Paraguayan correspondent Cándido Figueredo, who works in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero, on the border with Brazil, says the situation in the region is "very tense" after the murder of Brazilian journalist Lourenço Veras, known as Léo Veras, on Feb. 12. "There are rumors that the PCC [the criminal faction known as the First Capital Command] is planning attacks against other journalists. So we are being very careful," he said in an interview with the Knight Center.
Veras was responsible for the site Porã News. He was murdered at his home while having dinner with his family in Pedro Juan Caballero, a Paraguayan city that borders Brazil’s Ponta Porã.
Figueredo also said that he is very shaken by the death of his friend, with whom he talked daily. A correspondent for the largest newspaper in Paraguay, ABC Color, Figueredo has lived with a police escort for almost 25 years after numerous attacks and threats against his life.
The correspondent states that the region has become "much more dangerous" in recent years, with the advance of the PCC.
“They implement their power on the basis of fear (...) I think now they are putting pressure on [journalists] so that we don’t publish many things about them,” he said.
Figueredo has covered the case of Veras' murder for ABC Color since day one. "It is very difficult to write when the victim is a friend," said Figueredo, for whom the coverage helps to demand authorities solve the case. The journalist reports that, so far, there has been no progress in the investigation.
Below are excerpts from the interview with Figueredo.
Knight Center: How would you describe the climate among journalists in the region after the murder of journalist Léo Veras?
Cándido Figueredo: The situation is very tense, we are very shaken by what happened. Even more because there are rumors that the PCC is planning attacks against other journalists. So we are being very careful. Léo and I both have many informants in this underworld, in addition to police.
KC: Do you still have an escort?
CF: Yes, my wife and I have had police escorts for 25 years. She has three female police officers who guard her. In total there are seven policemen for the two of us.
KC: Do you think the region has become more dangerous since the last time we spoke, in 2016?
CF: Much more dangerous, much more dangerous. We are now at the mercy of the PCC and the Red Command. More from the PCC, which has already taken control of everything. I believe that the PCC already has people in all the border cities of Paraguay with Brazil and even in the capital, in Asunción. They monopolized everything related to drug trafficking, arms and money laundering. They took out all the Paraguayan traffickers. Now they are all members of the PCC, and the Paraguayans who are there are just soldiers of theirs. They implement their power on the basis of fear, so they replay these videos in which they cut off the heads and bodies of the people who are against them. I think now they are putting pressure on [journalists] so that we don't publish many things about them.
KC: And did you know Léo Veras well?
CF: Of course, he worked with me for ABC Color for six months in 2017, and I talked to him almost every day. We always exchanged information, when something happened in Ponta Porã he would call me, warn me, send photos and data from the Brazilian side. And many times I also passed on information about what was happening at the border. Ponta Porã and Pedro Juan Caballero are divided by a single street. We [from ABC Color] publish something that happens in Brazil if it is related to any Paraguayan citizen. But Léo had a digital site about the border, so he published news from both cities.
KC: Was he more worried recently?
CF: We always talk about the danger you have here. So whenever we said goodbye we said: "be careful, little brother, let me know anything.” He knew very well the danger that exists here, just as I do. But lately we haven't talked about it. I didn't notice anything with him, and he didn't say anything either. He did not talk much about personal things.
KC: What was he like as a journalist and friend?
CF: He was a restless journalist, he was after the news, no matter the time, the distance. He was a cheerful guy, who was not talkative, but a nice guy.
KC: And you have covered the case, haven’t you?
CF: Yes, I have covered it from day one. On the night he was killed, I immediately published the story on the newspaper's digital page. And the next day I did a lot of coverage on what happened. Then at the funeral I also did a story. It is very difficult to write when the victim is a friend, who worked with us for a long time in the newsroom. It is very difficult, but we have to do it. In spite of all this, we continue to work, because if we kept quiet it would be much better for the judicial authorities.
KC: How do you evaluate the investigation of the case?
CF: About the investigation, I also wrote that until today there is nothing. The prosecutor's office says it is conducting the investigation and that everything is being done in secret. To date, they have not said anything concrete about which group could have carried out this attack. We are working, insisting and, as soon as there is something new, we will publish.
KC: Have you talked to other journalists in the region about any collective measures?
CF: I don't have much contact with anyone. I don't speak to any other journalist, I don't meet with anyone, I'm a lone wolf. The best way to take care of yourself at the border is to trust no one. I talked a lot with Léo, because he always worked closely with me, so we talked a lot.
KC: Are you thinking about leaving now that the situation is more tense?
CF: We haven't decided on anything yet, we are studying the situation [me and my wife]. The situation is still very hot, and we have to think with a cool head. Let's wait a few days and analyze. I'm used to it, they've already machine-gunned my house twice, they've already machine-gunned the car I was in twice, I've received a lot of threats, so I no longer react that way. Of course, when a friend of yours is murdered ... But we have to think with a cool head about what to do.
KC: Is there an entity that is monitoring this closely?
CF: There is no entity here that can help journalists. They only have them in Asunción, but the people of the capital have no idea of what life is like here on the border. So it's difficult, everyone is doing what they can.
KC: The journalists on the border are a little abandoned ...
CF: Yeah, it’s always this way.