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Writer-journalist found dead

(CERIGUA/IFEX) - On 23 January 2008 at 9:00 a.m. (local time), the body of Guatemalan journalist and writer Hugo Arce Barillas was found in the room of a hotel in the capital, Guatemala City, where he was apparently intending to have a meeting.

Arce Barilla's wife left him at the hotel at 5:00 a.m. and returned four hours later to bring him his heart medication, but found him dead.

Arce had written many articles against President Álvaro Colom and his wife, Sandra Torres, in the months prior to the 2007 general elections. Colom reportedly asked the editors of "La Hora" evening newspaper to drop Arce Barilla's opinion column. On 21 December 2007, Torres initiated criminal proceedings against Arce Barilla for defamation.

The Special Prosecutor for murders and attempted murders, Álvaro Matus, said that everything points to suicide. A hotel video apparently shows that Arce Barillas was alone at the moment of his death.

An e-mail message from a group calling itself "friends of Hugo Arce and his memory", which includes several of his articles criticising Colom and his wife, as well as his last communication in which he blamed the president and First Lady for his death, is circulating.

Attorney General for Human Rights (Procurador de los Derechos Humanos) Sergio Morales Alvarado expressed his condolences to the journalist's family and acknowledged that the journalist's points of view, with which Morales disagreed, had not pleased those in power. The Guatemalan Journalists' Association (Asociación de Periodistas de Guatemala, APG) called on the authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of the death.

Ileana Alamilla, director of CERIGUA's Journalists Observatory (Observatorio de los Periodistas), echoed Guatemalan journalists' sense of loss over Arce Barillas's death, urging the Public Ministry (Ministerio Público) to clarify the circumstances of the journalist's death.

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