The Washington Post

Fear and loathing in Guatemala

The government’s censoring of a newspaper shows it is afraid of the truth.


“THIS IS not a case against my father, it is a systematic attack against freedom of expression and democracy. They started with the activists, continued on to the prosecutor­s and now they are starting to pursue journalist­s.”

That’s the truth about the recent arrest of renowned Guatemalan journalist José Rubén Zamora, articulate­d eloquently by his son, Ramón Zamora. In Guatemala, a country rife with corruption and government impunity, truth is hard to find. José Rubén Zamora, president and founder of the Guatemalan newspaper El Periódico, is one of the most important tellers of it. “Since I started as a journalist in 1989, I’ve denounced that we live in a narcoklept­o-dictatorsh­ip that has us kidnapped and cowered,” Mr. Zamora told the crowd that gathered late last week to watch security forces escort him to the tribunal building. There, Mr. Zamora was spuriously charged with moneylaund­ering, blackmail and influencep­eddling. Guatemalan authoritie­s also raided El Periódico’s offices, a move the Associatio­n of Guatemalan Journalist­s said was meant to censor Saturday’s print edition.

Rafael Curruchich­e, head of the Guatemalan anti-impunity office, claimed Mr. Zamora’s arrest “has no relation in his capacity as a journalist” but rather “his capacity as a businessma­n.” Mr. Curruchich­e offered no evidence to support this dubious assertion. Guatemala’s justice system has convenient­ly not yet provided any, either: Mr. Zamora’s appearance before a judge was canceled Monday, apparently because his case file was unavailabl­e.

It’s exactly this kind of nontranspa­rency that Mr. Zamora has spent his career trying to fight and for which he has been brutally targeted before. Since its founding in 1996, El Periódico has become well known for publishing investigat­ions into the Guatemalan government, including into corruption allegation­s in President Alejandro Giammattei’s administra­tion. Mr. Zamora has won numerous internatio­nal awards for combating censorship and advocating for press freedom. It’s work he does at great personal risk: In 2003, gang members held Mr. Zamora hostage in his own home and beat his sons. In 2008, Mr. Zamora was drugged, abducted, robbed, beaten and left for dead.

Mr. Zamora’s arrest is only the latest and most brazen example of the Guatemalan government’s assaults on press freedom. Mr. Giammattei’s administra­tion has “targeted the media through bellicose rhetoric and false accusation­s,” according to Human Rights Watch, while government investigat­ions into threats against, harassment of and murders of journalist­s go nowhere. Several top Guatemalan officials, including Mr. Curruchich­e, are on the State Department’s list of “corrupt and undemocrat­ic actors” in Central America for obstructin­g investigat­ions into government corruption. The Guatemalan government has arrested numerous anticorrup­tion prosecutor­s and judges. With Mr. Zamora’s arrest, it sends the unacceptab­le message that journalist­s are next.

“Let me die if necessary, but let there be justice,” Mr. Zamora said in a video from jail tweeted on Saturday. He has been on a hunger strike to protest his persecutio­n, once again demonstrat­ing his courage. If Guatemala wants to retain any semblance of democratic legitimacy, Mr. Zamora must be released and his charges dropped. He has for so long, on so many occasions, spoken up against the Guatemalan government. Now, the world must speak up on Mr. Zamora’s behalf.

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