Paraguay recently celebrated its annual Day of the Journalist on April 26, which commemorates the date in 1845 when the first newspaper, “El Paraguayo Independiente” was published in the country. However, the date is also important for Paraguayan journalists because on April 26, 1991, one of their colleagues was shot and killed in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero.
Journalist Santiago Leguizamón was on his way to lunch with fellow journalists celebrating their profession's day, when he was gunned down by hired hitmen [es] in the border town with Brazil. Some speculate that he was targeted for his frequent criticism of corruption and drug trafficking [es] in the area.
Andrés Colmán is a Paraguayan journalist and writes a lengthy piece in his blog Ñangapiry News [es] about his time in Pedro Juan Caballero where he got to know Leguizamón in 1986. It was apparent to him that Leguizamón lived under constant pressure from being in the middle of such a tense region where the criminals were in charge. “Yes, he knew the mafia, but from the other side of the combat barricades that had been begun to be built with their steely works, defending with clear blows the hazy dream of democracy,” writes Colmán. He adds:
En principio se burlaba de las amenazas de muerte y los avisos que le hacían llegar los mafiosos. Aquella mañana, horas antes de su muerte, le dijo a Humberto Rubín: “Prefiero la muerte física a la muerte ética”. Llevaba un revólver en la guantera, más para tranquilizar a sus amigos que como verdadera medida de precaución.
La ultima vez que lo vi fue dos meses antes de su muerte, cuando pasó por la redacción del diario a dejarme los últimos ejemplares de su revista. Me contó que un conocido industrial yerbatero de Pedro Juan le había dicho: “Cuidate, porque te van a matar”.
Recuerdo que en esa ocasión le pregunté algo que ya varias veces le habíamos cuestionado con otros colegas: si valía la pena ese estilo de “periodismo kamikaze” que él ejercía con tanta audacia en esa región donde no hay policías ni jueces que te puedan proteger. Recuerdo que hubo un largo silencio, antes de que me respondiera con otra pregunta: “¿Y te parece que hay otra manera…?”.
At the beginning, he made light of the death threats and the warnings that the mafia sent him. That morning, hours before his death, he told Humberto Rubín, “I prefer physical death than the death of one's ethics.” He had a revolver in his glove compartment, it was more to calm his friends than it was for protection.
The last time I saw him was 2 months before his death, when he stopped by the newspaper news desk to drop off the latest issues of his magazine. He told me that he met an industrial yerba mate farmer in Pedro Juan, who told him, “Be careful, because they will kill you.”
I remember that at the time I asked him, just as other colleagues had before, whether his “kamikaze journalism” was worth it in a region where there are no police or no judges that could protect him. I remember that there was a long silence, before he responded with another question, “And do you think that there is another way….?”
His death resonated all across the country. Blogger and journalist Arturo Zarratea Herreros of the blog Vida de Perros [es] (Life of Dogs) was 11 years old at the time of hearing about Leguizamón's murder and recalls the organized silent march that took place on the streets of the capital.
Caminamos por el microcentro de Asunción con velas encendidas y algunos cantaban consignas contra el gobierno que en ese momento estaba en poder del Gral. Andrés Rodríguez. Nadie podía creer que tan impunemente se asesinara a un periodista en ese lejano paraje denominado Pedro Juan Caballero.
El pedido de todo un país en ese momento era “Justicia”, basta de impunidad a las mafias, encuentren a los asesinos del hombre de prensa, demuestren que llegó la democracia…
Han pasado 19 años desde entonces. En medio de ellos me hice periodista y descubrí que las marchas, la indignación, las velas y los llantos… no traen justicia.
We walked through the downtown of Asunción with lighted candles and some sang slogans against the government, which at the time was under the control of General Andrés Rodríguez. No one could believe that someone could murder a journalist with such impunity in that far-away place called Pedro Juan Caballero.
The demand from everyone in the country at the time was “Justice,” to stop the impunity for the mafias, find the killers of the journalist, to demonstrate that democracy had arrived…
Nineteen years have passed since then. During that time, I became a journalist and I discovered that marches, indignation, candles, and the cries… do not bring justice.
Now, 19 years later, journalists are taking time to commemorate their fallen fellow journalist and reflect on what that means for their profession today in Paraguay. The murder of Leguizamón remains unsolved to this day. Cáceres Encina reflects [es]:
El 26 de abril no es simplemente un día para recordar la labor del periodista. Es para enfatizar que desde antaños en nuestro país se luchó por la libertad de expresión. (…) Que la muerte de Santiago Leguizamón sea un mensaje a los corruptos y mafiosos de que la prensa nunca callará.