By: Mark Fitzgerald
But ‘Thank God’ no journalists were hurt
The tidal wave of change that transformed landlocked Paraguay’s government over the course of eight days may have worsened the plight of four media figures who had been charged with inciting the overthrow of Congress.
Diario La Nacion, the Asunci?n daily, reported March 30 that its publisher, Osvaldo Dominguez Dib, and its columnist, Alberto Vargas Pe?a, were put under “preventive detention” on the charges. There was no immediate information on the fate of the two other media figures, Radio Nanawa owner Juan Carlos Bernab? and Ra?l Melamed, a radio commentator who styles himself as the Rush Limbaugh of Paraguay.
According to La Nacion, the judge who ordered the imprisonment of the publisher and columnist cited the change in government as reasons the two may try to flee.
The arrests cap a fortnight of extraordinary political developments in Paraguay’s still-fragile democracy. On March 22, vice president Luis Maria Arga?a was shot dead in an ambush as he was driving to work. Many Paraguayans charged that the “intellectual authors” of the assassination were President Ra?l Cubas and a former general and convicted coup leader, Lino Oviedo.
Within a day, Congress impeached Cubas and rioting engulfed the capital. Cubas resigned March 28 and took refuge in the embassy of Brazil while Oviedos fled to Argentina. The new president, Luis Gonz?lez Macchi, is a supporter of the assassinated vice president.
At its midyear meeting in Jamaica in March, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) said it would send a high-level mission to examine the case of the four arrested media figures. IAPA’s press freedom committee chairman Robert J. Cox says the association will wait until the political situation is clarified before going to Paraguay.
“Of course, it’s very political and we have to be careful of being used that way,” says Cox, assistant editor of The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., and a member of IAPA’s executive committee. The day the publisher and columnist were arrested, IAPA sent a letter to the new president regretting he had begun his term by detaining journalists, Cox notes.
Many Paraguayan journalists do not support the cause of the four, whom they regard as irresponsible and not journalists at all. No journalists were hurt in the turmoil, reports the journalists union, known as SPP.
“Thank God, that was a complete miracle,” its spokesperson, Magdalena Riveros, says in an e-mail.