Monday, May 29

Guatemala detains its most prominent journalist

The arrest of José Rubén Zamora, president of El Periódico de Guatemala and one of the most renowned journalists in Latin America, occurred last Friday at his home, while prosecutors and police also raided the newspaper’s offices. The case being declared confidential, the authorities did not say in one place or the other what they were looking for or under what charges they were taking Zamora. Faced with the international protest, the Special Prosecutor against Impunity, Rafael Curruchiche, was forced to clarify: “The arrest has nothing to do with his quality as a journalist but rather for a possible act of money laundering in his capacity as a businessman.”

What did they expect me to say? That they detain him for the journalism of his media that denounces corruption, which bothers officials and former officials so much, including President Alejandro Giammattei and his cabinet, the head of the Public Ministry Consuelo Porras and Curruchiche himself? That Zamora is one of the main critical voices against the takeover of the state perpetrated by the same dark powers that removed the CICIG, that have mounted cases against judges, magistrates and prosecutors, including Claudia Paz y Paz and former special prosecutor Juan Francis Sandoval? Why have they arrested him? No. They accuse him of money laundering.

Central American laws have, more or less, the same definition for the crime of money laundering: it is the act of managing, investing or having money knowing that it comes from the commission of another crime. In other words, it is the attempt to legalize money of illegal origin, be it drug trafficking or corruption or extortion. With another aggravation: the crime is so serious that the accused person cannot defend himself in freedom. The trial must face imprisoned.

To accuse Zamora of this crime is to publicly establish, from the State, the image of someone who works for organized crime. Delegitimize it. Just like him today, the Nicaraguan dictatorship accused journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro of money laundering and seized his offices. Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele also accused me, on national television, of laundering money, showing images of me.

A few months ago, José Rubén Zamora called me to express his solidarity with me and El Faro, the newspaper I direct, for the multiple rigged audits against us, ordered by Bukele’s Ministry of Finance in his attempt to build money laundering cases against us. money or tax evasion. His long decades of experience in a country like Guatemala, where it doesn’t light up until it gets dark again, has exposed José Rubén and elPeriódico to several audits of this type. It is the way those who want to silence us operate. He didn’t give me much advice or great consolation, but he offered me his house and told me that in the end those who accuse us to cover up their own crimes will end up in jail. Paradoxically, it is he who is in prison today.

He, who for years has been denouncing politicians and soldiers in his country for improperly appropriating money, obtaining it illegally and then legalizing it; that is, money laundering. But those are not the prisoners, but he.

Central America today is experiencing a very serious democratic setback in which the rulers concentrate more and more power at the expense of the constitutional rights of their citizens. The biggest example is the Ortega dictatorship in Nicaragua, followed by authoritarianism millennial of Bukele in El Salvador; and Giammattei and the narco-political, business and military groups in Guatemala. In all three countries, institutional backsliding goes hand in hand with scandalous corruption and the lack of checks and balances and accountability mechanisms. Under these conditions, journalism becomes the last dike to contain the unpunished outrage, through investigation, denunciation and critical questioning of the exercise of power.

Both the prosecutor at the head of the Public Ministry, Consuelo Porras, and Curruchiche, the prosecutor who ordered Zamora’s arrest, have been singled out for acts of corruption, plagiarism or obstruction of anti-corruption investigations, not only in Guatemala but internationally. both were included on the gel list and they have not hidden their intention to take revenge against all the operators of the judicial system who during the CICIG years tried to clean up corruption in Guatemala. The same day of Zamora’s arrest, they also ordered and executed the capture of the assistant to the Public Ministry, Samari Gómez, a survivor of the Special Prosecutor’s Office headed by Juan Francisco Sandoval, today in exile. There are 24 former operators of the justice system (former prosecutors and judges) exiled for the persecution of Giammattei, Porras and Curruchiche, and five prosecuted in Guatemala. It is the revenge of the old system against those who hindered, or still hinder, the total takeover of the justice system in the hands of Porras and Curruchiche. That it is they, those accused of corruption, who lead the persecution against Zamora, already sheds much light on this process.

Unfortunately, José Rubén Zamora is not an isolated case in the region. In Guatemala, already last year we denounced the judicial persecution against other journalists: Carlos Choc, Anastasia Mejía, Juan Luis Font, Sonny Figueroa, Marvin del Cid, Claudia Méndez and Zamora himself, for whom old legal cases were already being reopened. sold out

In Nicaragua, there are two journalists and six more people linked to the media imprisoned in Ortega’s prisons. One of them, Miguel Mora, has been on a hunger strike for forty days in protest against the torture of political prisoners. A large number of journalists, including Chamorro, had to go into exile. Nicaragua is today a country without printed newspapers, after the closure of La Prensa due to an embargo on paper and the capture of its manager; And just this week the Ortega police closed seven Catholic radio stations, because they criticized the dictatorship.

In El Salvador, there are already dozens of colleagues spied on, persecuted, harassed and defamed by Bukele and his spokesmen. In El Faro alone, CitizenLab found that 22 of us had the Pegasus infected phones, an espionage system that allows you to activate the camera and microphones live and extract all the information from the device. We have suffered surveillance, delegitimization campaigns sponsored by Bukele himself, espionage with drones in our homes (one of those little devices, after a couple of visits from a few meters away, entered very happily the third time through the window of my study and floated, with impunity, for a few moments in front of me), lynchings in networks, threats… After our investigations that revealed the negotiations between the Salvadoran government and the gangsthe bench of the official party approved a gag lawwhich provides sentences of up to 15 years for journalists and media representatives who publish anything about gangs that is outside the official discourse.

The intention of the authorities in our countries is the same: to discredit us and silence us so that we do not continue investigating or publishing acts of corruption.

It is no coincidence that, on the Monday following José Rubén’s capture, the Curruchiche prosecutor’s office ordered the newspaper’s bank accounts to be frozen. Without money they will not be able to buy paper or pay their employees. Without money, the most important media outlet in Guatemala’s recent history will die, with its founder in jail.

The Guatemalan authorities may think that with this they have already gotten rid of a problem, but in reality they have caused another bigger one: they have sparked an international protest from journalists, organizations that defend freedom of expression and governments from several countries. Because no one believes that José Rubén is a money launderer and no one believes that the Guatemalan justice system today is capable of offering him the minimum guarantees for his defense. Giammattei’s government has been painted as what José Rubén Zamora calls a kleptocracy, which is dedicated to looting the state and therefore needs to get rid of its critics. Today the group that governs Guatemala has a prominent political prisoner, before the eyes of the world. And to a Central American journalism already fed up with the corrupt trying to silence us. My solidarity with the Zamora family, and with colleagues throughout the region.

This column was originally published in The lighthouse.