The death of former dictator Alfredo Stroessner in August triggered a wave of stories about the widespread human rights and press freedom abuses woven into the fabric of Paraguayan history. As today’s journalists reflected on the institutionalized attacks of the past, they confronted different, yet grave dangers of their own. Reporters in isolated regions were at risk in covering drug trafficking and crime, and their colleagues in the capital, Asunción, faced legal harassment when they criticized officials and exposed corruption.
“Press freedom in Paraguay has greatly improved with democracy,” said veteran ABC Color columnist Alcibíades González Delvalle, who was once jailed by Stroessner. “We are no longer repressed by a dictatorship—but by a drug trafficking mafia,” said González, who also directs the Department of Culture for the city of Asunción.
Particularly dangerous was Paraguay’s eastern border with Brazil, where smuggling of drugs, cigarettes, fuel, clothes, and electronics was widespread. The February 4 disappearance of radio reporter Enrique Galeano illustrated the dangers that local reporters faced while covering organized crime. Galeano, host of a morning news and music program on the Horqueta-based Radio Azotey, reported on drug trafficking and alleged government corruption in the northern town of Yby Yaú. Galeano’s wife accused Congressman Magdaleno Silva of the ruling Colorado Party of threatening her husband in connection with his work. Silva repeatedly denied any involvement and offered a reward for any information in the case. Prosecutor Camila Rojas told CPJ she believes there is a link between Galeano’s disappearance and his reporting. Rojas said she questioned Silva but did not take any action.
CPJ also documented violent reprisals against two provincial journalists who reported on drug trafficking in border towns. Augusto Roa, correspondent for the Asunción-based ABC Color in the southern city of Encarnación, was attacked after writing three investigative pieces that detailed marijuana production and trafficking in southern Paraguay. On February 27, two men aboard a motorcycle shot at Roa’s moving car. Roa, who was unharmed, said he believed his assailants were trying to dissuade him from following up on the drug trafficking story. Luis Alcides Ruiz Díaz, reporter for the weekly Hechos in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero, was threatened with death in July after publishing the names of alleged traffickers in the border city.
Radio is the most popular medium in the country’s remote and impoverished interior, but journalists said news coverage there is highly influenced by local politicians. Julio Benegas, secretary-general of the Paraguayan Journalists Union, said at least 80 percent of commercial radio stations in the country’s interior were owned by members of the ruling Colorado Party. In 2006, programming was overtly skewed to support Colorado Party politicians and attack rivals, said Benjamín Fernández Bogado, president of the press freedom group Instituto Prensa y Libertad.
Manipulation of state advertising was another means of swaying news coverage, particularly in the country’s interior, where the financial stability of small media outlets depended almost solely on government revenue. Local governments controlled the allocation of state advertising to reward supportive media and punish critical reporting, said Fernández Bogado. Paraguayan journalists said much state advertising comes from Itaipú Binacional, a hydroelectric company owned by the Brazilian and Paraguayan governments.
Criminal sanctions for defamation have caused wide self-censorship among Asunción journalists who cover government corruption, journalists based in the capital told CPJ. On January 6, the Supreme Court of Justice upheld the December 2005 criminal defamation conviction of Aldo Zuccolillo, ABC Color’s editorial director. The ruling marked the end of a legal battle that began in December 1998 when prosecutors took up the case of Colorado Sen. Juan Carlos Galaverna, who alleged that Zuccolillo had defamed him by publishing articles accusing him of corruption, embezzlement, and abuse of power. In July, criminal defamation charges were also filed against ABC Color reporter Carlos Cáceres. The suit, brought by two former government officials, stemmed from a series Cáceres wrote on corruption in the construction of rural roads. A ruling in the case was pending.
ABC Color, founded in 1967, was Paraguay’s first national daily and one of its first independent newspapers. Shut down in 1984 by the Stroessner dictatorship, it reopened in 1989 and remains one of the nation’s leading independent voices.