Seven Honduran broadcasters slain since March 1
Honduran television reporter Jorge Alberto “Georgino” Orellana had just left the station where he hosted his own show when a man stepped from the shadows, shot him dead and vanished.
On Tuesday, Orellana became the seventh Honduran broadcaster to be gunned down since March 1 in a country where complaints about human rights abuses have increased since a military-led coup in June.
Most of the victims had reported on organized crime in the northern coastal region of Honduras, a key trans-shipment point for U.S.-bound cocaine.
Reporters Without Borders recently declared Honduras “the world’s deadliest country for the media.”
“This is unprecedented,” said Carlos Lauria of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. “Journalists are being targeted, and the state is almost absent. It’s a green light for these people.”
Lauria said the killings appeared to be “the work of hit men, very professional.”
Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch said the government of President Porfirio Lobo has shown little willingness to solve a pattern of threats, harassment and attacks on grass-roots leaders, unionists and priests since the coup.
“Lobo just recently woke up and realized this could become a serious obstacle on his agenda to rejoining the international community,” Vivanco said. “But it’s not good enough. It’s too little, too late. They need to investigate and prosecute those responsible for threats and abuses. They need to prosecute those who are in bed with organized crime.”
Lobo has been trying to persuade the Organization of American States to reinstate Honduras, which was suspended after the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya in June. OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza said in December that the reinstatement of Honduras “will only be possible when this country reaches a true restoration of its democratic regime and the outcome of the coup of June 28 has been overcome.”
Lobo, who was elected in November, insists that democracy has been restored in this country of 7 million. “There is no just reason to punish Honduras,” Lobo said Thursday, when he announced that he had requested assistance from Spain, Colombia and the FBI to solve the killings.
Honduran media watchdog groups say that finding a single motive in the killings is difficult but that the modus operandi in each case is similar.
Two of the journalists, Jose Bayardo Mairena and Manuel Juarez, were driving through eastern Honduras when assassins riddled their car with bullets on March 27 and then shot them at close range, according to media reports.
Both men worked for a radio program that has reported on under-the-table logging contracts awarded to private enterprise in violation of national environmental codes. Mairena had covered organized crime and a contentious land dispute.
Nahum Palacios Arteaga, who had reported on the same land dispute, was driving in the northern town of Tocoa on March 14 when gunmen in two cars fatally shot him with AK-47 assault rifles. Palacios had complained about death threats, which he believed came from the military.
During the coup, troops raided Palacios’s office and home, confiscated his car and equipment, and held his children at gunpoint, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which had urged officials to provide him with security. After his death, the commission lamented “that the state did not implement precautionary measures to protect his life.”
David Meza, a reporter for El Patio radio station, was shot to death from a van March 11 as he drove in the lush seaside town of La Ceiba. Meza, who had reported on organized crime, had received anonymous calls warning him to be “careful,” according to the media groups and local reports.
Joseph Hernandez Ochoa, 26, an entertainment show host, was shot to death as he drove home from work March 1. A radio show host who supported the coup, Karol Cabrera, was wounded in the attack and believes she was the target. Three months earlier, gunman had killed her 16-year-old pregnant daughter.
Luis Antonio Chavez, 22, who hosted a children’s radio program, was shot to death April 13.
Alexis Quiroz, the executive director of the Committee for Freedom of Expression in Honduras, said professional killings have been used in a variety of disputes since Mexican organizations began recruiting Honduran gangs to transport drugs.
“Assassins for hire are very common now,” Quiroz said. “What we are trying to determine is the motive.”