GUATEMALA The Guatemalan press is going through one of the most difficult times it has experienced since the return of democracy because of an intense campaign of harassment and disparagement by government officials, who have close ties to those who control the VHF television monopoly. Relations between the government of President Alfonso Portillo and the press have been uncertain and tense with some especially critical moments, such as the official pressure in February for Channel 13 to close down the opposition program T-Mas de Noche of José Eduardo Zarco. After this incident, four television channels that are controlled by Mexican businessman Remigio Angel González, who supported Portillo’s presidential campaign with a huge amount of advertising, made an effort to discredit the written press and independent journalists. They also used the stations’ news programs to promote the government and especially Communications Minister Luis Rabbé. The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the OAS made some modest recommendations to the government. But the president, who took maximum advantage of press coverage of the visit, has not put any of them into effect. Relations between the government and the press are deteriorating. Public officials have limited the information given to reporters, the president has reduced the number of press conferences to a minimum, and he and his vice president, Francisco Reyes López, publicly criticize the written press as “irresponsible” for “attacking” them. The independent press has reported corruption in public administration, and Prensa Libre set off a national scandal when it released an audiotape showing that legislators of the official party had changed a law illegally. Because of this, 24 deputies, including Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, president of Congress, have been put on trial to remove their immunity. The following events affected press freedom: In January, Prensa Libre published an editorial supporting an initiative by pro-justice groups of civil society to promote openness in the election of a new Constitutional Court. In February, after Prensa Libre’s articles about the importance of openness in the election for the court, pro-government television news shows criticized the newspaper with the intention of discrediting it. On February 15, elPeriódico published articles about irregularities in the granting of contracts by the Communications Ministry, the agency where there have been the most reports of corruption. On February 19, Communications Ministry workers, calling themselves supporters of Rabbé, demonstrated in front of elPeriódico in an attempt to intimidate its journalists. Also on February 19, Prensa Libre published an investigative article about corruption in the Communications Ministry. On February 20, both Prensa Libre and elPeriódico published evidence that the demonstrators were employees of the Communications Ministry. President Portillo played down the incident and said that if it could be proved that they were state employees they would be dismissed. From February 20 to 27 a campaign was conducted against the written press, especially elPeriódico and Prensa Libre. Their editors were attacked, and journalists José Rubén Zamora and Gonzalo Marroquín reported that Communications Minister Rabbé made a veiled death threat against them. After that, the attacks against the newspapers intensified on the two television news shows and the radio station controlled by Rabbé, who is Angel González’s brother-in-law, reaching the extreme of personal comments, libelous accusations and even stories attempting to implicate the editors of the two newspapers in a supposed plot. On February 26, Prensa Libre published a report, based on investigative work by Peruvian journalist Christian Vallejo, linking Angel González to Vladimiro Montesinos. Television reports described Vallejo as a press mercenary and irresponsible drunk. Since then, this campaign has spread, to the point that monitoring might show that at least an hour daily have been devoted to it on television, and articles in a newspaper, to try to discredit the written press through all the media. There is also clear evidence of telephone tapping, which seems to be directed by army intelligence whose director is the brother of Minister Rabbé. The silence of the president’s office about these attacks and Rabbé’s attitude seem to indicate that Portillo supports what is happening, by way of a “public lynching” of those who denounce corruption and the television monopoly. The situation, along with what the written press has reported in the past about political favors González uses to ingratiate himself with the president of the moment and influential politicians illustrate the serious danger to Guatemalan democracy. On February 28, reporter Gustavo Soberanis of the daily Siglo XXI was threatened verbally and with a gun by the general comptroller of the nation who also refused to give him information. The newspaper reported the incident and called it a continuation of the “public acts of intimidation and aggression against the Guatemalan media.”