In the killing fields

It is the most compelling video Carlos Jimenez has taped as a journalist, but he hopes it will never be broadcast. If it is, he will be dead.

The tape features Jimenez talking to the camera and naming those who have turned his community in El Naranjo in northern Guatemala into a nest of corruption, violence and fear.

The video is to be aired only if the reporter is murdered. “It is to be posthumous. I detail who has been doing all the killings. You’ll get to see it if they kill me.”

The macabre film is the latest sign that narco-fuelled violence has spilled down from Mexico and turned central America into one of the world’s deadliest regions for journalists. Media workers are being abducted and gunned down in increasing numbers amid a climate of fear and impunity.

Yensi Roberto Ordonez, a TV host with Guatemala’s Canal 14 cable station, was found dead with knife wounds to his neck and chest in May after receiving threats his bosses said were related to his work.

In Honduras 13 journalists have been killed in the past 18 months. In the most recent case hooded men with AK-47s shot Luis Ernesto Mendoza, the owner of a TV station in the city of Danli, as he arrived at his office.

Days later gunmen ambushed and wounded Manuel Acosta Medina, the general manager of La Tribuna, a daily newspaper in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, as he drove home. More than 30 bullets were fired into the car and at least four hit Acosta, but he managed to escape.

“We call on Honduran authorities to thoroughly investigate these vicious attacks and establish what the motives were,” said Carlos Lauria, of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The New York-based group published a report last year accusing authorities of “a pattern of botched and negligent investigative work” when it came to murdered journalists.

Police said the media killings were unrelated and reflected a wider upsurge in homicides, which has made Honduras one of the world’s most dangerous countries. To supplement meagre salaries many journalists have other business interests, said police, making them targets for robbery and extortion.

“Aggression, intimidation and threats against reporters and media executives have continued as a consequence of the political crisis and the surge of organised crime and narco-trafficking.”

Amnesty International said the Honduran government paid lip service to protecting journalists but introduced few concrete measures. With the police suspected of complicity with crime, and courts overloaded, the majority of murders in Guatemala and Honduras go unsolved.

Jimenez said he was unable to report murders properly in El Naranjo. “I may know who was killed, why, how, where and when, but I can’t write about it or broadcast it. … If I deviate from that I could be next.” —

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Rory Carroll
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