Last February, Reporters Without Borders released its first-ever thematic report on organized crime, the main source of physical danger for journalists since the end of the Cold War. Produced with the help of our correspondents and specialists in several continues, that report underlined how difficult it is for the media to investigate the criminal underworld’s activities, networks and infiltration of society. Aside from covering bloody shootouts between rival cartels, news media of any size usually seem ill-equipped to describe organized crime’s hidden but ubiquitous presence.
Paraguay, which a Reporters Without Borders representative visited from 3 to 10 July, is a good example of these problems. Overshadowed by Brazil and Argentina, its two big neighbours in the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), it has long received one of the world’s worst rankings in Transparency International’s corruption index. It is also a major way station in the trafficking of cocaine from the Bolivian Andes to the Southern Cone.
While the level of violence is not as high as in Mexico, Colombia or some Central American countries, the persistent corruption, judicial impunity and influence of mafia activity on political and business activity prevent the media and civil society from playing a watchdog role. Although elections brought about a real change of government for the first time in 2008, Paraguay is still struggling to free itself from the code of silence and complicity that prevailed during the decades of dictatorship and affects the media as well. This was clear from interviews with journalists, observers and state officials in Asunción and Concepción, in the border cities of Ciudad del Este and Encarnación, and the Argentine border city of Posadas.