Peru: Student's Death in the Andes Divides Media and Social Networks

Although finding the body of student Ciro Castillo Rojo [es] – who disappeared in the Colca Canyon mountain in Arequipa, a region in the south of Peru nearly seven months ago – put an end to the mystery about his whereabouts, the controversy regarding the unclear circumstances of his death has been revived. Above all, the finding has reintroduced a public debate over the involvement of his girlfriend, Rosario Ponce, who was also missing but was later found alive, and the role the media plays in similar cases.

The disappearance of Ciro Castillo Rojo was present in all of the Peruvian press headlines during these pasts months [es] due to the determination of his father, who never stopped searching and managed to get the attention of the public and local press after publicly announcing (in a TV interview) that his family no longer considered the case as a disappearance, but rather a murder [es].

In the headlines, the press have echoed these speculations and other theories related to the student's disappearance. Furthermore, unlike the thousands of registered disappearances in Peru, this particular case has managed to capture citizens’ attention and stay longer than usual in the media's agenda.

Flickr user The Advocacy Project commented in September 2011:

Local newspaper's front page, dedicated to the case.

Local newspaper's front page, dedicated to the case.

[Ciro Castillo Rojo] has been missing for 5 months and his disappearance has captivated the nation, as opposed to the disappearance of more than 15,000 people during the internal armed conflict.

Twitter user Marco Antonio (@Markcopero) asserts:

@am@amigoperu76 la familia de Ciro tiene buenas influencias, por eso la prensa siguió el caso, al día se pierden miles y la prensa no informa

@am@amigoperu76 Ciro’s family has good contacts; that is the reason why the press followed this case. Thousands of people go missing everyday and the media does not inform about them.

Regarding this issue, the Mazmorra de mi suegra [es] blog criticizes the great amount of media attention given to this case:

Desapariciones de personas ocurren todos los días [en el Perú], mas a ninguno jamás se le dio similar cobertura que al de Ciro Castillo, lo cual lleva a concluir que se trata de un reality show creado para acaparar la atención pública y distraerla de los problemas principales de corrupción que afronta el gobierno de turno.

People go missing everyday [in Peru], but no one has ever had the same amount of coverage as Ciro Castillo's case, which leads me to the conclusion that this is a reality show created to get the public's attention and distract them from the main corruption issues that this government is facing.

Similarly, Ricardo Alvarado in AveCrítica [es] questions how Peru's justice system deals with these cases:

Es bastante sabido que la justicia peruana hace discriminaciones basadas en criterios de clase, raza y género… Basta con decir que el caso Ciro Castillo ha tenido la mayor concentración de recursos humanos y materiales que se recuerde en los últimos años:… Para los 16 mil peruanos desaparecidos durante los 20 años de violencia política, y para los desaparecidos en democracia -¿una decena? ¿un centenar, si contamos el Baguazo? la verdad es que nadie se ha ocupado de contarlos-, no hay fiscales viajeros, ni sinchis movilizados, ni helicópteros, ni escáneres 3D; sus familiares son sistemáticamente ninguneados; y sus peritos de parte suelen encontrar todas las trabas y dificultades imaginables, y algunas inimaginables.

It is widely known that Peruvian justice discriminates people based on their social class, race, and gender… It is enough saying that Ciro Castillo's case has enjoyed the greatest human resources and materials over the last years… If we count the 16 thousand Peruvians that went missing in 20 years of political violence and the ones missing in democracy- dozens? Hundreds of people, if we count the Baguazo? The truth is that no one has cared to count them- there are no traveling district attorneys, no mobilized anti-narcotics police, no helicopters, no 3D scanners; their families are just ignored, and their experts usually find all possible obstacles and problems, and some of unthinkable ones too.

Likewise, Twitter user Carlos (@DanBrownie) points out that other missing Peruvians have not been searched for with the same effort, and have even been forgotten. Carlos refers to a missing police officer during the armed conflict called ‘Baguazo‘ in Peru.

Me alegro que encontraran a Ciro pero ¿y el Mayor Bazan?

I'm glad they found Ciro, but what about Major Bazan?

Local TV report. Screen capture.

The case also became a hot issue in social networks in Peru: all users seem to have taken a position, either favoring Ciro Castillo or Rosario Ponce, the surviving girlfriend who a lot accuse of being the possible murderer.

Mario Santander (@alois77) tweets addressing a former congresswoman:

@Rosario_Sasieta ojala ud. colabore para meter presa a la asesina basura de rosario ponce , Dra. charito

@Rosario_Sasieta I hope you will help put that piece of garbage murderer Rosario Ponce in jail, Dr. Charito.

Jesús Gonzáles (@GsusGonz) gives his opinion on the hypothetical responsibility of Rosario Ponce in the student's death:

Yo creo que Rosario Ponce no es asesina pero ella tuvo que ver con la muerte de ciro #RosarioPonce

I think that Rosario Ponce is not a killer, but she was involved in Ciro’s death. #RosarioPonce

Lulu Lozada (@cofredelulu) recalls the right to presumption of innocence:

Se vulneraron los derechos de Rosario Ponce al sindicarla como asesina. Toda persona es inocente hasta que no se demuestre lo contrario.

The rights of Rosario Ponce were violated when she was accused of murder. All people are innocent until proven otherwise.

After finding the body, the word “Ciro” became a Twitter trending topic in Peru, and the debate over the role of the media intensified.

Simon Gonza Abad (@gonzaabadsimon) uses irony:

creo que gran parte de la prensa quiere que encuentren a rosario ponce culpable…. claro ps para tener mas titulares

I think most of the media wish Rosario Ponce is found guilty … so they can have more headlines

Simón de Sirene (@H144000) believes that the press has gone too far:

La mayoria d la gente cree que Rosario es culpable porque los medios diariamente la tratan como asesina #PeriodismoDelincuencial@Capital967

Most people think Rosario is guilty because the media portrays her as a murderer every day. #DeliquencyJournalism@Capital967

Even themed blogs had something to say about the huge media coverage dedicated to this issue, like Luis Samanamud in Abrir Negocio [es]:

Ciro Castillo y Rosario Ponce, un negocio para los medios de comunicación… Muchos diarios y medios digitales por Internet publican grandes titulares para vender sus publicaciones y por su puesto logran apreciables ganancias sin que esto signifique beneficios para los digamos autores, Ciro y Rosario…

Ciro Castillo and Rosario Ponce, a business for the media… Many newspapers and online digital media publish big headlines to sell their publications, earning significant profits without implying any benefit for the the main players, in this case Ciro and Rosario….

José Aguilar (@Jose_Aguilar) also complains about the media coverage:

Ya no quiero ver más TV,hoy he sentido un asco indescriptible por todos los canales, todos buscan hacer llorar a la mama de Ciro en su canal.

I do not want to watch TV anymore. Today, I am disgusted by all channels. They all want to make Ciro's mom cry in their channel.

Giuseppe Bisso (@gbiss8) encourages people to start talking about some current important issues, like the accusations of influence peddling the second vice-president, Omar Chehade, is currently facing.

Ya apareció Ciro, ahora no se olviden de Chehade

Ciro has already appeared, now do not forget  about Chehade

This is not the end of this story: by the end of writing this article, forensic investigations continue, and we can suppose that Peruvians will remain interested. Nevertheless, there are some questions in social networks and in the media that will be, or should be, the starting point for discussions and debates not only in those networks, but also in the country's Colleges of Journalism and Mass Communication. Like Katherine Santiago's (@KateSV) question:

Si comprueban q #Rosario no es la asesina de #Ciro, los medios limpiarán su imagen o se harán los locos? #CHAN

If they prove #Rosario is not #Ciro‘s murderer, will the media clean their image or will they just ignore it? #CHAN

Or Omar Zevallos’ (@Omarzev) question:

A partir del Caso Ciro, la prensa podría hacer un autoanálisis?

Starting with Ciro's case, could the media do a self-analysis?

This story will surely continue. You can read more Twitter reactions in this Storify post [es].

1 comment

  • Nadi Peru

    There are a couple of mistakes in your article, Dr. Castillo did not start the controversy at any time, on the contrary, when the press was already doubting and calling killer to the woman that went with him -due to her selfish and careless attitude-Ciro’s parents were supportive with her “PTSD” recovery. They were even downplaying serious signs of foul play such us the fact that his wallet and ID were given back weeks and months after they got lost.

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