SAN SALVADOR – Reporters crowd behind yellow ribbons to record with their devices the brazen way that organized crime and street gangs spill blood on the streets of Central America’s Northern Triangle, but the indifference of the government and of the media leave these journalists in the line of fire as well.
The region made up of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras is considered one of the deadliest spots in the world – the Salvadoran murder rate in 2015 was 103 killed by drug traffickers and street gangs out of every 100,000 inhabitants.
Representatives of the journalists’ unions of the three countries told EFE that evidence of the danger is seen in the approximately 94 murders of journalists since the year 2000, and in the cases of those who have fled into exile for fear of street gangs.
For the president of the El Salvador Journalists Association, or APES, Serafin Valencia, “journalism is one of the highest risk professions of the region,” and is getting worse due to the absence of state protection or of safety protocols within the news media.
Valencia said “we get a lot of complaints about companies sending their reporters” into areas dominated by gangs opposed to those where the journalists live.
In El Salvador it’s enough to live in a neighborhood controlled by the Mara Salvatrucha to be killed in one dominated by Barrio 18. And vice versa.
The media should “train their employees and guarantee them certain safety conditions, but that doesn’t happen. Sometimes the companies are the first to put their workers in danger,” he said.
For her part, the president of the Guatemala Journalists Association, or APG, Aliana Alamilla, said that over the last three years at least nine people working in the media have been slain, and despite improvements in the investigation of crimes against reporters achieved since 2009, not enough is yet known about the reasons and masterminds behind the murders.
Official data of the Mexican Attorney General’s Office show that in that country an average of 6.8 journalists per year were killed between 2000 and 2014, while in the Northern Triangle 5.5 journalists were killed per year between 2000 and 2016.
El Salvador is in 58th place out of 180 countries on the 2016 World Press Freedom Index prepared by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), while Guatemala is 121st and Honduras 136th.