After surgery, photographer injured by police in Lima recovers hope of not losing his vision, but case generates controversy

After having undergone the first surgery to save the vision of his left eye, the doctors at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute of Miami have given Marco “Atoq” Ramón, a Peruvian photographer with newspaper Perú.21, a hopeful prognosis.

However, the case has generated controversy in Lima, where Ramón’s family has asked for more financial support from Grupo El Comercio, where the young journalist worked as an intern, according to his sister, or as an employee, according to an editor.

On Jan. 24, his colleagues organized a march for Ramón. Journalists and photojournalists from various Peruvian media gathered at 7 pm at the front door of newspapers El Comercio and Perú.21, with banners asking for help for Ramón. They also urged Perú.21 and Grupo El Comercio to not turn their backs on the photographer.

On the morning of Jan. 5, Ramón was injured by the police after being hit by five rubber bullets (small lead spheres wrapped in cartridges) on his body; one was lodged in his left eye.

Ramón, who had been a photography intern at newspaper Perú.21 since March 2016, arrived with a helmet, photographic equipment and a press pass to cover the confrontation between protesters in Puente Piedra, in Lima, and police, according to what Roxabel Ramón, sister of the photographer, told the Knight Center.

The photographer’s sister, told that her brother’s recovery process will take some months, during which he will have to stay in the U.S.

To date, Ramón’s family lives with the uncertainty of whether his employer, Grupo El Comercio, will assume the medical expenses he has accrued abroad. According to the family, it has only received US $10,000 from the company, with which they have partially covered the air tickets used to bring the photographer to Bascom Palmer from Lima.

Ramón has scheduled a second surgery for February, and another more important one in six months, with which they can verify if the retina of the left eye - which was severely damaged by the bullet - has recovered as doctors hope, the photographer’s sister explained.

“[El Grupo] El Comercio is not able to say they will cover Atoq’s medical expenses abroad. It will be best to know if they will cover them or not; so we will know what to do.”

According to Roxabel Ramón, on Jan. 19 she talked with the human resources manager of Grupo El Comercio, Vicente Crosby, about the economic situation abroad. At that time, she said Crosby did not give a concrete answer as to whether the company would cover the medical and living expenses from the U.S.

However, the day of the march, on Jan. 24, the photographer’s sister said that Crosby called them to ask for a balance of all the expenses accrued so far in Miami. However, Roxabel Ramón said he did not tell them anything about what the insurance will ultimately cover.

Initially, Grupo El Comercio said it would assume all the expenses accrued during Ramón’s recuperation. According to the company, due to his status as an employee, Ramón has the Complementary Risk Work Insurance (SCTR for its acronym in Spanish), which should cover all necessary expenses to ensure his full recovery.

The multiplatform editor of Perú.21, Diego Salazar, told the Knight Center that he doesn’t understand the family’s statements.

“From the first moment, both the director, the administration [of Perú.21 and of Grupo], and the members of my team have been waiting and in contact with Atoq and his family. They have been given the necessary support, even going beyond legal obligations. (...) I myself have been monitoring it, both with one of my right hands in the newsroom, and with [the area of] human resources,” Salazar said.

Additionally, Salazar said the Grupo El Comercio is preparing a complaint against the National Police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office to investigate what happened with Ramón and to punish those responsible.

Previously, in her opinion column, Ombudsman for the Reader of Perú.21, Claudia Izaguirre wrote about what happened to Ramón, which called attention to the fact that the newspaper has not reported more about this incident.

“I would even have expected a public invocation to the authorities and the National Police to explain the violent action against someone who was identified as press, what is being done to establish those responsible and how they will respond for the damaged caused. It was a news event and any media in the world stands out when one of their own is attacked,” Izaguirre wrote.

Apparently, according to the photographer’s sister, in the early days of January 2017, Ramón’s work situation at Perú.21 was not entirely clear. His sister explained to the Knight Center that her brother’s contract as a photography intern expired at the end of December 2016, so his work situation was uncertain in the early days of this year when he was injured by the police during a protest.

Ramón was sent on a risky assignment, outside of work hours, and as a photography intern, said the photographer’s sister.

However, Salazar said that Ramón was no longer just an intern, but an employee of the newspaper when everything happened. “The contract for renewal is an administrative matter, and the law gives you a few days to [formalize] the renewal,” he said.

Photojournalist Raúl García, former chief of photography for Perú.21, told the Knight Center that during his years at the newspaper, photography interns were never sent alone to cover protests, but were accompanied by another photographer with more experience.

A group of Peruvian photographers, journalists and artists, colleagues and friends of Ramón, have raised nearly 22,000 soles (about US $6,500) to help with the expenses. They did it through a Facebook event, selling photos they donated themselves.

The Knight Center unsuccessfully tried to communicate with the human resources area of Grupo El Comercio, and its manager Vicente Crosby.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.