Q24N – A photographer had to flee from Nicaragua, the head of a newspaper in Guatemala is in prison and a portal in El Salvador, prosecuted. All after publishing uncomfortable information of their governments in Central America, where independent journalism is going through difficult days.
After a year of police occupation, last week the premises of the newspaper La Prensa in Nicaragua were taken over by the regime of Daniel Ortega, who accused Juan Lorenzo Holmann, manager of the nearly centennial newspaper and critic of its management, of laundering money.
Holmann has been in detention since 2021 and in April he was sentenced to nine years in prison.
It is the same crime that the Guatemalan prosecutor’s office, backed by President Alejandro Giammattei, charges against the head of El Periódico, José Rubén Zamora, imprisoned a month ago.
“Money laundering is an increasingly frequent accusation in Central America” to prosecute journalists, warned Carlos Dada, director of the Salvadoran portal El Faro, also accused of money laundering.
El Faro has denounced secret negotiations of the Nayib Bukele government with the gangs, on which the president later declared war.
“The concentration of power in the hands of authoritarian regimes is increasingly managing to silence their critics and the independent press (…) the harassment is increasing,” Dada told AFP.
The defendants claim that these are fabricated cases to silence them.
In Nicaragua and El Salvador, the rulers maintain that these media outlets are financed from abroad to destabilize the country and consider them to be in opposition.
Central America, a region that was affected by decades of civil wars and dictatorships, has young democracies that are still hit by poverty, violence and corruption.
Suffocating the press
“The strategy of suffocating the independent press, which was installed in Cuba decades ago and which was promoted in Venezuela and other countries in the region, was perfected in recent times by the regime of Ortega,” Carlos Jornet, president of the Committee on Freedom of the Press of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), said in a recent forum.
And it is expanding. During the electoral process, the president of Costa Rica, Rodrigo Chaves, attacked the media that published the sanctions he received for sexual harassment when he was a World Bank official.
“Talking about the press is like talking about fauna: there are rhinoceroses, raccoons, rats,” Chaves said.
Presidente de #CostaRica, Rodrigo Chaves, comparó a la prensa con animales, dijo que eran una especie “es como hablar de la fauna: hay rinocerontes, mapaches, ratas, aves”. Esto sucedió durante una conferencia junto a la ministra de Salud, Joselyn Chacón. pic.twitter.com/Y4qABkZ4an
— ITR Oficial (@ITROriginal) August 4, 2022
In July, Oscar Navarrete, a photographer for La Prensa, covered the expulsion from Nicaragua of nuns from the Association of Missionaries of Charity, from the Mother Teresa of Calcutta congregation, which the regime outlawed along with 1,500 other organizations.
He accompanied the transfer of the nuns by road to Costa Rica, a fact that the government tried to keep secret. When he was returning home, he was alerted that he was going to be arrested and hid. His house was raided by the police.
Read more: La Prensa reporters placed under arrest for 90 days for reporting expulsion of nuns
“They took all my equipment (…), they destroyed everything, in such a violent way that my mother went into shock,” said Oscar, now in exile in Costa Rica.
Currently, the entire newsroom of La Prensa operates from San José, Costa Rica. More than a hundred journalists critical of Ortega are in exile and several are in prison.
“Kill the newspaper”
Zamora, president of El Periódico, accuses Giammattei and the Guatemalan attorney general, Consuelo Porras, of putting together a case to lock him up.
Washington placed Porras on a corrupt list for hindering the work of an anti-mafia prosecutor he fired.
El Periódico published more than a hundred investigations into Giammattei’s management, “intolerant of criticism,” said Lucy Chay, deputy director of the newspaper. Among them were complaints about an alleged payment of bribes.
In addition to arresting Zamora, they froze the newspaper’s accounts. “The intention is to kill the newspaper,” Chay said.
“Efforts to harass journalists who investigate corruption, human rights violations and abuses of power seem to be intensifying,” Juan Pappier of Human Rights Watch (HRW) told AFP.
He recalled that this occurs after “spurious criminal proceedings” against judges and prosecutors who investigated corruption in Guatemala.
As part of its crackdown on criminal groups, El Salvador passed a law that punishes those who reproduce gang messages with up to 15 years in prison.
Precisely, El Faro has published testimonies of people who identified themselves as gang members and admitted negotiations with Bukele, who denies the accusations.
Dada recalled that his cell phone and those of some twenty workers at El Faro were infected by Pegasus spyware, a technology that is only sold to state agencies. The government refused to be behind.
The dangers of exercising journalism in the region are even fatal. Honduras has registered 97 murders of communicators since 2001, according to the Committee for Free Expression of that country. Most remain unpunished.
According to Amada Ponce, director of the Committee, in Honduras there are issues that cannot be discussed without running risks, such as drug trafficking and mining.
Those who practice journalism “with dignity and ethics are persecuted in court, stigmatized or threatened,” she lamented.
With information from AFP and Infobae