Reporters Without Borders is very worried by a shooting attack on 8 April in Curuguaty (300 km north-east of Asunción) in which political activist and radio commentator Alfredo Avalos was seriously injured by a shot to the head and his Brazilian wife, Silvana Rodrígues, was killed. The organisation fears the Paraguayan media is in danger from the tension surrounding the 20 April elections to choose a successor to President Nicanor Duarte.
“Avalos often spoke out on the air against drug trafficking on the border between Paraguay and Brazil, which would have made him a target for the drug gangs,” the press freedom organisation said. “This hypothesis should be given priority by those investigating the shooting, which we find very alarming as the election campaign has been very tense.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “The Paraguayan press, especially the local press, is very exposed to threats and reprisals as we have already observed (see release of 14 November 2007). It falls to both the judicial authorities and the candidates to ensure that freedom of expression and the safety of journalists is guaranteed.”
Avalos was a businessman, a member of the Curuguaty municipal council (representing the left-wing Patria Querida party) and a local representative of the Tekojojá grass-roots movement. He was also a regular commentator on 105.1 San Isidro FM, a radio station owned by a ruling party politician, and often used his airtime to attack the drug traffickers operating in the nearby border area. He was the target of a kidnapping attempt last year and he was being sued by suspected drug cartel boss Aristeu Falkenbak.
Avalos was outside their home with his wife on the evening of 8 April when two men on a motorcycle pulled up and opened fire, killing his wife and leaving Avalos with a serious gunshot wound to the head. He was rushed to hospital where he underwent an operation. Doctors said his condition was stable but refused to comment on his chances of recovery.
Investigators said they were considering three possibilities: that the shooting was linked to Avalos’s journalistic activities, that it was linked to his business or financial activities, or that was politically motivated. The national daily ABC Color said the authorities did not believe the third hypothesis.