69th General Assembly

Denver, Colorado

October 18 – 22, 2013

Refusals by senior officials to provide public information and lawsuits brought against news media with dissuasive and intimidating intent and attacks on journalists, in particular in border zones, continued to be the outstanding features in this period. On October 8 the Chamber of Deputies in an extraordinary session passed a resolution that empowers it to take legal action against people who provide information about officials of the legislative branch of government, amid a great controversy over the issue. However, on October 15 in a ruling that sets a legal precedent on the matter of access to public information the Supreme Court decided that any citizen may have access to the list of officials of any public entity, with their respective salaries, despite the negative stance of the Chamber of Deputies and Senators. The Court established that the three branches of government must ensure access to the information. This ruling by the Supreme Court sets case law regarding Article 28 of the Constitution, even before it is enacted as the Constitution itself provides for. The Congress previously hid from members of the public and the press access to data concerning the list of officials of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, with their respective salaries, despite the fact that government employees are legally required to publicly give details of their work. Concern arose among the people over information published in the press about the patronage system in Congress, due to the fact that the legislators (45 senators and 80 representatives) massively name as officials their relatives, friends and others close to them, many of whom do not carry out their duties but collect salaries much higher than the normal ones. Senate President Julio César Velázquez and Chamber of Deputies Speaker Juan Bartolomé Ramírez refused to provide members of the public and the press this information of public interest. In doing so they violated Article 28 of the Constitution, which states: “Public sources of information are free for all.” Several officials of the lower house belonging to the Colorado Party (National Republican Alliance), Liberal Party (Authentic Radical Liberal Party–PLRA), Unace, Patria Querida, Frente Guasu and Avanz País parties, many with double, triple and up to four affiliations, signed a note against the handing over of data to the press – they argued that in this they are protected by Article 33 of the Constitution, which speaks of the Right to Privacy. In July there had been introduced in the lower house a bill for regulation that seeks to create the legal precept of “classified information.” The bill stipulates that the institutions of the government will be able to decide what information would be shielded and thus could be denied to members of the public and the media. This bill, which seeks to regulate access to information, was introduced by Ombudsman Manuel Páez Monges and backed by congressmen from the Colorado Party Andrés Retamozo and Víctor González Segovia. In addition, in this bill, claiming reasons of “security,” ministers and public officials in general will be able to deny requests for reports on allowances, salaries and appointment of staff in state entities. Despite the fact that Paraguay’s Constitution guarantees freedom of expression on April 25, in a panel discussion at the Universidad Nacional university, journalist and trade unionist Jorge Zárate declared that information had to be regulated by passage of a media law, a proposal that included the government program presented in March by the Frente Guasu party, a group headed by former president and current senator Fernando Lugo. In May Senator Sixto Pereira of the Frente Guasu announced that in the new legislative session his party would be pushing for a law to regulate information. Avanza País party member of Congress Rocío Casco and Frente Guasu senator Esperanza Martínez also declared that they will be promoting a media law. However, President Horacio Cartes, who took office on August 15, warned that his government will not support any bill in that regard. A journalist and photographer with the press office of the Amambay government, Carlos Manuel Artaza Mereles, 46, was killed on April 24 by two hitmen riding a motorcycle who intercepted him as he was arriving at his home in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero, on the border with Brazil. Artaza died on his way to the Asunción Medical Emergency Center. First suspicions point to the drug-trafficking mafia, operating on the border through powerful criminal organizations of Brazilian origin, but shortly afterwards added to these was information about the fact that both in Artaza’s radio program and in his slot on a Pedro Juan Caballero television channel there was discussion of  the political scene in Amambay, which is unstable and heated. In another development in June a witness incriminated in the murder Senator Roberto Acevedo, who denied the accusation. The person responsible for regional coverage for the newspaper ABC Color in Pedro Juan Caballero, Cándido Figueredo, received death threats in text messages in late April after the murder. Also saying they had received threats were journalists Aníbal Gómez Caballero of FM América Holding radio; Santiago Benítez, Lourenso Veras, Egido Pedra and ABC Color correspondent in Curuguaty, Pablo Medina. The threats to Figueredo were repeated in July following the publication of reports about the background of Liberal Party (PLRA) Senator Roberto Acevedo in ABC Color. Figueredo is regarded as one of the leading specialists on the issue of drug-trafficking and continually receives death threats and constant defamatory harassment on Radio Amambay. Also on this radio there was launched a strong campaign to discredit ABC Color editor Aldo Zuccolillo. ABC Color regional reporter in Ciudad del Este Claudia Coronel in late March said she had been the object of an attempt to bribe her by a senior official of the Tesãi Foundation, an agency of the Itaipí Bi-National Entity. In May Luis Horacio Fernández, an announcer with Radio Difusora Mangoré in Juan Bautista, Misiones province, a radio station owned by Misiones Governor Arturo Martínez Jara, reported that his vehicle was shot at and the windshield and rear window were smashed. Fernández said he was used to receiving threats and had received them on several occasions due to the radio program he hosts, “Sin limites ni censura” (Without Limits Or Censorship), in which he criticizes the cattle rustling taking place in the area and other criminal activities. In May a group of unidentified assailants staged an armed raid on the offices of Radio Libertad FM 95.7 in San Estanislao and threatened announcers Iván Ruiz, owner of the radio station, and Antonio Dávalos, who were hosting a news program. They ordered the assailants to leave the premises, but these fired shots at the home of Dávalos, who believes the assault was due to the fact that he gives an opportunity to members of the public to criticize politicians in general. In September Senator Blanca Fonseca of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party brought a libel suit against the newspaper Crónica, seeking damages of  2 billion guaranís (some $450,000). The newspaper had reproduced a phrase used in February by journalist Enrique Vargas Peña in his radio program “Tierra de Nadie” (No-One’s Land), who called Senator Fonseca “chonga de Efraín”, an expression equivalent to “very close friend,” an allusion to the then presidential candidate Efraín Alegre. In April the Second Tribunal of the Criminal Appeals Court ruled as having expired the libel suit brought in 2005 by former Government Accountability Office auditors Juan Cristaldo and Atilo Perazzo against ABC Color editor Aldo Zuccolillo and reporters Enrique Dávalos and Carlos Cáceres concerning an investigation into corrupt profiting with construction firms linked to public contracts published in that newspaper. A ruling by Judge Alba González on April 30, 2008 had acquitted the accused, declaring there had not been any unlawful act but rather bad faith on the part of the litigants and ordered the record of the case to be sent to the Attorney General’s Office for its investigation. This ruling was appealed by Cristaldo and Perazzo.