Two days after being abducted and badly beaten in Guatemala,
prominent journalist José Rubén Zamora was still in shock. "I can't remember
what happened, but I was drugged and left unconscious in a hospital in the
outskirts of Guatemala City,"
he told me on Saturday after he was released from the local hospital.
His colleagues at the daily elPeriodico
and members of the local media were stunned by the news on Thursday. Rumors had spread that morning that
Zamora had been
killed. Claudia Mendez, an editor at the paper, told me that she started
crying. Zamora, a 1995 recipient of CPJ's
International Press Freedom Award, is considered one of the top investigative
journalists in Central America by his peers.
On Wednesday night, Zamora ate dinner at a local restaurant with a couple of friends and then went
to a bar for drinks. His friends didn't like the place, he said, so they left. Zamora paid the check,
and that's the last thing he remembers. His car was found the next morning a
few blocks away. His credit cards and cell phone had been stolen. When his
family and close colleagues called him that morning, someone answered and said
that Zamora had
In the early afternoon a call from a local hospital brought
great relief: Zamora
was alive and recovering. I was visiting the office of Cerigua, a local press
group, when someone from the UN called to tell us. Ileana Alamilla, the group's
director, then phoned Juan Luis Front, elPeriodico's editor, and he
confirmed the good news.
Details of the disturbing incident
were published in
the press the next morning. After being badly beaten, Zamora was left almost naked and unconscious in the town
25 miles (40 kilometers) away from the capital. Someone called the local
firemen, who took him to a nearby hospital. Zamora's
vital signs were so weak that he was then taken to a hospital in Guatemala City. It was
then, while still in state of confusion, that the journalist called his family.
Zamora had been the victim of
attack in 2003, and his colleagues said he has made many
enemies as a result of years investigating organized crime and corruption in Guatemala.
Zamora said he has no
idea if his attack was a result of the climate of violence in the
country or an act of intimidation, but that "there are video cameras that have caught
one of the attackers, and investigators will probably find out."
Human rights ombudsman Sergio Morales gave me some chilling
has a daily average of 16 killings, with a total of 21,000 over the
last three years. Nine out of 10 murders go unpunished, he said.
Colom and other high-ranking officials have expressed their concern about Zamora's attack, while the
prosecutor who investigates crimes against the press has begun an inquiry. In
the meantime, Zamora
needs police protection. The OAS Inter American Commission on Human Rights ordered
protective measures after the 2003 attack, but surprisingly,
authorities did not provide Zamora
the necessary protection to ensure that he is able to work without fear of