Threatened Brazilian journalist killed by gunmen in Paraguay in dangerous border region

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  • February 17, 2020

By Júlio Lubianco and Marina Estarque

Brazilian journalist Lourenço Veras, known as Léo Veras, editor-in-chief of the website Porã News, was assassinated on the night of Feb. 12 in Pedro Juan Caballero, Paraguay. The city is next to the Brazi’s Ponta Porã.

The journalist was hit by about 12 shots from a 9mm pistol fired by three gunmen who invaded his home while he was having dinner with his family, the site G1 reported. The website run by Léo Veras covers the border between Brazil and Paraguay and published information on organized crime and politicians in the region.

The police chief of Amambay, a Paraguayan department whose capital is Pedro Juan Caballero, said the murder may be related to the journalist’s professional activity, according to ABC Color. Ignacio Rodríguez Villalba also said that Léo Veras even had a police escort “eight or ten years ago” because of the threats he received at the time.

According to certain information, (the crime was committed due to) publications he made about organized crime. In recent times he made many publications from the border. It would come from that,” the police chief told radio station ABC Cardinal.

Paraguayan prosecutor Marco Amarilla, who is participating in the investigation of the case, said that Léo Veras had been threatened with death.

“He received threats in the last few days. He was nervous, he was restless, he was afraid. In a conversation he had with his wife, he said goodbye, practically. He said: ‘Love, take care, take care of the children.’ He practically says goodbye to his family. That is, he already knew that they would kill him,” the prosecutor said according to G1.

Less than a month ago, Léo Veras gave an interview to the TV show Domingo Espetacular, on TV Record, about how criminal gangs of drug traffickers operate on the border. In the interview, he says he had been receiving death threats through text messages on his cell phone.

“He deepened his journalistic investigations, that bothered the gangsters and that’s why they killed him. I always talked about threats, but at the border they don’t believe you until it happens,” journalist Santiago Benítez told Paraguayan radio station Universo 970 AM.

The Paraguayan Union of Journalists released a statement in which it lamented the death of the journalist and demands guarantees of life and safety for other professionals working in the region from authorities.

Pain and rage invade us again before the nineteenth colleague killed in our country. We see that once again the criminal groups try to extinguish the voice of journalists through bullets and violence, in the face of the complicity of a State totally infested by the mafia and narcopolitics,” the group said.

In 2017, Veras gave an interview to the Tim Lopes Project, of the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji), which investigates murders of journalists and communicators who died in the exercise of their profession. He spoke at the time about the deaths of journalists Paulo Roberto Cardoso Rodrigues, or Paulo Rocaro, and Luiz Henrique Rodrigues Georges, or “Tulu,” which occurred in 2012. In the video, he admits to being the target of a possible attack.

“I always ask my death not to be so violent, not to have so many rifle shots. If a gunman wants to kill you, he’ll come to your door, tell you to open it and he’ll shoot you. I hope it’s just a shot so it doesn’t disfigure so much,” Veras said in 2017.

Abraji demanded “authorities’ agility in clarifying the circumstances of the crime,” through a statement published on the murder. The association said it is evaluating the inclusion of the case in the Tim Lopes Program. “Every murder of a journalist is an attempt to silence the messenger, compromising press freedom,” the organization said.

According to Abraji, sources close to Léo Veras reported that the journalist was concerned about the consequences of the escape of 75 prisoners, the majority linked to the PCC (First Command of the Capital) criminal group, from the regional penitentiary in January 2020.

The organization reinforced the “need for authorities to rigorously monitor threats to journalists and communicators.” “It is the duty of the State to provide all possible means to guarantee the security of the press,” it said.

The Brazilian Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters (ABERT), the National Association of Magazine Editors (ANER) and the National Association of Newspapers (ANJ) also published a note in which they lamented the murder and demand an investigation and punishment of those responsible.

“The careful and quick investigation of Léo Veras’ death, as well as the other murders of journalists, is fundamental to fight impunity, the main cause of the continuation of this type of crime,” they said.

The National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ) also spoke out and demanded that Brazilian authorities collaborate with the investigations. The federation said Veras had become known for his police reports on organized crime in the region.

“Violence against journalists affects the profession and the entire society. Professionals are directly affected, but freedom of the press, which guarantees the right to information, is threatened. Without Journalism, there is no democracy,” the note concluded.

The ABI (Brazilian Press Association) said that it had already denounced the threats against the journalist in 2013. At the time, a message received by Veras said that he was “on the list of people to be executed in the border zone.”

“I will continue to do my job as I do every day. There is no threat that makes it impossible for me. I will not lock myself up at home because of that,” he said at the time.

The Paraguayan Forum of Periodistas (FOPEP) also issued a statement in which it lamented the death of the journalist. “FOPEP urges the authorities of the Ministry of Interior to conduct a thorough investigation to find the murderers of the colleague attacked at his own home who later died on his way to the hospital. It also requires immediate protection of colleagues in the area against the prevailing insecurity and lack of guarantees to carry out the work of informing,” it said.

The entity ended the note defending freedom of expression as a pillar of democracy. “A State that does not protect its journalists is a failed State.”