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Venezuela4 May 2005

Investigation is stalled eight months after journalist was slain

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about the stalled investigation into the murder of journalist and municipal councillor Mauro Marcano, who was gunned down on 1 September 2004 in Maturín (in the northeastern state of Monagas).

"An air of impunity hangs over this murder case, which could implicate senior police and military officers whose ties to drug trafficking had been exposed by Marcano," the press freedom organization said.

"Why have judicial investigators not summoned anyone for questioning, as the theory of an isolated act is scarcely credible," Reporters Without Borders said, adding: "The investigation has come to a complete halt, and we therefore call on the competent authorities to revive it at once."

The presenter of a programme on local Radio Maturín 1080 AM and a columnist for the local daily newspaper El Oriental, Marcano was shot by two gunmen as he left his home in Maturín. In his last column, published the previous day, he criticised the disappearance of several kilos of cocaine after they were seized by the police.

Speaking openly on 26 April, his family said he had felt under threat prior to his murder. He had just investigated and reported on the activities of a cartel of Colombian origin that controls drug trafficking on Venezuela’s Atlantic coast. He had also accused a number of Venezuelan police and army officers of colluding with this cartel.

According to his family, he met Vice-President José Vicente Rangel (himself a former journalist) two weeks before his death and told him he feared be could be murdered. He also reportedly gave Rangel the names of the officers he suspected of abetting the drug cartel - the commander of the National Guard’s 7th region, Alexis Maneiro Gómez, Col. Juan Fabricio Tirry of the defence ministry, and Monagas former police chief José Manuel del Moral.

His family said none of the three has even been questioned by investigators. "Prosecutor Alejandro Castillo has taken no initiative during the past four months," Marcano’s sister, Niurka Marcano, was quoted as saying by the daily El Universal on 27 April.

Only one suspect has been arrested, an individual nicknamed Freddy Caracas, but he was murdered in prison in December. Another suspect, Tony Canaves, who has prior arrests for drug trafficking, has not been questioned or arrested "because he is an associate of the governor of Monagas," Niurka Marcano said.

Reached by Reporters Without Borders, a supreme court official did not dispute what the family said. "The family should file a petition with the court for the investigation to be relaunched, as it is true there is a paralysis," said the source, who insisted by way of explanation on the "restructuring of the judicial system that is under way." Judicial commission president Luis Velázquez Alvaray meanwhile announced on 2 May that 16 judges are being suspended on suspicion of colluding with drug traffickers or for releasing drug traffickers in the northwestern state of Lara. The restructuring could soon affect other states.

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