NewsLatin AmericaIn Guatemala, journalist José Rubén Zamora, a critic of the government, was...

    In Guatemala, journalist José Rubén Zamora, a critic of the government, was detained

    On Friday, July 29, the Guatemalan police arrested journalist José Rubén Zamora, president and founder of the Guatemalan newspaper ‘El Periódico’. The agents also raided the headquarters of the newspaper, which had presented evidence of the involvement of the head of state, Alejandro Giammattei, and the attorney general, Consuelo Porras, in cases of corruption and abuse of power.

    A new worrying sign for critics of the government of President Alejandro Giammattei in Guatemala. The journalist José Rubén Zamora, arrested on Friday, was sent this Saturday to provisional detention in a military prison north of Guatemala City.

    The spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office, Juan Luis Pantaleón, told the AFP news agency that the journalist was arrested at his home, in the south of the capital, as part of an investigation for money laundering, blackmail, influence peddling and conspiracy.

    “He was arrested in connection with a possible case of money laundering. This is not related to his work as a journalist, but as a businessman,” Pantaleón said.

    Zamora, whose newspaper has denounced corruption in the public administration and links with drug trafficking for more than 20 years, declared a hunger strike this Saturday.

    Guatemalan journalists protest against the detention of José Rubén Zamora, president of the newspaper El Periódico, in front of the Palace of Justice in Guatemala City, on July 30, 2022. AFP – JOHAN ORDONEZ

    “For the moment I have stopped consuming water, coffee and food as a small show of protest to my imprisonment. I consider myself a political prisoner,” he told reporters. Zamora denounced that his arrest is a “conspiracy” and a “political persecution”, and that he fears for his life.

    On Friday, the security forces also broke into the headquarters of the newspaper ‘El Periódico’, founded by Zamora, which the newspaper denounced as retaliation for the articles published a few months ago in which the government and the prosecutor were accused of corruption. General, Consuelo Porras.

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    “The attorney general has complied with the threats made against the president of ‘El Periódico’. They will not silence us,” the media outlet reacted on its social networks.

    “We are in a very difficult moment. I would not like to think that we are becoming Nicaragua 2.0,” declared the Guatemalan ombudsman, Jordán Rodas, referring to the convictions -in recent years- of journalists critical of President Daniel Ortega in the neighboring country.

    A crusade against judges and anti-corruption officials

    The Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice opened an investigation on September 27, after the newspaper ‘El Periódico’ published documents from the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI) that allegedly showed that Porras was trying to block anti-corruption investigations.

    One of the first measures taken by the head of state Giammattei was to issue a decree in early 2020 authorizing the dissolution of civil society organizations whose activities are considered “of a nature that disturbs public order”.

    The prosecution, under the direction of Porras, has been implicated in the arrest and prosecution of several anti-corruption judges and prosecutors.

    The prosecutor was sanctioned by Washington and included in its Engel list of “corrupt and undemocratic” personalities, who are also people who cannot enter the United States.

    In June 2022, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) added Guatemala to the list of countries that commit serious human rights violations. This list also includes Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

    Guatemala: a long history of corruption

    Like other Central American countries, Guatemala is struggling to recover from the bloody conflicts that began in the 1960s and 1970s, in which the United States played a detrimental role by supporting repressive regimes to remove progressive presidents in order to counter the ” communist danger.

    However, although the erosion of democracy has been strongly felt in recent years in the country, there was a ray of hope in 2007 with the creation of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), in consultation with the United Nations.

    Over 12 years, this organization worked to dismantle 70 criminal structures and managed to convict more than 400 people, which led to the resignation of President Otto Pérez Milina in 2015.

    The Commission, very popular at the time, received the support of his successor, President Jimmy Morales, elected in 2016. But when Morales and members of his family were also accused by the CICIG, the relationship turned into a confrontation.

    Suspected of illicit campaign financing, the Guatemalan head of state refused to renew the commission’s mandate in January 2019.

    The dismantling of this body coincided with the presidential campaign. While the candidacy of former attorney general Thelma Aldana, who had worked to dismantle corruption networks alongside the CICIG between 2014 and 2018, was rejected with death threats forcing her into exile in the United States, Alejandro Giammattei -who had been investigated by the Commission, before benefiting from an exoneration – was elected president of Guatemala.

    The return to the poison of corruption began in 2018 with the appointment of Consuelo Porras as Attorney General, replacing Thelma Aldana.

    Close to the government, the new attorney general attacked the FECI, the only legacy of the CICIG. She obstructed a score of investigations against senior officials, while speeding up proceedings against magistrates involved in the fight against corruption.

    Human rights defenders denounce that Porras has become the pillar of repression in this Central American country.

    In recent months, the United States Department of State, the European Union and the United Nations have expressed concern about the attacks and persecution of Guatemalan judges and journalists who fight against corruption and for transparency.

    Meanwhile, José Rubén Zamora, one of the most renowned journalists in the country, waits in jail for the hearing of the first statement that will take place on Monday, August 1.

    Efe, AFP

    Source: France 24

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