Federico Salazar

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On March 10, 2015, two gunmen shot and killed Federico Salazar, a reporter for the Guatemala City station Radio Nuevo Mundo, and Danilo López, a reporter for the Guatemala City newspaper Prensa Libre, 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 television station, was also injured in the shooting. The gunmen fled on a motorcycle.

Marvin Robledo, director of Radio Nuevo Mundo, told CPJ that Salazar, who was 32, had worked for the station for the previous three years as a correspondent in Suchitepéquez department covering news and sports. He said the journalist had not reported receiving any threats and had not worked on any sensitive stories. Robledo told CPJ that Salazar and López had sometimes worked on stories together and speculated that the two journalists could have discovered sensitive information in the course of their reporting.

López 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, the paper said. He also compared corrupt politicians to mafia dons.

According to the Guatemalan online investigative journalism outlet Plaza Pública, which cited an unidentified official at the attorney general’s unit for crimes against journalists, 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.

In an interview after the attack, Túnchez told Guatemalan newspaper Publinews that the gunman “approached Danilo directly. The attack was against him. Federico and I were collateral victims.”

Shortly after the attack, federal authorities said they were investigating the possible involvement of an organized crime network with links to the Sinaloa cartel, the Mexican drug trafficking group. Authorities requested that the investigation be transferred to a special court in the capital dedicated to high-risk cases after local prosecutors investigating the case received threats.

In June 2015, authorities arrested two police officers and a third man accused 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’ killings, to criminal groups.

On October 22, 2015, prosecutors filed charges against a number of others, including Eduardo Ariel Mazariegos Ramírez, alias Guayo,” the alleged gunman. However, he was not arrested and in March 2023, he died while being chased by police in connection with a robbery that left two dead.

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 López’s murder and acquitted him on the charge of killing Salazar. During that trial, two other men charged by the prosecutor’s office were acquitted, Guatemalan press freedom organization CERIGUA said.

Also in 2017, Guatemalan prosecutors and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) petitioned to have Julio Antonio Juárez Ramírez, then a member of Congress, stripped of his immunity from prosecution, 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 on murder charges.

In May 2022, Juárez was acquitted of all charges, but in November 2022, prosecutors announced they were investigating the prosecutors whose investigation led a judge to acquit Juárez.

On July 19, 2023, German Eduardo Mazariegos López, the alleged other gunman, escaped during an attempted shooting by unknown individuals while being transferred from a courthouse to prison in Mazatenango, Suchitepéquez. As of late October 2023, Mazariegos López remained a fugitive.