Humberto Coronel

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On Tuesday, September 6, an unidentified man on a motorcycle shot and killed radio journalist Humberto Coronel as he left the office of his employer, Radio Amambay, in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero near Paraguay’s border with Brazil, according to multiple reports by the local newspaper ABC Color.

According to those reports, which include a video of the attack, Coronel was shot eight times as he left the privately owned broadcaster’s office. Coronel hosted a daily news and music program on Radio Amambay, where he sometimes denounced political corruption and the police force’s alleged inability to solve crimes, according to Gustavo Báez, a journalist who also works at the radio station and spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

Coronel was also the director and founder of Mbykymi Noticias, an online outlet that covered local and national news, according to reports and statements published on the outlet’s website and Facebook page.

According to Báez and ABC Color, an unidentified person left a written death threat at Báez’s home in June 2022, which said in Portuguese that he and Coronel “knew too much.” The journalists reported the threat to local authorities, but Coronel refused offers of police protection because he did not trust the police, Báez told CPJ.

Following his death, Pedro Juan Caballero public prosecutor Katia Uemura said that Coronel’s previous refusal of police protection amounted to having “gifted himself” to the killer. She was removed from the case on Wednesday after those comments, and the new public prosecutor, Sandra Quiñonez, said she was putting together a team to investigate the killing, according to news reports.

Elida Favole, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office in Asunción, the capital, told CPJ via messaging app that the team includes four prosecutors who specialize in investigating drug trafficking and organized crime. When contacted via messaging app, Gen. Ruben Paredes, the police chief of Amambay province, which includes Pedro Juan Caballero, told CPJ that he could not comment on the case.

On September 9, prosecutor Pablo Zárate announced that investigators had identified a suspect in the case based on footage from local closed-circuit cameras and searched his home in Pedro Juan Caballero, according to news reports. The alleged gunman, Mauricio Miguel Recalde, had previously been arrested on homicide charges in 2019. In a radio interview on September 13, Zárate said prosecutors had issued an arrest warrant for Recalde, who remained at large and may have fled across the border to Brazil, according to reports.

On September 16, police in Pedro Juan Caballero arrested a second suspect, Michael Daniel López, in connection with “logistics” for the killing, Hugo Grance, head of the homicide department for the Paraguayan national police, told media outlets.

Insight Crime, a think tank that monitors organized crime in Latin America, has described Pedro Juan Caballero as the most violent city in Paraguay and a base of operations for Brazilian drug-trafficking gangs.

In May 2022, gunmen fatally shot the city’s mayor, José Carlos Acevedo, who was part of a powerful political family in the region and owned Radio Amambay, according to news reports. Pedro Juan Caballero deputy police chief Baldomero Jorgge said at a news conference that by killing Coronel, the masterminds of the crime may have been trying to further attack the Acevedo family.