Guatemala’s Top Investigative Newspaper Forced to Close

May 16, 2023
1:18 PM

Award-winning journalist José Rubén Zamora, publisher of the famed newspaper elPeriódico, stands inside a cell after a court hearing, in Guatemala City, Saturday, July 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

A sense of defeat hangs over Guatemalan journalism this week

Reporters from various newsrooms conducted a symbolic funeral and protest Monday morning at the foot of the Supreme Court after elPeriódico, the leading investigative outlet in Guatemala, was forced to close after 27 years amid the trial of publisher José Rubén Zamora.

“The de facto powers of Guatemala… are outlining the route that they will follow,” Marielos Monzón, a distinguished journalist in the country, told El Faro English. “They’re sending a message to all of us journalists and independent news outlets: “If we did it to him, an emblematic, award-winning journalist, we will do the same to you.'”

elPeriódico faced financial hardship for years as a result of its reporting on corruption, political ties to drug traffickers, and transitional justice cases. Zamora’s arrest last July was a final threat to the paper’s last advertisers and financiers, spelling financial ruin.

For two years now, the Guatemalan courts have become a cudgel against anti-corruption advocates and the government’s perceived adversaries.

The prosecution of Zamora has also been plagued with irregularities. In nine months he has lost eight defense attorneys, four of them accused of crimes, according to new courtroom reporting from El Faro English.

“My colleagues’… irreverence and commitment to truth made 10 successive government regimes tremble,” wrote Zamora in a goodbye column from a solitary confinement cell in the Mariscal Zavala military prison.

“We leave as a legacy, during the Giammattei regime alone, more than 200 rigorous and well-documented journalistic investigations showing the exponential levels that corruption has reached in the state of Guatemala.”

“As the first Mayan woman to become a columnist in a newspaper with national circulation, I set out to illustrate Indigenous resistance, rights, and struggles,” wrote internationally renowned K’iche’ Mayan anthropologist Irmalicia Velásquez Nimatuj, an elPeriódico columnist for 20 years. “Coming from a people who have been subjugated for centuries through the justice system, I am conscious of what it means to live without rights. That is why I recognize this as an attack on freedom of expression and democracy. Those who today are indifferent or celebrate do not imagine that the repression will catch up to them.”

elPeriódico “has been a space of gathering and growth for generations of Guatemalan journalists committed to democracy,” recalled El Faro’s editorial board on Monday. “Its closure is a blow to all Central American journalism and a testament to the fact that silencing critics is not a practice exclusive to the Ortega dictatorship in Nicaragua.”


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