El Salvador dismisses colonel’s libel suit against newspaper over drug trafficking story

A court in El Salvador has ruled against Colonel José Arturo Rodríguez Martínez in his defamation suit against La Prensa Gráfica newspaper for an article alleging he had ties to Mexican drug traffickers, El Mundo reports.

The officer asked for three- to 14-year jail terms and $6 million in damages for an editor and journalist at the paper, elsalvador.com explains.

The suit was over a November 2010 La Prensa Gráfrica article titled “DEA ties soldiers to the Zetas." In the article, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was quoted as saying they were investigating several active and retired military officers for alleged ties to the Zetas, a powerful Mexican drug cartel. According to the article, the DEA said Rodríguez was “part of the Zetas” and his activites for the group had included “recruiting retired members of the military, former guerillas, and criminals to give military weapons training.”

The July 25 ruling said the publication was supported by its sources and there was no “actual malice” or clear criminal intent to cause harm, elsalvador.com adds.

La Prensa Gráfica reports that its editorial director said the ruling “sets an important precedent" for journalists. President Mauricio Funes concurred, calling it a “victory for press freedom in our country, because criticism is healthy, not libelous, and should be protected.”

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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