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Another Paraguayan journalist killed near Brazilian border

A Paraguayan radio host was shot and killed in his home on June 19, just over one month after another radio reporter was killed on the same region, near the border with Brazil. Édgar Fernández Fleitas was a known critic of the local justice system and could have been killed in retribution for criticisms he made of local officials, according to newspaper ABC Color.

Fleitas is the latest of a handful of Paraguayan journalists killed in recent years. Usually the crimes go unpunished, but a suspect (with connections to Brazilian organized crime) was arrested in connection with lasts month’s murder of Fausto Gabriel Alcaraz on the eastern border where narco-trafficking between Paraguay and Brazil flourishes.

Alcaraz is the third journalist killed since 2013 in the small city of Juan Pedro Caballero, an eastern border town of about 75,000 people known for drug trafficking. The owner of a local radio station, Marcelino Vásquez, and a reporter, Carlos Artaza, have also been shot dead under similar circumstances with no culprits identified by the police.

In 2012, police intercepted a conversation between members of criminal gangs plotting to kill Juan Pedro Caballero reporter Cándido Figueredo, who had spent 13 prior years under 24-hour police protection for his reporting on drug trafficking.

Juan Pedro Caballero’s place on the Brazilian border makes it an important bottleneck for international trafficking of drugs and weapons. Journalists have said that the criminal gangs, not the police, rule the small city.

A radio journalist, Merardo Romero, was killed along the border in 2011, but several months later the prime suspects were freed.

Death threats against Figueredo were believed to be in retribution for reports exposing large tunnels used to secretly move goods across the international border. Two reporters and police officer were killed in Brazil near Juan Pedro Caballero by suspected gang affiliates in 2012.

A journalist was killed in southeastern Paraguay in 2007 and several others have reported receiving death threats after reporting on organized crime or corruption. Salvador Medina Velázquez was also killed, allegedly for his work in journalism, in 2001.

In 2014 Freedom House elevated Paraguay’s press rating from not free to partly free due to reduced political influence in media and fewer libel cases brought against journalists.  The nation has improved the independence and protection of its press in recent years but criminal gangs present a challenge.



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