Colleagues urge authorities to investigate deaths of Guatemalan and Salvadoran journalists

(Editor's note: This post has been updated for clarification.)

In the span of a week, two respected journalists in Central America have died under mysterious circumstances. Journalists associations in Guatemala and El Salvador are calling on authorities to solve the deaths of television director Víctor Hugo Valdez and television producer Pedro Antonio Portillo, respectively.

Valdez was killed in the department of Chiquimula in southeastern Guatemala on the morning of June 7. According to Chiquimula Noticias, Valdez was walking with his grandson when one of two men on a passing motorcycle shot him.

Aside from his profession as a medical doctor, Valdez was founder and director of television program “Chiquimula de Visión,” which, according to Chiquimula Noticias, will have been on the air for 29 years as of this year. On the program, the 65-year-old talked about culture and interviewed important people in the community.

According to the Center for Informative Reports About Guatemala (Cerigua for its acronym in Spanish), Valdez is the fourth journalist to be killed in Guatemala in 2016.

“The context of violence in which journalists and communicators across the country practice reiterates the urgent need for the government to implement a program focused on preventing this type of crime,” the organization said. Cerigua also called for investigations and judicial attention to cases of attacks against journalists.

The International Press Institute also condemned the killing and called for an investigation, while the Guatemalan Journalists’ Association also renewed calls for mechanisms of protection and prevention for journalists.

In neighboring El Salvador, the body of television producer and university professor Pedro Antonio Portillo was found on June 8 after he disappeared five days earlier.

According to the Journalists’ Association of El Salvador (APES for its acronym in Spanish), Portillo was “detained” on June 3 during a visit to an ATM and found on a beach five days later. The release did not specify who “detained” Portillo.

APES also cited family members who said they filed a complaint with the missing persons department who told them that the journalist ‘would turn up.’

Portillo was a producer at Channel 33, a professor at the Technological University of El Salvador and owned a multimedia agency, according to ElSalvador.com.

La Prensa Gráfica reported that he “was a renowned producer and respected in Salvadoran media and for several years was dedicated to teaching.”

Both APES and the Salvadoran Association of Radio Broadcasters (ASDER) called for an “exhaustive investigation” from authorities.

“This is the third journalist killed so far in 2016, as part of the wave of violence and insecurity felt by Salvadorans,” APES said. “Each time, there is an urgent need for a legal mechanism to ensure the protection of journalists.”

Both APES and ASDER referred to Portillo's death as a "murder," but the other news sources did not classify the death.

Guatemala and El Salvador are both plagued with high levels of general violence and many cases remain in impunity. Therefore, determining the motives behind murders of journalists and whether their killings are related to their work can be an especially difficult task.

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.