NEWSPAPER UNDER ATTACK AFTER REPORTS ON GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION
On 20 February, about fifty protesters gathered in front of the "elPeriodico" offices and threatened the newspaper's staff. CPJ says the mob attempted to force the daily's doors open and threw burning copies of the newspaper into the building. They also burned a piñata representing "elPeriodico"'s publisher José Rubén Zamora, one of IPI's "50 World Press Freedom Heroes" last year. The protesters also tried to attack three photographers. CPJ reports that local police took forty minutes to respond to the call for help from "elPeriodico"'s offices, and did not make any arrests once they finally arrived. IPI says the crowd was composed of followers of both the ruling Guatemalan Republican Front Party (Frente Republicano Guatemalteco, FRG) and of Minister of Communications Luis Rabbé, and that some of the demonstrators were identified as being employees of the Ministry of Communications.
Since November 2000, "elPeriodico" has published a series of articles exposing corruption and irregularities in the awarding of public works contracts by Rabbé's ministry. In response, Claudia Méndez Villaseñor, the articles' author, has received numerous threats, reports RSF. Radio and television stations owned by Angel González, a Mexican national who is Rabbé's brother-in-law, have also waged a campaign to discredit "elPeriodico". González controls all four of the country's private TV stations, according to CPJ, in violation of constitutional prohibitions against both monopolies and foreign ownership of media. CPJ adds that television crews from González's stations arrived outside "elPeriodico" twenty minutes before the 20 February attack.
While CPJ notes that President Portillo has condemned the attack on "elPeriodico"'s offices, it remains deeply concerned about the incident, given Guatemala's unfortunate history of violence against journalists. Similarly, RSF says that "these methods remind us of an era which we thought had ended."