MAY 13, 2003
Pablo Efraín Rax Chub, "La Noticia"
Rax, director of the news program "La Noticia" on Radio Cobán,
a radio station based in Alta Verapaz Department, received several anonymous
phone threats in May.
Rax received the first threatening call on his cell phone on May 13. He
could not identify the caller, who had a masculine voice, spoke fast,
and hung up quickly. Because the phone number showed as unavailable, Rax
could not trace the incoming call. The caller told Rax to "watch out and
stop talking about things you should not be talking about." Ten days later,
he received another threatening phone call with a similar message. On
May 30, a caller told Rax that they were following his every step. Rax
believes that the same person made all three phone calls.
The journalist does not suspect anyone in particular but believes that
the threats might be linked to news reports on "La Noticia." According
to Rax, the show—which leases its 6 a.m to 7 a.m. time slot from Radio
Cobán—had reported in early May on the discovery by police of several
hidden airplane runways in Alta Verapaz that were apparently used by drug
In addition, "La Noticia" had criticized a government agency for allegedly
using public employees to post political propaganda in support of the
ruling Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG). The radio show also covered
a million-dollar swindle at the Guatemalan Social Security Institute in
which some high-ranking members of the FRG were implicated. Rax told CPJ
that the program's news reports did not mention anybody by name.
In early June, Rax filed a complaint about the threats before the United
Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA), which monitors compliance
with the peace agreements that ended Guatemala's civil war in 1996.
Alberto Sandoval, Radio Tamazulapa
Sandoval, director of Radio Tamazulapa, based in the city of Jutiapa,
Jutiapa Department, received a threatening phone call during the run-up
to the November 9 presidential and legislative elections at around 7:25
a.m. while the journalist, who hosts and produces a morning and an afternoon
news program, was on the air. The caller said, "We are going to shoot
you dead, stop talking against our candidate." A radio operator who was
taking listener calls did not allow the threatening call to go on the
Sandoval does not know who was behind the threat but believes that it
came from local politicians, their relatives, or people close to them.
He linked the threat to comments he had made on air after political campaigning
in Jutiapa began on May 15. According to Sandoval, he questioned an election
poll that the coalition of opposition parties, Gran Alianza Nacional (GANA),
said it had taken to determine which of its candidates was the most popular.
After GANA leaders announced that Basilio Cordero had won the poll, Sandoval
alleged that the poll had never been taken and that GANA leaders planned
to arbitrarily nominate Cordero as their candidate for mayor. During the
program, rival candidates called in to say that no poll had been held.
Sandoval explained that he did not file a complaint about the threats
because he had received threats before and the local authorities had not
taken his complaints seriously. He added that he had received a call from
Marco Antonio Cortez, the Attorney General Office's special prosecutor
for crimes against journalists and trade unionists.
MAY 16, 2003
Edgar René Sáenz, "Somos de hoy"
Sáenz, who hosts the call-in radio show "Somos de hoy" (We Are
of Today) in the city of Sololá, the capital of Sololá Department,
was threatened by unidentified individuals. According to the journalist,
at around 1 p.m., an unidentified man came to him, said hello, and told
him to "watch his back." The man added that Sáenz was going to
have problems because of the issues he was discussing on his program.
The man then left, and Sáenz never saw him again.
Starting on June 12, Sáenz began receiving threatening phone calls,
usually at around 11 p.m. or 1 a.m. The caller, who had a masculine voice,
said, "Son of a bitch, your time is gonna come."
Besides hosting the radio program, Sáenz works as a correspondent
in southwestern Guatemala for the dailies Prensa Libre and Nuestro
Diario, as well as for the radio network Emisoras Unidas. He said
he has been working as a journalist for more than 30 years. "Somos de
hoy," a 3-year-old program that airs on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.,
covers issues of local interest and is based on its listeners' opinions,
according to Sáenz. The radio program leases its time slot from
Radio Xocomil Estéreo.
Sáenz linked the threats to comments he had made on his radio show,
rather than to his work for other media outlets. In statements made in
his program, Sáenz had said that Sololá's deputy mayor,
who took over the city's management after the mayor resigned to run as
a parliamentary deputy, was not concerned about protecting the community's
environment. In addition, he had criticized the municipal government,
which is headed by the ruling Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity
(UNRG), for allowing private individuals to take over municipal property.
Sáenz also discussed cases of medical malpractice at Sololá's
National Hospital. On June 12, after he reported on such a case at the
hospital, a nurse was fired, he said.
Sáenz believes that the threats could have come from either municipal
officials or staff at the hospital.
On June 13, Sáenz filed a complaint with the Attorney General's
Office, as well as with the regional office of the United Nations Verification
Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA). Sáenz claims that local authorities
have not taken the threats seriously because he did not have any evidence
JUNE 23, 2003
Luis Barillas, Prensa Libre
Barillas, who works as a correspondent for the Guatemala City daily Prensa
Libre in the town of Rabinal, in the central department of Baja Verapaz,
was threatened and attacked.
At around 6 p.m. on June 23, Barillas received a threatening phone call.
The caller said that it was the first "peaceful" call and that he'd better
shut up. The next day, at around 6:45 p.m., he received another phone
threat. The caller said, "You are going to die. It may take weeks or months,
but you are going to die." Barillas could not tell whether the two calls
came from the same person but said they were both masculine voices.
On July 4, at around 4 a.m., a small explosive was thrown into his backyard.
The explosion did not cause any material damage or injuries. The same
day, Barillas traveled to Guatemala City under police protection. On July
5, Barillas' father called him and told him his sister, who also lives
in Rabinal, had received anonymous death threats.
In addition to working for Prensa Libre and the daily Nuestro
Diario, Barillas is also the host and director of the news program
"La Voz de la Parroquia" (The Voice of the Parish), broadcast Monday to
Saturday from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. by the Catholic radio station Radio San
Barillas linked the threats and the attack to his coverage of a June 14
campaign rally held by Efraín Ríos Montt, the ruling Guatemalan
Republican Front (FRG) candidate for the November 9 presidential elections,
in Rabinal. Ríos Montt was forced to suspend the rally when peasants,
some of whom had lost relatives to political violence during the country's
civil war, pelted him and his supporters with stones and sticks. Barillas
covered the incident live for his radio station, taped interviews with
protesters, and took pictures. Over the following days, he discussed the
incident on his news program.
JUNE 24, 2003
José Rubén Zamora, elPeriódico
Zamora, publisher of the daily elPeriódico, told CPJ that
at around 8:30 a.m., a heavily armed group of 11 men and one woman, who
identified themselves as investigators from the Public Prosecutor's Office,
invaded his house and held him, his family, and domestic employees for
The attackers took Zamora's wife, the couple's three children, and two
domestic employees into a room. Then the men put a gun to Zamora's head,
took him to another room, and, while pointing guns to his head and to
his chest, told him he was going to be executed. After asking Zamora several
questions, the attackers took him back to the bedroom where his family
was, his eyes blindfolded and his hands tied. Zamora's youngest son, 12,
was hit in the ribs, and his oldest son, 24, was hit in the head when
they tried to defend their father.
Before leaving at around 10:30 a.m., the men took Zamora's credit cards
and three collectible handguns. The attackers then told Zamora that they
knew his family's routines and were going to kill them if he reported
the attack. The last man who left Zamora's house demanded that Zamora
pay him 200,000 quetzales (US$25,000) for having "restrained" the other
men. The man also said that he did not know why Zamora criticizes "people
at the top" and that Zamora was "screwing up a lot."
Zamora told CPJ that he has published numerous articles, including one
dated June 23, arguing that even though Guatemala has had free elections,
there is a parallel power structure comprising a network of former military
officers. The journalist believes that these people may be responsible
for the attack on his family.
JUNE 29, 2003
Carmen Judith Morán Cruz, Cerigua
Morán, correspondent for the news agency Centro de Reportes Informativos
sobre Guatemala (Cerigua) in Salamá, capital of the central department
of Baja Verapaz, was threatened by an unidentified individual after she
returned from a monthly training meeting with other Cerigua correspondents
in the capital, Guatemala City.
At around 9:30 p.m., Morán received a threatening phone call at
home from a caller with a masculine voice who said, "You are back. This
is just to tell you that you have 24 hours to resign from Cerigua. I ran
out of patience because of the things you publish there."
The caller also told her that on June 21, she had "escaped" because she
did not go to Guatemala City's Universidad del Valle, where she takes
teaching classes every Saturday. Morán told CPJ that on June 21,
she did not travel to Guatemala City because it was a university holiday,
but that every Saturday morning she leaves Salamá for the university.
Ten minutes after the first call, the caller phoned again and repeated
the threat, adding that if she did not obey, Morán and her children
would suffer the consequences. A third threatening call came on July 3,
at around 7:40 p.m. The caller claimed to be watching her and said that
because she didn't obey the orders, someone from her family would be killed.
Morán believes that the same person made all three calls.
The journalist does not attribute the threats to anybody in particular
but believes that they were issued by someone who is familiar with her
daily routine. She said the threats could have been in retaliation for
the reports she filed for Cerigua.
According to Morán, she has covered the work of the Association
for the Integral Development of Victims of Violence in the Verapaces Maya
Achí (ADIVIMA), which has exhumed clandestine graves in and around
the municipality of Rabinal, where civilians were massacred in 1981 during
the country's civil war.
Morán also told CPJ that she had filed a report on a June 14 campaign
rally held by Efraín Ríos Montt, the ruling Guatemalan Republican
Front (FRG) candidate for the November 9 presidential elections, in Rabinal.
Ríos Montt was forced to suspend the rally when peasants, some
of whom had lost relatives to political violence during the civil war,
pelted him and his supporters with stones and sticks.
In addition to her work for Cerigua, Morán hosts the radio program
"Yo elijo mi futuro" (I Choose my Future), which is broadcast every Friday
from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Radio Uqul'tinamit. The program focuses on women's
participation in community affairs, offers advice on how to vote, and
discusses health and land access issues.
JULY 24, 2003
Juan Carlos Torres, elPeriódico
Héctor Estrada, Guatevisión
Donaldo González, Emisoras Unidas
Torres, a photographer at the daily elPeriódico; Estrada,
cameraman at the TV station Guatevisión; and González, a
reporter at the radio station Emisoras Unidas, fled after protesters chased
them and doused them with gasoline in a failed attempt to burn the journalists,
who were covering a demonstration in support of former dictator Efraín
Ríos Montt in the capital, Guatemala City.
According to several sources, the riots erupted across Guatemala City
in the wake of the Supreme Court's July 20 decision granting two opposition
parties an injunction temporarily barring former dictator Ríos
Montt from running for president in the upcoming November 9 elections.
A later ruling allowed Ríos Montt to run for the presidency.
Héctor Ramírez, a reporter for Guatemala's Channel 7 television
station and Radio Sonora, died from a heart attack after fleeing from
attackers who were beating him while he was covering the protests, according
to autopsy results.
Ríos Montt's supporters flooded the city from rural areas, wearing
masks and carrying sticks, and targeted journalists who were covering
the protests. Torres, Estrada, and González escaped before being
burned. The protesters destroyed Torres' camera and smashed González's
motorcycle, sources told CPJ. None of the three were seriously injured.
According to CPJ sources, government authorities and the National Police
did little to control the angry mobs.
Héctor Ramírez, Channel 7, Radio Sonora
Ramírez, a reporter for Guatemala's Channel 7 television station
and Radio Sonora, died from a heart attack after fleeing from attackers
who were beating him while he was covering protests in the capital, Guatemala
City, according to autopsy results.
On July 24, riots broke out across Guatemala City in the wake of the Supreme
Court's July 20 decision granting two opposition parties an injunction
temporarily barring former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt from
running for president in the upcoming November 9 elections. A later ruling
allowed Ríos Montt to run for the presidency.
Ríos Montt supporters, known as the Frente Republicano Guatemalteco,
also allegedly attacked other journalists in different areas of the capital,
sources told CPJ. "It was crazy, the mob was completely out of control,"
Haroldo Sánchez, news director for Guatevisión television
station, told CPJ.
According to CPJ sources, government authorities and the National Police
did little to control the angry mobs.
OCTOBER 26, 2003
Posted: October 29, 2003
Freddy López, Prensa Libre
Alberto Ramírez, Prensa Libre
Emerson Díaz, Prensa Libre
Mario Linares, Prensa Libre
Former paramilitary fighters kidnapped reporters López and Ramírez,
and photographers Díaz and Linares, all of the Guatemala Citybased
daily Prensa Libre, in the town of La Libertad, in the northwestern
department of Huehuetenango.
According to CPJ sources, the former paramilitary forces—whom the Guatemalan
military organized to fight for the government during the country's 36-year-old
civil war, which ended in 1996—demanded that the government pay them for
On October 26, at around 11 a.m., López and Díaz went to
Huehuetenango to cover a campaign rally by former dictator Efraín
Ríos Montt, who is running for president for the ruling Guatemalan
Republican Front. On the way to the rally, the reporters were abducted
at a checkpoint illegally guarded by former paramilitary members protesting
the government's failure to pay them.
The forces beat the reporters after abducting them, according to Prensa
Libre. Carlos Contreras, the journalists' driver, fled the scene and
called the paper. Ramírez and Linares were later sent to the area,
together with two workers from the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman
in an effort to win the journalists' release. Soon after the journalists
arrived near where their colleagues had been kidnapped, they identified
themselves as journalists and were immediately captured by the ex-paramilitaries.
The two human rights workers managed to escape.
The former paramilitaries requested a meeting with Huehuetenango Governor
Carlos Morales to express their demands. In the early 1980s, the Guatemalan
government organized the paramilitaries to fight alongside government
soldiers against leftist rebels during the civil war, during which about
200,000 people were killed. The paramilitaries were officially disarmed
in 1995, but many have refused to surrender their weapons and continue
to be accused of serious human rights violations.
On October 27, Gonzalo Marroquín, the director of Prensa Libre;
Human Rights Ombudsman Sergio Morales; and the director of the local human
rights group Centro de Acción Legal para los Derechos Humanos (Center
of Legal Action for Human Rights) Frank La Rue, flew to the area in an
attempt to negotiate with the former paramilitaries.
The next day, the journalists were freed after the government of President
Alfonso Portillo Cabrera promised to compensate the ex-paramilitaries.
SEPTEMBER 24, 2003
Posted: September 26, 2003
Juan Castillo, Nuestro Diario
Eduardo Martínez, Nuestro Diario
Marvin Del Cid, Prensa Libre
Esbin García, Prensa Libre
Francisco González, Siglo XXI
HARASSED AND THREATENED
Journalists from three Guatemala City-based dailiesNuestro Diario's
photographer Castillo and reporter Martínez; Prensa Libre's
reporter del Cid and photographer García; and González,
a reporter from Siglo XXIwere harassed and threatened during
a campaign stop by former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt in
the city of Ixcán, in the northern department of Quiche.
According to CPJ sources, during a campaign rally held by the ruling Guatemalan
Republican Front (FRG), residents of Ixcán who supported the former
dictator began fighting with a group of activists that were protesting
against Ríos Montt.
While the two photographers and three reporters were trying to get images
and interview those involved in the confrontation, supporters of Ríos
Montt hurled stones and threatened the journalists. Castillo had his camera
smashed while the other journalists were pushed and threatened. None of
the journalists was seriously hurt during the incident, Gonzalo Marroquín
Godoy, director of Prensa Libre told CPJ.
The angry mob threatened to kill and burn the journalists, blaming them
for the confrontation. "We are going to kill you, douse you with gasoline,
and burn you," Ríos Montt supporters shouted, according to Prensa
Libre. Police eventually arrived on the scene and escorted the journalists
to a safe area.