On March 10, 2015, two gunmen shot dead Danilo López, a reporter for the Guatemala City daily Prensa Libre, and Federico Salazar, a reporter for the Guatemala City station Radio Nuevo Mundo, while the journalists were walking in a park in Mazatenango, the capital of southwest Suchitepéquez department. A third journalist, Marvin Túnchez, a reporter for the local Canal 30 cable TV station, was also injured in the shooting. The gunmen fled on a motorcycle.
López had worked as a correspondent in Suchitepéquez for Prensa Libre for more than a decade and often wrote about corruption and the misuse of public funds, according to the paper. He had also compared corrupt politicians to mafia dons on his Twitter account, Prensa Libre reported.
According to the Guatemalan online investigative journalism outlet Plaza Pública, which cited an official at the attorney general’s unit for crimes against journalists who asked not to be identified, López called the official an hour before he was killed and told him he was frightened and that the environment in Mazatenango was "very charged." López told the official that his fear was related to his investigation into a story on money laundering in Suchitepéquez, according to Plaza Pública.
Miguel Angel Méndez Zetina, editor of Prensa Libre at the time, said that the journalist "received constant threats by municipal authorities for his stories about government corruption," according to the paper. In 2013, López was publicly threatened by a public official after the journalist published a story about public works projects in the town, according to the Guatemalan press freedom group CERIGUA.
In an interview conducted in early 2014 but published after his death, López said that members of organized crime had infiltrated the local government and law enforcement. "No one trusts the police," he said. "This makes the justice system very weak … because there are groups occupying space in the public life."
In an interview after the attack, Túnchez told the Guatemalan daily Publinews that the gunmen "approached Danilo directly. The attack was against him. Federico and I were collateral victims."
López is survived by his wife, who was pregnant when he died, and a daughter.
In the days after the murder, authorities arrested two men they said were suspected of being the gunmen, according to news reports.
Federal authorities said shortly after the attack that they were investigating the possible involvement of an organized crime network working in the area with links to the Sinaloa Cartel, the Mexican drug trafficking group, according to news reports. Authorities requested that the investigation be transferred to a special court in the capital dedicated to high risk cases after local prosecutors investigating the crime received threats, according to the reports.
In June 2015, authorities arrested two police officers and a third man suspected of forming part of the criminal network suspected of being involved in the crime. In November 2015, prosecutors accused three members of the Public Ministry and two lawyers of leaking confidential information about criminal cases, including the investigation into the journalists’ murder, to criminal groups.
On October 10, 2017, a court for high-risk crimes sentenced Sergio Waldemar Cardona Reyes, who was driving the motorcycle carrying the shooter, to 30 years in prison for the murder of López, according to news reports. During that trial, two other men charged by the Prosecutor’s Office were acquitted of the murder, according to Guatemalan press freedom organization CERIGUA. The reports indicate that López was the target of the hitmen, but that they also hit Salazar and another media worker.
On October 22, 2015, prosecutors filed charges against a number of other individuals, including Ariel Mazariegos Ramírez, the alleged gunman, according to reports. As of August 2019, Ramírez had not been arrested.
Earlier in 2017, Guatemalan prosecutors and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) petitioned to have lawmaker Julio Juárez Ramírez stripped of his immunity, accusing him of orchestrating the killing. According to CICIG investigators, Juárez ordered the attack on López because the journalist was working on a story about corruption in the local government of Santo Tomás La Unión, where Juárez was mayor at the time.
In December 2017, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Juárez under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act for his alleged involvement in the murders.
On January 13, 2018, Guatemalan authorities arrested Juárez, then a member of Congress, on murder charges. He is awaiting trial as of August 2019. Juárez has maintained his innocence in public statements, including multiple February 2017 interviews with Guatemalan outlets Canal Antigua and Plaza Pública.