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Each and every year conditions for journalists are getting more dangerous. So far this year, 44 journalists have been killed, making the year of 2012 potentially the deadliest year for journalists since the International Press Institute began tracking such deaths in 1997, according to the Neiman Journalism Lab. As of May 16th there is one more journalist to be added to that list: Honduran Radio Journalist, Ángel Alfredo Villatoro.
Villatoro was found dead Tuesday night on a sidewalk in the city of Tegucigalpa. He had a red handkerchief covering his face and was dressed as a special operations police officer at the time he was discovered. He had been kidnapped from his car on May 9th and had been shot in the head twice, according to police reports.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, also known as the CPJ, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo told journalists that the kidnappers had sent a “proof of life” video with images of Villatoro. However, it was later found out that the images were from Saturday, according to news reports. “News accounts said the journalist’s family had received a demand for ransom. Héctor Ivan Mejía, spokesman for the national police, told journalists there were many possible theories but that nothing was confirmed and that police would continue to investigate.”
Police are suspecting that the murder of Villatoro was a result of a drug gang retaliation on the government from the recent crackdown on drug cartels. Security Minister Pompeyo made a statement to a local TV station saying, “(Drug gangs) are trying to frighten Honduran society.”
There is good reason for the government to be cracking down on local drug gangs as Honduras is becoming increasingly used as a transit route to smuggle cocaine from South America into the United States. According to Gustavo Palencia, a reporter with the Huffington Post, “Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate – more than 80 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants last year.”
Police are continuing to investigate the murder of the beloved journalist, but have found no leads for a suspect thus far.
Villatoro was a prominent and well-know Director and radio personality for HRN radio, one of Honduras’s oldest and most listened to radio stations. As the investigation continues, those that loved him most, want to see justice served for the sake of Villatoro and his loved ones.
“We are saddened by the death of journalist Ángel Alfredo Villatoro and send our condolences to his friends, family, and colleagues,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Honduran authorities must fully investigate this crime and bring those responsible to justice. The deadly cycle of violence against journalists and impunity for these crimes is endangering freedom of expression in Honduras.”