CITY OF GUATEMALA — The prominent Guatemalan investigative newspaper “El Periódico” announced on Wednesday that it was stopping its print edition, after the government arrested the newspaper’s president.
José Rubén Zamora was arrested in July and charged with money laundering and extortion. Zamora has overseen dozens of corruption investigations during his tenure at El Periódico since the newspaper was founded in 1996.
All of the newspaper’s journalists have been fired, and it’s unclear how this can continue with digital-only editions. The government pulled the ad and reportedly pressured companies to do the same.
“It has been 30 years of fighting corruption and impunity, against government abuses and terrorism, in favor of freedom, transparency and accountability,” Zamora wrote in a final editorial, dated prison cell where he is being held.
The closure of the print edition came on “Journalist’s Day” in Guatemala. Guatemala’s chief prosecutor has come under fire from the United States government for blocking corruption investigations and instead prosecuting the prosecutors and judges who conducted them.
Mario Recinos, president of the Guatemalan Association of Journalists, said journalists must operate “within limits to freedom of expression, harassment, criminalization of journalism and judicial persecution”.
Recinos said five Guatemalan journalists were forced into exile under the administration of President Alejandro Giammattei due to judicial persecution.
The US government has strongly criticized the weakening of anti-corruption efforts in Guatemala and last year canceled the US visa of Guatemalan attorney general Consuelo Porras, who was suing former prosecutors who had conducted corruption investigations.
Around 30 former anti-corruption officials have fled the country and the persecution appears to have extended to journalists.
Giammattei dismissed criticism from US officials of his attorney general and what they see as Guatemala’s backsliding in the fight against corruption. The country’s new special prosecutor against impunity has been placed on a US list of people suspected of corruption or undermining democracy. He is accused of obstructing investigations into corruption.
Zamora said the case against him “is a set-up actually designed and engineered by the president, the attorney general, and others.”
Separately, the Spanish news service EFE announced on Wednesday that one of its correspondents had been denied a return to Nicaragua after traveling to Panama and the United States.
EFE published an article from Madrid saying that Luis Felipe Palacios, a 44-year-old Nicaraguan journalist who has worked for the news agency since 2006, was not allowed to board a flight from Miami to Managua on November 21.
Nicaraguan Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo, who is also the government spokeswoman, did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation.
The government of President Daniel Ortega has refused entry to foreign correspondents from other media in recent years. His administration silenced independent news outlets, driving journalists into exile and cutting television stations. In September, the government removed the Spanish broadcast of CNN, accusing it of interference and violation of national sovereignty.
According to the press advocacy group Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua, at least 50 local media outlets have been shut down and more than 150 journalists have been forced into exile since 2018, when massive street protests demanded the resignation of Ortega.