Organized crime groups kill journalists in the Americas

By Dialogo
October 15, 2013

Organized crime operatives have killed at least 19 journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean from January through August 2013, according to a recent report by the Investigative Commission for Attacks against Journalists (CIAP), part of the Latin American Journalists Federation (FELAP).
Victims included journalists who wrote about the activities of transnational criminal organizations, including the First Capital Command (PCC, in Portuguese), Los Cachorros, Los Urabeños, Los Zetas, the Sinaloa Cartel, which is led by fugitive kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Organized crime threat

Violent organized crime groups pose the biggest threat to reporters in the Americas, said journalist Álvaro Sierra, author of the book “Coverage of Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.”
“Of all the threats against freedom of the press, drug traffickers are the most methodical, pervasive, and lethal,” Sierra said.
Reporters who cover transnational criminal organizations “run the risk of violent attacks,” said Gerardo Gonzalez Bernal, a representative of Article 19, an international organization which advocates for press freedom and the safety of journalists.

Violence and threats

More journalists in Brazil died violent deaths during the first eight months of this year than in any other countries; there, organized crime operatives have killed six reporters.
Organized crime operatives killed five journalists in Mexico, four in Guatemala, two in Honduras, one in Nicaragua and one in Peru. Three additional Mexican journalists are missing. Journalists and some of their sources in the Americas have also been targeted by threats from organized criminals, according to the report.
“Journalists in Latin America are among the most vulnerable,” González Bernal said.

Military assistance

Military forces in the Americas help many journalists by providing training about how to do their jobs safely in dangerous areas, said Raul Benitez Manaut, director of the Collective for the Analysis of Security with Democracy (CASEDE).
“The military’s contribution of providing training on how to move around in high-risk areas is of great help to the press,” Benitez Manaut said. “It is important for journalists to know what do or avoid when working in hazardous areas where organized crime or guerillas operate.”

Journalists killed

Among the journalists who have been killed during the first eight months of 2013:
• On Aug. 19, organized crime operatives kidnapped and killed Guatemalan journalist Carlos Alberto Orellano Chávez, director of the news program “News and More,” in San Bernabé, Suchitepéquez. His body was discarded on a public road. Orellano Chávez had been shot in the head.
• On July 17, drug cartel enforcers kidnapped and killed Mexican journalist Mexican journalist Alberto López Bello in the state of Oaxaca. The body of a police officer who had been shot to death was found nearby. The journalist covered crime for El Imparcial de Oaxaca, a daily newspaper.
• On June 11, organized crime enforcers in Nova Iguacu, near Río de Janeiro, killed José Roberto Ornelas de Lemos, director of the Brazilian newspaper Hora H. The attackers shot Ornela de Lemos 44 times. He had received death threats.

Press freedom threatened

News agencies in Brazil, Honduras, Colombia, Peru, Paraguay and Mexico have taken steps to protect their journalists from organized crime violence. The steps range from leaving bylines off newspaper and magazine articles about organized crime to declining to cover drug cartel activity at all.
For example, in Tamaulipas, Mexico - where Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel (CDG) are fighting over drug trafficking routes and other criminal enterprises - most newspapers and radio and television news stations in recent years have stopped covering organized crime activity for safey reasons.

Drug cartel activity

Increasing levels of drug cartel activity in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala has increased the danger journalists face in Central America, according to Reporters Without Borders (RWB). Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel have increased their operations in Central America in recent years, bringing greater levels of violence to the region. For example, in Guatemala, covering even soccer games and beauty pageants has become risky, because some organized crime operatives root for particular soccer teams or beauty contestants.
Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico are among the 12 countries with the highest rate of impunity when it comes to the killing of journalists, according to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ). Iraq, Somalia, and the Phillipines are at the top of the list.