Guatemala’s War on Journalists

Guatemala’s War on Journalists

By The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX

Reveal revisits a story produced in collaboration with a Guatemalan journalist who is now in prison. José Rubén Zamora was jailed last summer after his newspaper, elPeriódico, published more than 100 stories about corruption within Guatemala’s government.

Corruption is a longstanding problem in Guatemala, and it’s intertwined with U.S. policy in Central America. At times, the U.S. has had a corrupting influence on Guatemalan politics; at others, it has supported transparency. This week’s show looks at the root causes of corruption and impunity in Guatemala and how they have prompted generations of Guatemalans to flee their country and migrate north.

Veteran radio journalist Maria Martin takes us to Huehuetenango, a province near Guatemala’s border with Mexico. For decades, residents have been migrating to the U.S. to help support families struggling with poverty. We then connect the migration outflow to U.S. policy during the Cold War and its support of brutal dictatorships in Guatemala that were plagued by corruption.

Then Reveal’s Anayansi Diaz-Cortes introduces us to a crusading prosecutor named Iván Velásquez. In the early 2000s, Velásquez was tasked with running an international anti-corruption commission in Guatemala, known by its Spanish acronym, CICIG. Its mandate was to root out corruption and improve the lives of Guatemalans so they wouldn’t feel compelled to leave their homes. Velásquez had a reputation for jailing presidents and paramilitaries, but met his match when he went after Jimmy Morales, a television comedian who was elected president in 2015. Morales found an ally in then-U.S. President Donald Trump, whose administration helped Morales dismantle CICIG.

With CICIG gone, journalists were left to expose government corruption – journalists like Zamora, who was arrested last summer on trumped-up charges. Diaz-Cortes speaks with Zamora’s son about his father’s arrest and the state of journalism in Guatemala.

This is an update of an episode that originally aired in September 2020.

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