Archive for the ‘Central America’ Category


Honduran Money Laundering Arrests Affect Major News Outlets

The US government arrested Honduran Yanki Rosenthal when he landed in Miami October 6 on charges of money laundering. The next day indictments were handed down for other members of his family.

While many in the world media are focusing on Yanki’s ownership of a major Honduran soccer team and the family’s ownership of the bank Grupo Continental, the reach of the Rosenthal family is much more extensive.

For journalists, the indictments hit close to home.

The Rosenthals own one of the major newspapers — El Tiempo — and a national TV outlet — Canal 11.

How the Honduran press handled the arrest and indictments clearly showed the biases

El Tiempo lead with:

The Continental Group issued a statement rejecting the accusations made Wednesday the Treasury Department of the United States, where several companies linked to the group of the crime of money laundering. Facing accusations Continental Group denies allegations of money laundering involving companies in the Continental Group.

Competitor El Heraldo, however, went with:

The US attorney in Manhattan announced charges Wednesday against four Hondurans by “laundering of proceeds of drug trafficking and bribery crimes through accounts in the United States.

Rolando Jaime Rosenthal Oliva, Yani Benjamin Rosenthal Hidalgo, Yankel Rosenthal and Andrew Acosta Garcia Coello “were charged in connection with a conspiracy carried out over several years to launder profits from drug crimes,” said the office of the Southern District of New York.

The newspapers — and television news outlets — have never been shy about showing off the political leanings of the owners. It will now be interesting to see how the news media handle the trials of one of the five big families of Honduras.

What will be important for foreign journalists to pay attention to will not be the cat fight that is sure to be played out in the front pages, but rather if (when) the number of life-threatening threats against journalists covering this case increases.

Journalists in Honduras have faced numerous threats — not so much from the government as from the narcos. Threats will most likely come against anyone digging deeply into this story.

THIS IS BIG! In the past, the US and Honduran governments have acted against drug kingpins and their holdings. This is the first time there is a major move against such a prominent family and such large corporate holdings in the country. Among those indicted are a former president of the country and a presidential candidate for the Liberal Party, the mainstream opposition party to the ruling National Party.

Grupo Continental is one of the largest banks in Honduras. Its holding extend deeply into Honduran society, including — as noted — the news media.

Under Honduran law, the property and goods of indicted individuals is put under the control of the Administrative Office of Seized Goods (OABI). When a major narco was arrested, OABI took over control of his private zoo, which was occasionally opened to the public. OABI brought in animal experts to evaluate and run the zoo and kept it open to the public. (The narco zoo was much larger than the Tegucigalpa Zoo, but the animals were in much worse shape.)

Seized gym equipment was donated to outreach centers to help keep young people active in safe (non-gang related) activities. Likewise, OABI arranged for a boat, including fuel and maintenance for the boat, so a school in Cayos Cochinos could make sure the kids got an education. (The islands are inhabited by some of the poorest people in Honduras.)

The director of OABI fought corrupt bosses and politicians before he rose to the top job. Once he took command of the organization, he made sure everything was handled by the book. (In other words, no more seized cars for a political leader, just because he wants one.)

The director understands and operates OABI under a transparent and open system. He also understands that fighting back against intimidation is important part of beating corruption. His heart and mind are in the right place to allow El Tiempo and Channel 11 operate as fair and independent news outlets, if they are seized under the law.

He might even appoint a director of the newspaper and TV channel who will encourage the journalists in those groups to step out from the partisan restrictions of the current owners. And maybe even help arrange for some additional training.

And if anyone is looking for a success story about the fight against corruption, a profile of OABI and its director is a good place to start.

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Gangs, Government and Journalism in El Salvador

An online newspaper in El Salvador is facing threats because of its stories about alleged negotiations between the government and criminal gangs.

The publication, El Faro, ran an article last week detailing a government deal to give certain benefits to jailed gang leaders like transfers to better prison facilities or even money if they would cut back on the violence.
El Salvador has the second highest homicide rate in the world (after Honduras) at 66 per 100,000 people and much of the killing is attributed to gangs.
In its stories, El Faro reported that after the alleged agreement was reached, only three murders were reported, down from an average of 14 per day.
In its article, El Faro reporters gave details of their conversation with a gang leader still on the streets. The gang member said murders planned for the very day that got the order to “calm down” were cancelled.
Imprisoned gang leaders did get transferred to another prison, but government officials deny striking any deal.
El Faro editor and founder Carlos Dada said in an email published by Spain’s El Pais newspaper that government sources have said that by publishing the article “El Faro’s risk level has greatly increased.”
Gangs have targeted journalists. In 2009, French documentary filmmaker Christian Poveda was killed in El Salvador after finishing an award-winning documentary, “La Vida Loca” on gang life in El Salvador.

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Intimidation and shooting of Honduran journalists continues

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports on the latest attack on journalists in Honduras.

Honduran community radio director shot; staff threatened

Franklin Meléndez, 35, who directs the Voz de Zacate Grande community radio station in southern Valle province, was shot on March 13 at a local bar, according to CPJ interviews and local press reports. Meléndez told CPJ that he was approached by two men angered by the station’s critical coverage of local land disputes as he and two colleagues were playing billiards. According to Meléndez, one of the men threatened him and as he was retreating, the second man shot him in the left thigh. A second shot was fired but missed him.

The two assailants, who Meléndez recognized as relatives of a prominent landowner in the region, followed him before the radio director was able to flee on bicycle, he told CPJ. He was later driven to a hospital in nearby Choluteca, where he underwent surgery to remove the bullet.

Rest of report.

The CPJ reports that nine journalists have been killed in Honduras since March 2010. At least three of the killings are tied directly to their work.

The Committee published a special report in July that showed a pattern of negligence on the part of authorities in investigating the killings.

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Nicaraguan journalist threatened over elections commission investigation

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Seems El Nuevo Diario is rubbing some people the wrong way.

Some one leveled a death threat against reporter and editor Luis Galeano first by phone and then by hand-delivered package.

And the whole issue: Galeano was looking into irregularities in the Nicaraguan Central Elections Commission.

Journalist receives death threats

For non-Spanish speakers (or those like me working to get my Spanish back) Google Translate gives a rough translation of the situation but enough to understand it.

Irregularities at the elections commission take on a more heated nature this year. The country is heading for elections in November and there are already claims from the opposition that some hanky-panky is  going on. Enough that just as the year started — 11 months before the election — opposition parties were calling for international observers.

Liberals call for international observation of elections in Nicaragua

President Daniel Ortega — yes, that Ortega of 1980s fame — was clearly upset with such calls.

“We are tired of interventions,” he told local media. “If you want to come (foreign observers) to join us, join us, but we want drivers of our elections.”

He added that “the best observers” are the representatives of the political forces at the polling stations.

Unfortunately, the intentions of Ortega and his party are quite clear: Never give up the power again. (And for free journalism, this is not a good thing.)

Ortega got his rubber-stamp courts to let him run for re-election even though it is against the constitution.

And perhaps more telling are the comments of Ortega’s pal Tomas Borge, the last living founder of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). He said last year that giving up power, when they were voted out of office in 1990, was a mistake that should never be repeated.

And that is why a story about some strange goings on in the election commission is so important and so dangerous to the ruling elite.

P.S. A special thanks to @bloggingsbyboz for his Tweet on this.

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IAPA criticizes proposed Nicaragua “media violence” law

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

The Sandinista government in Nicaragua has proposed legislation says the IAPA that would cause “absurd censorship, self-censorship and serious repression of journalists and the news media.”

The bill was proposed Feb. 3 to include in the Penal Code the offenses of “femicide” and “media violence,” which would be used to prevent women from being disparaged and satirized.

Fines could be as much as 300 days’ wages on “the owner of a news media outlet, the person or social communicator who in the exercise of his or her profession offends, libels, satirizes or denigrates a woman through a news media outlet for the mere fact of being a woman.” The bill would also require the offender to apologize publicly in the same media for the same amount of time or space.

The chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Robert Rivard, said, “Protection of women and any person in the media is already established under normal libel laws, so there is no need for special legislation that could later be used to the detriment of freedom of the press.”

Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, added that the legislative debate is putting the blame for violence against women on the media.

It’s no real surprise that the Ortega administration would propose such legislation. The Sandinistas have never been an organization that supported free and independent media.

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Update on Honduras: RSF speaks out on killings

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Last week the Honduran deputy security minister Armando Calidonio said that none of the ten murders of journalists in Honduras last year were connected to the victim’s work.

International journalism rights groups disagreed.

The Committee to Protect Journalists claim three deaths were because of the journalists’ work.

Reporters Without Borders have now added their comments: Minister insists no journalist was murdered in connection with their work.

Bottom line: No one really believes that NONE of the deaths were related to journalism.

One of the three journalists killed in 2010 in an apparent connection with his work, Nahum Palacios Arteaga, was gunned down after repeated harassment and threats from military personnel in the Aguán region, where there is a great deal of repression.

In the meantime, the Honduran Committee for Free Expression reports that Esdras López, of Canal 36-Cholusat. was threatened in Tegucigalpa by an army lieutenant-colonel. The station was critical of the coup last year.

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Small comfort: Honduran gov’t says journalists not specific targets

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

I’m not sure if this makes anyone feel any better but the Honduran government issued a statement yesterday (1/5) that the 10 journalists killed in that country last year nine were not killed because of their jobs.

Honduras’ assistant security minister says nine of the 10 killings of journalists that have occurred this year were unrelated to the media workers’ jobs.

Armando Calidonio says nine of the slayings were due to motives unrelated to the journalists’ work, but he did not say what those motives were.

In the past, Honduran authorities have cited motives like personal disputes in some of the deaths.

The Committee to Protect Journalists disagrees. It states that three of the 10 journalists killed last year were targeted because of their work.

FYI, Honduras has the highest murder rate in Central America at 66.8 per 100,000 people. That rate makes it more than 10 times more dangerous than New York City (5.6 per 100,000).

So there may be something to the government’s latest report. Let’s face it. Honduras is not a safe place. But that doesn’t mean the government shouldn’t pursue the killings with vigor.

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Journalist Murders on the Rise in Honduras

The Committee to Protect Journalists recently reported that when Honduran radio journalist Israel Zelaya Díaz was shot to death last week, he became the eighth journalist killed in the country since March.

A few days ago, CPJ made available a video that was jointly produced by the Inter-American Press Association and the Video Journalism Movement.

The video questions whether the Honduran government itself is behind the recent murders. The piece is 5:26.

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Honduras fails to move on journalists’ killings

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

There is probably no Central American country that has held so much attention in the past year than Honduras.

A group of center-right forces depose the leftist government. The country is cut off from the rest of the world because of the coup. A new government is elected without the leftist president ever reinstated to power.

During the rule of the coup leaders, journalists were under fire for reporting on the illegal nature of the coup. (This is not to defend the previous president and government, which was also not too friendly to a free press. But what would you expect from someone who looks to Hugo Chavez for advice.)

Since the new government took power in elections recognized by most governments in the world and by the NGOs that observed the elections, the safety of journalists remains precarious.

A new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists shows that the problem of impunity continues.

Journalist murders spotlight Honduran government failures

From the first of March to the middle of June, seven Honduran broadcast journalists were shot to death, an astonishing number of murders in such a short time in a country of 7.5 million. Six of the murders occurred in the span of just seven weeks, and most were clearly assassinations carried out by hit men. Adding to fear among journalists—and to their questions about who would be next—was the national government’s response: Its initial silence was followed by a period in which a top official dismissed the murders as routine street crimes.

Even though the United States recognized the elections as legitimate and has restored diplomatic relations with Honduras, it has not spared the country from criticism.

Since the election in November 2009, the State Department reports:

The following human rights problems were reported: unlawful killings by members of the police and government agents; arbitrary and summary killings committed by vigilantes and former members of the security forces; harsh prison conditions; violence against detainees, and corruption and impunity within the security forces; lengthy pretrial detention and failure to provide due process of law; arbitrary detention and disproportionate use of force by security forces after the June coup; politicization, corruption, and institutional weakness of the judiciary; erosion of press freedom; corruption in the legislative and executive branches; limitations on freedom of movement and association; government restrictions on recognition of some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); violence and discrimination against women; child prostitution and abuse; trafficking in persons; discrimination against indigenous communities; violence and discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation; ineffective enforcement of labor laws; and child labor.

Note that “erosion of press freedom” is part of the concerns in Honduras.

The lack of arrest and punishment of the killers of journalists remains a major problem in Latin America. It is obviously a growing concern in Honduras as well.

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Speaking of Honduras…

The situation for journalists in Honduras is not getting any better.

The International Federation of Journalists issued a statement this week condemning the recent killings of three journalists in Honduras.

Joseph Hernández Ochoa, a former TV presenter was killed March1, David Meza Montesinos, a radio reporter died March 11 and fellow reporter Nahum Palacios Arteaga was murdered three days later. All killings were carried out in drive- by shootings.

The IFJ says journalists are victims of organised crime as the country struggles to restore political dialogue and law and order in the wake of last year’s coup d’état which sparked political unrest in the country. The Federation accused at the time the coup leaders of attacking journalists and closing media in Honduras.

And watcher of all things journalistic in Latin America, Robert Buckman has a piece in the SPJ magazine, The Quill. (Quill Feature: Between the Sword and the Wall)

Buckman’s article looks at the state of press freedom before the coup against the government of Manuel Zelaya and after under the government of Roberto Micheletti.

In 2005, emulating what [Venezuelan president Hugo] Chavez had done in Venezuela, Zelaya issued an executive decree mandating that the private stations carry 2½ hours a day of talk shows hosted by pro-Zelaya journalists who interviewed pro-Zelaya guests. Zelaya justified the decree in the interest of balance. He also expropriated Channel 8, turning it into a government mouthpiece.

And

The Micheletti government rescinded the decree mandating pro-Zelaya programming. Then, on Sept. 28, adopting the philosophy of “do unto others as others did unto you,” Micheletti issued his own decree closing the nettlesome Canal 36 cable TV channel and Radio Globo for “threatening peace and order.”

Honduras may no longer be a major story for the main stream media, but it is still a situation that needs to watched closely.

Cross posted with Journalism, Journalists and the World.

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