Dionisio Gutierrez Leaves Guatemala

Guatemalan Entrepreneur and Journalist Leaves TV News/Commentary Program Libre Encuentro after 20 years on the air

Oct 26, 2010, 07:00 ET from Strategy Center of the Americas

MIAMI, Oct. 26 /PRNewswire/ -- Dionisio Gutierrez has resigned from his position as host and director of the popular Guatemalan TV News Program Libre Encuentro.  For almost 20 years, Libre Encuentro served as an open forum, encouraging and promoting the public discussion of ideas and solutions to national problems in an effort to preserve and strengthen Guatemala's democratic institutions.

On October 17, 2010, Gutierrez announced he would resign from his program, Libre Encuentro, in a letter from Washington, D.C.  "Various forms of intimidation have increased substantially in these past months, including constant death threats against me," he wrote. "This is just one of the many expressions of violence and intolerance that Guatemala is currently suffering from."

Following Gutierrez's revelation, Prensa Libre and Siglo XXI, two of the country's principal newspapers, as well as the largest television and radio stations, along with a variety of other smaller news outlets, provided extensive coverage of the announcement, which many editorials and columnists have deemed an event of important national significance and an ominous sign of things to come as the country prepares for the coming year's presidential elections.

Gutierrez's program was known to serve as the unofficial ombudsman of the government and the electoral process, demanding political transparency from all of the governments which have come into power since the inception of the country's relatively young democracy.  In doing so, he often openly disagreed with the administration of Alvaro Colom and his politically active wife, Sandra Torres de Colom, who is running a campaign for her own presidential bid in 2011.

In July 2010, President Alvaro Colom told the Spanish newswire EFE in an interview that Dionisio Gutierrez was working to destabilize the country and was trying to stop the likely candidacy of his wife.

Similarly, in July 2010, the Guatemalan government and Torres' political party took out paid political advertisements in the Guatemalan newspapers warning that "certain individuals close to the media" and "traditional businesses" were acting on the fringes of the law and undermining stability in the country.  The government statements also spuriously and maliciously hinted that these efforts were linked to organized crime, and were working to destroy peace in the country.

Within days, Gutierrez wrote an open letter to President Alvaro Colom, which was published in the opinion section of a national mainstream newspaper to express his disappointment with the government's apparent use of undemocratic tactics to quash freedom of expression.  "Do not fall into the temptation of totalitarianism," he said. "History is full of failed political adventures that started out as authoritarian projects disguised as democratic initiatives."

All of these exchanges are on the heels of an event which occurred "on air" during a local news which aired on 26th January, 2010, when Canal Guatevision received a threat from a group calling themselves the Guatemalan Liberation Army, stating that the group would begin taking its vengeance on the country's businessmen, whom it held responsible for the capture of ex-Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo, who had been indicted for tax evasion, fraud, embezzlement, and money laundering and was the subject of extradition proceedings for a criminal proceedings in New York.  The first target the group named was Dionisio Gutierrez.

Since that time, Gutierrez, his production company, his program's distributors and others have been threatened and even physically attacked.  Although the sources of the attacks and threats remained anonymous, both the current government and organized crime have been vocal opponents of Gutierrez and his allies.  President Colom and his government have used the strongest language to date, referring to Gutierrez's programs as a declaration of war.

Libre Encuentro is also broadcast on cable and satellite television stations and networks in the United States, Mexico and throughout Central America.

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SOURCE Strategy Center of the Americas