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Central America

Central America - Annual Report 2008

El Salvador
Area: 21,040
Population: 6,762,000
Language: Spanish.
Head of state: Elías Antonio Saca

Area: 112,090
Population: 6,969,000
Language: Spanish
Head of state: Manuel Zelaya

Area: 75520 Population: 3,288,000 Language: Spanish Head of state: Martín Torrijos

Area: 108,890
Population: 13,029,000
Language: Spanish
Head of state: President Oscar
(succeeded by Alvaro Colom on14 January 2008)

Two journalists were killed in Guatemala and one each in Honduras and Salvador, but direct links to their work were not proven in any of the cases. A new anti-terrorist law in El Salvador led to the unjustified imprisonment of a journalist there. A reform of Panama’s criminal law in March caused a media outcry.

Only a few years after recovering from its years of civil war, Central America now faces a plague of “maras,” extremely violent gangs of youths operating especially in Guatemala, Honduras and Salvador and which have also taken root in Mexico and the United States. A “marero,” José Alfredo Hernández, was arrested on 16 October 2007 near San Salvador for shooting dead Salvador Sánchez, who worked for Salvadoran radio stations Maya Visión, Radio Cadena Mi Gente and YSUCA, on 20 September. Hernández was a member of the notorious “mara salvatrucha” and two of his presumed accomplices are on the run. The motive was not known but Sánchez’ family said he had received threats. He was a trade unionist and community activist.

Media in the firing line

Carlos Salgado, of Radio Cadena Voces (RCV), which was being closely watched by the Honduras government, was killed in Tegucigalpa on 18 October. A month earlier, President Manuel Zelaya had said that “if I was (Venezuelan President) Hugo Chavez, I would’ve shut down this station long ago.” A suspect, Germán David Almendárez Amador, was arrested, freed for lack of evidence then rearrested on 28 October, though not charged.

The media accuses the president of “trying to control the media” and criticises his frequent travelling. Relations between the two sides are very bad. The head of RCV, Dagoberto Rodríguez, fled abroad in November after being followed by strangers and getting death threats. Geovanny García, of the TV station Canal 13 (which also has poor relations with the authorities), was almost killed by two motorcycle gunmen on 7 September. His programme, with its regular exposure of corruption, was immediately taken off the air. Several attempts at censorship were made in September, including a complaint that five journalists who had exposed embezzlement at the communications firm Hondutel had “damaged reputations.” The case was thrown out by a court.

Risky investigations

In Guatemala, freelance photographer Jorge Alejandro Castañeda was shot dead in the capital on 5 July and Miguel Angel Amaya Pérez, a presenter on radio station Sabana, was found dead on 10 December in the northern province of Petén, a haven for drug-traffickers. Nothing so far indicates they were killed because of their work. But even a trivial article can bring dire consequences. A few days after Winder Jordán, who worked for the local Radio Sultana and as a stringer for national daily Nuestro Diario, mentioned the name of a person involved in a road accident, motorcycle gunmen tried to kill him outside his home in the eastern town of Gualán on 2 February. The person’s family also came to the house and threatened to kill him.

Journalists on the TV station Cable Guatevisión got anonymous phone threats after they investigated the execution at the national prison of four policemen jailed for the 19 February assassination of three members of parliament, including Eduardo D’Aubuisson, son of former Salvadoran civil war death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson. The national Radio Nuevo Mundo was the target of two armed attacks on 4 and 11 September, and one of its journalists was briefly kidnapped, after it broadcast revelations about politicians during the election campaign.

Imprisoned for “terrorism”

Freelance journalist María Haydee Chicas spent three weeks in prison in July under a new anti-terrorist law in El Salvador after covering a community meeting against privatisation of water supply in Suchitoto, in the northeast of San Salvador, on 2 July. She was arrested by riot police along with 13 other people. A campaign to release them caught the attention of President Elías Antonio Saca and they were freed, though only conditionally, on 23 July.

Criminal law toughened

Panama’s normally tranquil press freedom situation (as in neighbouring Costa Rica) was disturbed by a heated debate in the media after a reform of the criminal law approved by parliament on 6 March. The measure punishes leaks to the media and disclosure of personal information with fines, imprisonment or a weekend in jail. Appeals to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission had no effect and President Martín Torrijos signed the reform into law on 21 March.

Translations available

Introduction Americas - Annual Report 2008
Central America
Dominican Republic
United States

by continent
Preface : Between impotence, cowardice and duplicity
Introduction : Press freedom faces dangerous elections and an olympic summer in 2008
2008 Africa annual report
2008 Americas annual report
2008 Asia annual report
2008 Europe annual report
2008 Middle East annual report

by dates
World Report 2009
2008 Annual report
2007 Annual report
2006 Annual report
2005 Annual report
2004 Annual Report
2003 Annual Report
2002 Annual Report