01 October 2015
The country is submerged in an unprecedented electoral process and while there is a climate of freedom of the press in general terms it still is suffering legal attacks on the part of authorities and, even worse, by the candidates seeking the Presidency. The biggest violation occurred on March 10 with the murder of Danilo López, correspondent of Prensa Libre, and Federico Salazar, correspondent of Radio Nuevo Mundo, in the city of Mazatenango, Suchitepéquez province, 93 miles from Guatemala City. In that same attack Marvin Israel Túnchez, news host of Canal 30 television, was seriously injured. The Interior Ministry confirmed that the attack was aimed at López, who some months earlier had denounced harassment, threats and pressure by provincial council members annoyed by his investigative work. Although two people were arrested the attack has not been investigated adequately by the authorities. Today the government is made up of President Alejandro Maldonado and Vice President Alfonso Fuentes Soria, a government of “transition” that will hand over power on January 14, 2016. This government arose after the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti following the publication of two reports of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, which linked them with a customs corruption network. The report against Baldetti was presented on April 16, after which date there began to appear public protests that resulted in her resignation. She is now in jail awaiting a decision as to whether she will go on trial. The second report, which concerns former President Pérez Molina, led to massive demonstrations in the capital and the country’s main cities. It also caused the people not to allow acts of corruption to go unpunished. Prominent people such as lawyers and artists saw themselves obliged to give up posts or privileges under pressure from the public. Another report presented – for the first time – with first and last names the corruption that rules at the news media level, specifically those controlled by Ángel Remigo González, which include the four open television channels and a large network of radio stations. They were mentioned as sponsors of the governments in power and political parties that best serve their interests. The main beneficiary was Manuel Baldzón’s Libertad Democrática Renovada Líder (Renewed Democratic Liberty Leader) party. In this election year the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) was unable to control Baldzón’s party, he breaking through the ceiling of investment in electoral advertising and refusing to suspend the campaign activities, in violation of that tribunal’s control mechanisms. This gave rise to the public in general, specially the middle class, rejecting that party. Many people went to the party’s meetings or rallies to protest, a situation that led to attacks on the demonstrators on the part of security staff and/or party followers. Baldzón, the owner of magazine Es Primicia, the cable television cannel NTV, newspaper La Nación, the weekly Tribuna and otherl companies distributing cable signals in inland Guatemala, made channels block their television and radio signals when they were broadcasting news or opinions that were not favorable to him. In the first round of presidential elections on September 6 Baldzón came third in the vote count and then gave up his political career. Baldzón’s legal attacks also affected the independent press, He sued the editor of the regional newspaper El Quetzalteco, who published a story against a television ad contracted by this candidate. This ad presented falsities that were evidenced in the newspaper. The case was thrown out by the Justice Department in August. Baldzón also sued Juan Luis Font, editor of the television news channel Canal Antigua and the magazine Contra Poder, who has had at least nine lawsuits filed against him, all of them for alleged criminal offenses and none framed in Guatemala’s Law on Transmission of Thought, attributing to him such offenses as threats, bribing people in public posts, money laundering, coercion, trafficking influence and extortion. He also attacked the commentator of that channel and Prensa Libre columnist Pedro Trujillo. He did the same with Claudia Meléndez, deputy Publisher of Contra Poder magazine and Paola Hurtado, member of the editorial board of the same magazine and presenter of Canal Antigua. In all those cases the principal cause of these attacks lies in the publication of information through which it was shown that Baldzón plagiarized his doctoral thesis and a book that he copied information from the Internet and sold as his own work. In his denunciation Font explains that since 2014 he has been the object of offensive, insulting and false reports on the part of the media group Cable NTV television channel, La Nación daily newspaper, weekly La Tribuna and magazine Es Primicia. “Although formally there does not exist a relationship of property and Baldzón rejects any linkage these media reflect the fact that his agenda of content has served the interests of the former presidential candidate,” Font said. He also said that he has been the object of a campaign to discredit him in television news broadcasts of Guatemala’s open TV monopoly, channels 3, 7, 11, and 13, allied during the electoral process with Baldzón. The Sonora radio network, which forms part of the same media conglomerate, has devoted long hours to smearing him on the basis of spurious formal complaints submitted to the Justice Department by followers of Baldzón and people close to him.