TV reporter shot dead in eastern Guatemala

New York, June 8, 2009–An unidentified gunman shot and killed Guatemalan television reporter Marco Antonio Estrada on Saturday night in the eastern city of Chiquimula, the local press reported. 

Estrada covered general news, which included organized crime and drug trafficking, for the national television station Tele Diario. Local reporters told CPJ that Estrada’s region has experienced both increasing criminality and drug trafficking recently.

“We are saddened by Marco Antonio Estrada’s death and present our deepest condolences to his colleagues, family, and friends,” Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas said. “We urge Guatemalan authorities to conduct a transparent and thorough investigation into Estrada’s killing, and determine whether he was targeted in retaliation for his reporting.”

Around 8 p.m. on Saturday, an unidentified individual approached Estrada as he was stepping off his motorcycle on a street in Chiquimula, 138 miles (222 kilometers) east of Guatemala City, according to local news reports and CPJ interviews. The assailant fired four shots, killing Estrada immediately, Amílcar Rodas Ruano, a reporter for Tele Diario, told CPJ. Witnesses quoted in the local press said the gunman fled in a car that was parked at the scene of the crime. Rodas said Estrada’s cell phone was missing.

Estrada, 39, had worked for more than 20 years as a journalist, local reporters told CPJ. He had covered Chiquimula for Tele Diario for the last 10 years, reports in the local press said. Estrada’s wife told local reporters that she did not know of any threats against her husband. Chiquimula reporters told CPJ that local authorities are looking into Estrada’s work as a possible motive.

In April, unidentified gunmen killed veteran reporter Rolando Santiz and injured cameraman Antonio de León in Guatemala City. The news crew for the national television station Telecentro 13 had covered the police beat. Authorities have not made any leads public.

Violence associated with organized crime has escalated in Guatemala in the last few years, creating a generalized climate of fear. In 2008, two journalists were killed and a third was kidnapped, according to CPJ research. On May 12, an unidentified assailant shot and killed Jorge Mérida Pérez, a correspondent for the national daily Prensa Libre who had been covering drug trafficking and corruption in southwestern Quetzaltenango. Self-censorship is so pervasive in the interior of the country that massive gun battles between drug traffickers go unreported, according to CPJ research