Reporters Without Borders said it was greatly relieved by the news that Enrique Galeano of Radio Azotey has reappeared alive 17 months after he went missing on 4 February 2006 in the central department of Concepción, where he lived and worked.
The Paraguayan press reported on 15 July that he resurfaced in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, where he went into hiding after being threatened by gangsters. He is now in Uruguay, where he has requested political asylum, and hopes that his wife and four children, who had fled from Concepción to the Uruguayan capital of Asunción, will be able to join him there.
“Galeano has reappeared safe and sound long after being given up for dead because of the dangers of his investigative reporting on drug trafficking in the region just before his disappearance,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is very rare for a missing journalist to resurface and we share the joy of his wife, Bernardina Quintana, and their four children.”
The press freedom organisation added: “Galeano is afraid to return to Paraguay. If required, the police must keep their word and give him and his family all the security guarantees they need. In the meantime, the investigation into his disappearance must establish what happened and those involved must be brought to justice.”
The daily ABC reported that Galeano got in touch with one of his acquaintances by email at the beginning of July from his hideout in Saõ Paulo. The contact put him in touch with journalists Oscar Cáceres and Andrés Colmán Gutiérrez of Última Hora. In an account published on 15 July, the two said they went to Saõ Paulo on 11 July and met there with Galeano, who told them what had happened to him.
Galeano said he was working in Azotey, in Concepción, on the afternoon of 4 February 2006 and called his wife at their home in Yby Yaú, 35 km away, to say he would be home by nightfall. On his way home, two men in a white vehicle forced him to stop and kidnapped him. They spoke Portuguese, which made Galeano suspect they could be working for “Cabeza Branca” (“White Head”), a Brazilian crime organisation operating in the border area. He said they threatened the eldest of his four children: “They told me, ‘You are going to do everything we tell you or we will make a phone call and your son Pedro will be killed a second later’.”
Beaten and burned with cigarettes by his abductors, Galeano was taken to the northeastern town of San Juan Caballero. There they forced him to appear on the streets and then take a room in the Hotel Dina Tony with a prostitute. The next night they took him across the border and released him in the Brazilian town of Campo Grande with the warning: “If you return to Paraguay, you are dead.”
Fearing for the safety of his children, Galeano complied and did not contact his family. “It seemed that they were aware of all of my movements and all of my family’s movements, and that they were capable of doing a great deal of harm,” Galeano told the two journalists,
Shortly before his disappearance, Galeano had covered the seizure of a consignment of heavy weapons and cocaine for his radio station. The seizure had been carried out in the presence of district police chief Osvaldo Nuñez and ruling Colorado party legislator Magdaleno Silva, who are both alleged to have links with Cabeza Branca boss Luiz Carlos da Rocha. None of these three men was ever questioned about Galeano’s disappearance.
After it was reported that Galeano had resurfaced, Silva announced that he would bring a lawsuit against the Union of Paraguayan Journalists (SPP) for accusing him of being involved in Galeano’s disappearance.