, said it was not clear whether Haitian police or U.N. forces had fired the rubber bullets. Yves Joseph, a photographer for the Port-au-Prince-based daily Haïti Progrès, was struck in the arms and legs by pellets while he photographed a group of protesters who were looting local businesses, Delva said. The three journalists received immediate medical attention, he told CPJ.

• On June 24, Judge Pablo Ruz of the Central Criminal Court in Madrid, Spain, reopened an investigation into the 2004 killing of Spanish journalist Ricardo Ortega, who was shot in Haiti while covering the ouster of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Ortega worked in Haiti as a correspondent for the Spanish network Antena 3. The Criminal Court has jurisdiction over cases involving the violent death of Spanish citizens that occur in a foreign country. The new investigation stemmed from a decision by a Haitian court, made public by the Ortega family in May, which asserted that the bullet that killed the reporter might have been fired by foreign soldiers, according to news reports. After Aristide’s ouster, U.S. Marines and foreign soldiers were sent to restore stability in Haiti. In an interview with Antena 3, a U.S. Embassy official disputed the assertion that U.S. military personnel had been involved. As part of his re-investigation, Ruz was briefed by CPJ Europe consultant Borja Bergareche, who described CPJ’s research in the case.
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• William Hurtado García, who confessed to the 2004 murder of Canal 23 television host Carlos José Guadamuz, was conditionally released from prison, the Nicaraguan press reported March 5. Hurtado, who served only four years of his 21-year prison sentence, was released in mid-February due to deteriorating health, said Bayardo Izabá, director of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights. Authorities did not specify the exact date of his release. Guadamuz, the outspoken host of the television program “Dardos al Centro” (Darts to the Bull’s-Eye), was shot to death outside the station’s Managua offices on February 10, 2004.

• In September, the Nicaraguan government launched an investigation into more than a dozen nonprofit organizations it claimed were illegally funneling money to groups barred from accepting contributions. Among the organizations being examined was the Center for Media Investigations, a group headed by prominent journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro Barrios. Chamorro, a tough critic of the current administration, was subjected to extensive questioning by prosecutors at the attorney general’s office on October 11, while police raided the center’s Managua offices. On October 17, CPJ sent a letter to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega expressing concern over the investigation, which the journalist said was meant to discredit him and inspire fear among Ortega’s critics. In the letter, CPJ stated that evidence indicated the government’s investigation was being driven by Chamorro’s critical coverage of the government, and it urged Ortega to end persecution of the journalist.

• Several unidentified assailants stabbed and kicked Nicolás Berríos Santana, a reporter for Managua-based Nueva Radio Ya, early on the morning of November 12. Berríos was driving a company car to work when it was intercepted by two vehicles, local and international press reports said. Several assailants dragged Berríos out of the car, kicking him repeatedly and stabbing him in the chest, arms, and abdomen, local press reports said. The assailants burned Berríos’ car before neighbors came to the reporter’s rescue. Berríos received medical care at a local hospital. Sergio Gutiérrez, the local police chief, said investigators were looking into the attack, El Nuevo Diario reported.

• Iván Olivares, a reporter for the newsweekly Confidencial, was stabbed with a bayonet while covering a clash between pro- and anti-government protesters in Managua on the afternoon of November 19, according to local press reports. The journalist was taken to a nearby hospital, where he received treatment for an abdominal wound, local press reports said. Protesters also broke the windows of marked vehicles belonging to the national television stations Canal 2 and Canal 8, the Managua-based daily La Prensa reported.

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• On July 25, 11th Criminal Court Judge Josefina Sclopis barred Bienvenido Brown, a sports columnist with the daily La Estrella de Panamá, from leaving the country, the newspaper reported. The judge’s decision stemmed from a criminal defamation suit filed by Ramón Cardoze, director of the Panamanian Sports Institute, a government body charged with promoting sports, after Brown revealed the expected cost of sending the Panamanian delegation to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. After Olmedo Cedeño, Brown’s lawyer, filed an appeal requesting judicial permission that would allow the reporter to travel and cover the Games, the columnist was permitted to leave the country. The lawsuit was pending in late year.

• Panamanian real estate mogul Herman Bern sued the Panama City-based weekly El Periódico for damages after the September 1 publication of an investigative article titled “Pobre Millonario” (Poor Millionaire) that included a copy of Bern’s 2007 tax return, which the paper said it had obtained from an unnamed source. Bern alleged that the paper had violated Article 722 of the Fiscal Code forbidding disclosure of taxpayer income information, the local press said. The paper’s director, Omar Wong, said the information had been verified before publication, according to press reports. The case was pending in late year, but in September a Panama City judge ordered that US$1.1 million in El Periódico’s assets and 15 percent of Wong’s wages be set aside in lieu of a verdict, news reports said.

• In July, the Supreme Court of Justice voided more than 160 presidential pardons granted by former president Mireya Moscoso in 2004. The pardon recipients included 87 journalists charged with criminal defamation, local press reports said. The high court ruled that the pardons were unconstitutional. Local journalists and free press advocates expressed concern and noted that the court’s decision was a setback for press freedom.
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• Elizabeth Salinas, a reporter for the daily Conoeste in Chosica, a city in the central province of Lima, said she and colleague Cynthia Flores were repeatedly threatened with death after reporting on sexual harassment allegations involving the mayor of Chosica. The threatening messages, which were sent to their cell phones, began on January 6 and lasted several days, Salinas said. On the night of January 14, Salinas and Flores were followed home by two armed individuals traveling in a truck owned by the Municipal Civil Police. Repeated calls from CPJ to the mayor’s office went unanswered.

• Two unidentified men attempted to kidnap Paúl Garay Ramírez, director of the Pucallpa-based weekly El Pueblo, on April 1 after the journalist gave an interview at local radio station Estéreo 92. The journalist told CPJ that in the days that followed, unidentified individuals visited his home, as well as those of his mother and a friend, asking his whereabouts. Garay said he believed the actions had been in retaliation for his investigative article linking a former government official in Ucayali province to the illegal purchase of land. Garay told CPJ that he had complained to local authorities.

• On April 16, a court in the northwestern city of Jaén convicted two men in the March 2007 murder of journalist Miguel Pérez Julca, host of the radio program “El Informativo del Pueblo” (Bulletin of the People) on the Jaén-based station Radio Éxitos, the Lima-based daily El Comercio reported. Juan Hurtado Vásquez, convicted of masterminding the slaying, was sentenced to 27 years in prison. Nazario Coronel Ramírez, also known as “Chamaya,” was given 19 years in prison for participating in the crime. The court also ordered the two men to pay the journalist’s family 35,000 Peruvian sols (US$13,000) as compensation, El Comercio said. The defendants appealed the decision.

• On October 16, Lima’s 27th Criminal Court found Magaly Medina, host of the nightly gossip show “Magaly TeVe” on national television station ATV and owner of the weekly magazine Magaly, and Ney Guerrero Orellana, her producer, guilty of defaming Peruvian soccer star Paolo Guerrero. The player filed a defamation lawsuit in February after photographs and videos of him at a Lima nightclub were aired on “Magaly TeVe” and printed in Magaly in November 2007. According to local and international news reports, Medina alleged that Paolo Guerrero had been out drinking early the morning of a match between the Peruvian and Brazilian national soccer teams. An investigation by the Peruvian Soccer Federation found that the photographs had been taken days before. Medina was sentenced to five months in prison and Guerrero to three months. The court also ordered the journalists to pay the soccer player 80,000 sols (US$26,000) in damages.

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