Cyberattack on El Periódico in Guatemala is the most recent in a long history of aggressions

  • By Guest
  • April 17, 2013

By Alejandro Martínez

On April 8, El Periódico, one of the principal independent newspapers in Guatemala, published an extensive and unflattering portrait of Vice President Roxana Baldetti.

Written by the newspaper's president, José Rubén Zamora, and the director of the MEPI Foundation, Ana Arana, the article "Un cuento de hadas sin final feliz," a fairytale without a happy ending, highlighted the corruption scandals that hound people close to the official and questioned Baldetti's luxurious lifestyle during the last decade, including trips around the world by her youngest son in private jets and properties in Guatemala valued at over $10 million.

Days after the publication of the report, El Periódico suffered its sixth cyberattack in as many months, temporarily knocking the newspaper offline. Zamora blames President Otto Pérez's administration for the attacks.

In an email interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, Zamora said that the attacks corresponded with the publication of the newspaper's investigative reports during the last several months into corruption, embezzlement and abuse of authority by officials in Pérez's government.

"At first, it appeared that the attack originated in Europe; however, we have established that the attacks--all of them--came from Zone 1 in Guatemala City. We hope soon to be able to determine the exact physical address," Zamora said.

Zamora also accused the government of pulling official advertising from the newspaper because of its editorial position and warning private businesses not to advertise with them. Because of the revenue losses, "we could go bankrupt," he said.

Francisco Cuevas, Guatemala's secretary of Communication, rejected the accusations and struck back at Zamora for waging a "smear campaign against the administration."

"We categorically deny that this administration has a policy against a media organization," Cuevas told the Knight Center. "The media should back up its claims with proof."

Last week Baldetti also rejected El Periódico's investigation and said that she would file a complaint with the Guatemalan Public Ministry for slander and allegedly cloning her youngest son's electronic accounts.

The cyberattacks are the most recent in a long history of serious of attacks on Zamora and his publication.

Zamora is also the founder of the newspaper Siglo Veintiuno that helped prevent the self-coup d'état of then-President Jorge Elias Serrano, winner of the Committee to Protect Journalists' 1995 International Press Freedom Award, and one of Central Americas' most recognized journalists. Because of his reporting, he has been the target of kidnappings, death threats and attacks.

In 2003, military counterintelligence agents simulated his execution three times and kidnapped him, along with his wife and three children, with guns aimed at their heads. Since 1994, he has been shot, his vehicle destroyed with a grenade, and has been the target of financial persecution and lawsuits by military courts.

El Periódico's relationship to this and other administrations has been generally tense, said Zamora.

"Our position toward all administrations has been the same, since (Vinicio) Cerezo until Pérez: investigating, fighting constantly against abuse of authority, bringing what's hidden to light. In Guatemala, there are no institutions of control, of oversight. Therefore, we play the role of a small counterweight to the establishment's power," he said.

Referencing the cyberattacks, Claudio Paolillo, president of the Inter American Press Association's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, expressed his concern last week about "possible government harassment" against El Periódico.

"The government should not harass any media outlet for its journalistic content, because that is to attack what freedom of expression is based on," he said.

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.

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