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Journalist safety has deteriorated considerably in the past six months in Latin America: six journalists were killed in Mexico, one in Haiti and most recently a journalist in Peru, with many more journalists receiving death threats and being abused, report free expression organisations across the region.

In a report issued at its March 2007 conference in Colombia, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) concluded that the assassinated journalists were mostly victims of drug and gang wars, reflecting how problematic organised crime is in the region.

Just this month in Uruguay, an editor was assaulted in Montevideo by a suspected drug trafficker, reports Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF). César Casavieja, founder and editor of the weekly newspaper "Señal de Alerta", received death threats and was later assaulted after publishing a photo of a man arrested for preparing a 100-kilogram shipment of cocaine.

In Peru on 14 March, journalist Yolanda Mío Arteaga, vice-director of television station Canal 31's news programme "Primer Impacto", was assaulted and her video camera stolen by alleged members of a mafia involved in illegal fishing, reports the Institute for Press and Society (Instituto Prensa y Sociedad, IPYS). The assault took place moments after Mío filmed a police search of premises owned by the mafia in the port of Chimbote, northwestern Peru.

There were nearly two dozen more cases of reported death threats in Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Peru, Venezuela and Brazil, some related to the reporting of corruption, said IAPA at its conference.

On 21 March, only four days after the murder of journalist Miguel Pérez Julca in Jaén, Peru, two other journalists from the same city received threats via text messages to their mobile phones saying they "would be next," reports IPYS. Like Pérez, both Juan Vásquez, correspondent for América Televisión station and Walter Altamirano, from Radio Acajú's programme "La Voz del Pueblo", have reported on the lack of public safety in Jaén and corruption in various government bodies.

IPYS also reported that on 22 March, two men on a motorbike threw a teargas canister at the house of Hermes Rivera, a public relations representative of Cajaruro municipality in northeastern Peru, over comments Rivera made to several media outlets about Pérez, who was a friend. Rivera had also received threats by text message.

In Colombia, Germán Hernández, director of "El Diario de Huila" newspaper's investigative journalism unit, fled Neiva, in southwest Colombia in mid-March, after receiving seven death threats made to his mobile phone over a two-week period, says the Foundation for Press Freedom (Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa, FLIP). Since early February, his newspaper has been publishing articles on the university hospital in Neiva, including allegations of the mishandling of 12 billion Pesos (US$5.52 million) while Jorge Mauricio Escobar was its manager.

Darío Arizmendi Posada, news editor at Radio Caracol, was also forced to flee the country on 8 March after receiving death threats from an unidentified group, reports FLIP. RSF notes that in 2006 in Colombia, seven journalists were driven out of their local region or obliged to go abroad after threats from paramilitary or other armed groups.

Visit these sites:
- Report on IAPA conference:
- RSF, "Alleged drug trafficker threatens and assaults journalist":
- IFEX, "Journalist assaulted, her footage and videocamera stolen":
- IFEX, "Two journalists in Jaen receive death threats":
- IFEX, "Journalist in Amazonas threatened":
- FLIP's report on Germán Hernández:
- FLIP's report on Darío Arizmendi:
- RSF, Colombia Annual Report 2007:
(Image courtesy of WAN)

(27 March 2007)

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