Journalists missing and killed in Latin America


Where's Romeo Langlois? The French journalist was last seen accompanying Colombian troops during a shootout with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas. The French foreign minister says FARC must have kidnapped him hostage.



It's been another week of chilling reminders of the high risks for journalists in parts of Latin America, with two killings turning the news lens on news reporters. Now, a possible kidnapping in Colombia has put the danger further into focus.

Romeo Langlois, a freelancer for French TV news channel France 24, went missing Saturday after a shootout between the Colombian security forces he was accompanying and guerrillas belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Langlois was reportedly wounded in the crossfire. The Associated Press said he took a bullet in the left arm.

France's foreign minister has said the government holds the FARC responsible for Langlois’ disappearance and appears to be putting the pressure on Bogota to act.

The BBC reported Tuesday that an alleged FARC member claimed that Langlois is being held captive as a "prisoner of war" — yet some doubt the veracity of the source.

On Monday, Colombia's defense chief was reluctant to draw conclusions. A high-profile kidnapping by the FARC would be a blow to the supposed efforts toward peace talks between FARC and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos. The president has stressed that the rebel group's attacks on civilian and military targets and kidnappings must end as a condition for the talks.

But later Monday, Santos seemed to point blame squarely on the FARC.

"We have very clear indications that the French journalist is being held by the FARC,'' Santos said, France 24 reports.

But the government has not clarified what those indications are and the details are still quite fuzzy, casting doubt as to the journalist's actual whereabouts.

The case has renewed debate about whether or how journalists should be embedded with the military. Agence France-Presse cited Colombia's vice president, Angelino Garzon, raising important questions on this topic.

"The military is the military. We civilians, including the government and journalists, should not be wearing military clothing. This issue has got to lead to some reflection within media regarding which cases a journalist should [accompany armed forces] or not, and within the armed forces, about which cases a reporter should be invited," Vice President Garzon said, according to AFP.

That case, involving a foreign correspondent, has drawn close media and government attention. But it comes after a week of possibly lesser known violence against the press in a region battling violent crime, drug cartels and guerrillas.

On April 23, Brazilian political journalist Decio Sa was shot dead in a restaurant in Sao Luis, in northeastern Brazil.

An editor at his newspaper O Estado do Maranhao told the Associated Press that she believed the killing was an enemy's payback for his hard-hitting reporting. "But he denounced so many people and so much corruption that it is impossible to say who was behind his murder," editor Silvia Moscoso told AP.

That was the country’s fourth journalist murdered in 2012, AP reported.

"Brazil is leading the region in journalists murders this year, a terrible record compounded by a pattern of impunity. Brazilian authorities must fully investigate this crime, determine the motive, and prosecute those responsible," said Carlos Lauria, senior Americas program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists.

On Saturday, Regina Martinez, a crime reporter with Mexico’s news magazine Proceso, was reportedly beaten and strangled to death in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz.

Proceso had published Martinez’s story the day before about police suspected of drug ties — one in a string of narco war stories thought to have gotten her killed.

“There are not as yet any indications as to the motive, but Martinez dedicated some of her most recent investigative reporting to the murders of other journalists in Veracruz, which became one of the country’s deadliest states in 2011,” Reporters Without Borders said on its website.

The group did not cite the number of journalist deaths for this year but it said Martinez is one of about 80 journalists killed and 14 disappeared in Mexico in the past decade.

"Regina would always write about one-third more of the real truth than I dared to do in any story we covered. And I write more than most reporters," a journalist who asked to remain anonymous for his safety told CPJ.

The consensus among press freedom groups is that governments must do more to stop the violence, including improved investigations into the killings and disappearances, prosecutions of the perpetrators and protection for the press.

The CPJ this month published its latest impunity index, which “spotlights countries where journalists are slain and killers go free,” the committee says. It’s no coincidence that the three countries mentioned in this blog post made it on this list of shame. Of 12 countries cited, Colombia is fifth, Mexico 8th and Brazil 11th.