Ten Murders and No Justice*
By Thelma Mejía
TEGUCIGALPA, Dec 29, 2010 – The murder of Henry Suazo, a correspondent for a radio station based in the capital, brought this year’s death toll for reporters in Honduras to 10, and made this Central American nation the second most dangerous country for journalists in Latin America, after Mexico.
The Committee for Free Expression (C-Libre) condemned the murder and demanded that the authorities put an end to the impunity. None of the 10 killings of journalists this year have been clarified, and not even the motives are clear, although there are suspicions that several of the cases were linked to drug trafficking.
Suazo’s murder was also deplored by other local and international human rights groups and journalists’ organisations, such as the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, which called Wednesday for “an impartial and effective investigation” to resolve the case as soon as possible.
Renato Álvarez, director and news anchor of the country’s leading newscast, stated categorically on his programme Tuesday night, a few hours after Suazo was gunned down outside his home in La Masica, a town on Honduras’ Caribbean coast, that “these things simply cannot be tolerated.
“It is intolerable that there is so much impunity and that reporters, far from raising our voices, merely resign ourselves to feeling a lump in our throat,” he added.
Breaking with the newscast format, Álvarez demanded a swift response by the authorities, and an in-depth investigation.
The police reported that Suazo, the Tegucigalpa-based HRN radio station’s correspondent in the northern province of Atlántida, was killed by two bullets fired by unidentified gunmen as he was leaving for work.
Suazo was also host of an investigative journalism TV programme on Canal 9, in San Juan Pueblo, near La Masica, that was broadcast throughout much of northern Honduras, one of the most dangerous parts of a country that has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
Héctor Iván Mejía, the police chief for northern Honduras, told IPS that they did not yet have any leads, and had merely begun collecting “the first testimonies.”
“We are concerned about what is happening to journalists,” he said, referring to the 10 murders this year, four of which were committed in the north of the country.
No progress has been reported in the investigations of any of the killings, despite President Porfirio Lobo’s promise that the investigations would be a top priority, and in spite of his unprecedented request for assistance from Colombia, Spain and the United States in resolving the crimes.
In June, the press reported that a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) team had arrived from the United States to support the police investigations, but no information has been made available.
There has been an upsurge in attacks on the press since the Jun. 28, 2009 coup d’état that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya, when several media outlets were shut down and a number of journalists were beaten.
In the sights of the OAS
One of the reporters killed this year was Nahúm Palacios, a television station director in Tocoa, in the northeastern province of Colón, who had been granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) after he received numerous death threats.
The inability of the authorities to protect journalists has put the Honduran state in an awkward position.
This year’s 10 killings of reporters in Honduras and 14 in Mexico have helped make Latin America, with at least 35 murders, the most dangerous region in the world for journalists, according to the Geneva-based media watchdog Press Emblem Campaign’s annual report, released Monday.
But the press is not only a victim of murders in Honduras. Other problems are censorship and self-censorship, which could be aggravated if a new law aimed at regulating news coverage of violence and crime is passed.
The objective is not “to censor, but to engage in dialogue and somewhat regulate the tone in which this kind of news is reported,” said the president of Congress, Juan Orlando Hernández, of the governing right-wing National Party, in an attempt to clarify what the bill is about.
Hernández, who hopes to run for president in three years, said the idea was to reach an agreement with the major media outlets on the form and content of news coverage of crime and violence, which claim 10 to 15 lives a day in this country of 7.5 million people, according to the Observatory of Violence in the public National University.
The bill, which will begin to be debated in early 2011, would censor “any internationally broadcast news…that hurts the image of the country and scares off tourism and foreign investment,” the draft law states.
“The aim is to impose direct censorship, which is prohibited by the constitution” and the country’s laws, said Manuel Gamero, the director of the Tiempo newspaper, which is published in San Pedro Sula, 250 km north of the capital.
Journalists and activists plan to step up their protests against the increasing impunity and censorship.