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Guatemala - World Report 2009

101 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index

-  Area: 108,890 sq km
-  Population: 13,000,000
-  Language: Spanish
-  Head of State: Alvaro Colom, since January 2008

Amid an alarming overall level of violent crime, most murders of journalists continue to go unpunished. It is dangerous for the press to take too close an interest in corruption cases or the still visible traces of the civil war.

Five journalists have been murdered since 2007. And the hypothesis of suicide in the case of Hugo Arce of the monthly magazine ¿Y Qué?, who was found dead in a Guatemala City hotel room at the start of 2008, is disputed by his family. The physical attacks, kidnappings and murders of journalists are due above all to the alarming level of violent crime, one of the worst in the hemisphere.

The public was shocked by Telecentro reporter Rolando Santis’ murder on 1 April 2008 as he was returning to his TV station after covering an attack on a bus in which the bus driver himself had just been murdered. Like neighbouring El Salvador and Honduras, Guatemala is a bastion of extremely violent youth gangs called “maras” with tentacles now reaching Mexico and the United States. The authorities blamed organised crime for the Santis murder, arresting two suspects aged 19 and 20. It is not clear whether they were really involved and the motive continues to be a mystery. Murders are rarely solved.

It is clearly not a good idea for the media to try to cover cases of official corruption too closely, or to investigate the still visible hangovers from the 1960-1996 civil war. The police protection offered to some journalists is not always a real guarantee of safety. Despite having a police escort, journalist and press freedom activist José Pélico of the NGO Cerigua was threatened by gunmen near his home in October 2008.

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