Eight months after radio journalist Merardo Romero’s murder in Ytakyry, in the eastern department of Alto Paraná, the alleged perpetrators are in prison but the suspected masterminds continue to enjoy complete impunity. The important political posts they hold seem to account for the murder’s limited media impact and the lack of progress in the investigation.
Community radio La Voz de Ytakyry’s programme director, Romero was gunned down in his home in front of his children on 3 March. A colleague at the same station, Rumilio Piris, abandoned his post five days later after being the target of death threats.
“The investigation into Romero’s murder must not be restricted to those who executed it,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It would be an absolute scandal if it was demonstrated that the politicians allegedly involved in this case have been receiving protection from within the police and judicial system.”
The press freedom organization added: “The struggle against impunity is meaningless if it punishes the underlings or intermediaries in order to better protect the powerful. They, too, also be arrested and called to account by the investigators.”
Paraguayan journalists who tackle subjects such as corruption and drug trafficking are still exposed to great risks, as Reporters Without Borders pointed out in a recent report.
The public prosecutor’s office issued a warrant for the arrest of José Valenzuela, a senior member of the Colorado Party, on 4 April for the “deliberate murder” of Romero, but the police said he could not be located. With the help of phone records, investigators established that Valenzuela had threatened Romero and promised to pay the alleged perpetrators 8 million guaranis (2,000 dollars).
The three alleged perpetrators – Silvio Samudio Benítez, Ofelio José Pérez Paredes and Arnildo Enciso Borja – are being held in Ciudad del Este prison pending trial.
Another Colorado Party leader, former Ytakyry mayor Miguel Angel Soria (photo), continues to deny any involvement in the murder although Romero’s family has formally accused him of being the instigator. Romero has accused Soria of corruption on the air and, according to those close to him, had received death threats from Soria by telephone.
Another possible motive was Romero’s political activities. He was member of “Esperanza Colorada,” a Colorado Party tendency opposed to “Honor Colorado”, the tendency to which Soria and Valenzuela belonged. According to the Paraguayan media, Soria and Valenzuela enjoy the support of Alto Paraná governor Darío Aguinagalde Gallinar, who recently said he would like to “machine-gun” the region’s journalists.