WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – Honduran journalist Luis Galdámez thought he and his son were going to die.
“Three men starting shooting at me,” Galdámez said. “They were in a car with tinted windows with no license plate.”
He remembers six bullets being fired as he and his son stood near the front door of their home in the nation’s capital on Sept. 14.
“My son and I reacted quickly and started shooting back,” Galdámez said.
His son, for whom Galdámez requested anonymity, was waiting for his father at their residence when bullets started flying in their direction. Father and son, who both carry guns for protection, returned fire, but they didn’t hit anybody.
The gunmen drove away.
“None of the shots hit me or my son and I immediately called the cops,” Galdámez, 43, said.
Two hours later police arrived.
“They came just to tell me that they apologize, but they have seven cases to attend to and mine was not a priority,” he said.
Galdámez is in his 10th year of hosting the radio and TV show “Seeking the Truth” (Tras la Verdad), a program known for criticizing President Porfirio Lobo’s administration and for reporting on corruption and human rights abuses allegedly committed by law enforcement officials.
But being a target is nothing new for Galdámez, who said he’s received numerous death threats from 2005-2007. In 2005, he was shot in his car, prompting him to buy guns for protection.
The attacks continue
But what happened to Galdámez and his son is not an isolated incident; in fact, it’s becoming quite common in Honduras.
Eight journalists were killed from March 1 to Aug. 24 this year, with most of the slayings occurring as the targets were leaving work, according to the government.
“It is unclear whether there is a connection in these murders,” Jaime Banegas, the secretary general of the Security Secretariat, said. “We are investigating case by case.”
The killings have reporters worried they will be targeted simply for doing their jobs.
“I don’t feel safe covering a story that might have some risk, which limits coverage,” said Carlos Rubén Ortiz Ruiz, journalist at Radio X and president of the Honduran Press Association. “We have received several statements from journalists whose lives have been threatened.”
Honduras has become the second-most dangerous country for journalists after Mexico, which has been home to 9 killings of media members this year, according to the International Press Institute (IPI). IPI is a global organization of editors, media executives and journalists dedicated to protecting members of the media and upholding freedom of the press.
“It is vital that the authorities fully investigate the killings, so that a culture of impunity is not allowed to thrive,” Anthony Mills, IPI’s press and communications manager said in a statement.
Galdámez says he has requested protection for years.
“They promise you the world and then they don’t do anything,” he said, adding he received another death threat a few days after the Sept. 14 attack on his life. “They send me messages saying they are going to leave my ankles yellow, that my body will be found with flies in my mouth, and other things.”
Murders go unpunished
Three days after the shooting, officials from the department of human rights arrived at his house to search for evidence to verify the attack, Galdámez said.
“They came after a rain storm, after trash pick-up when the floors are swept, and they only found one bullet shell,” Galdámez said.
The delayed response does not surprise the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an NGO dedicated to the global defense of press freedom based in New York City.
CPJ has been tracking the murders of journalists in Honduras.
“The investigations have been insufficient,” CPJ’s Senior Americas Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría said. “In the case of [journalist] Nahúm Palacios, the autopsy was conducted three months after his murder.”
No crime scene photos were taken and no forensic evidence was gathered, according to CPJ’s investigation. Three months later, a graveside autopsy was performed after the Honduran government called for assistance from the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
“It’s a finding that’s very notable and that needs to be investigated,” Banegas said when asked by Infosurhoy.com about the CPJ’s conclusions.
Banegas said his department does not have all the details on Palacios’ case because the National Police was not assisting local authorities in investigations at the time of his murder. Palacios was killed in the city of Tocoa, where the closest forensics department is about 120 kilometers (74 miles) away.
“The per capita of police officers in the country is low but we are working on improving our response time, our logistics, technology, the police force is becoming more democratic and functional,” Banegas said. “However, it’s not something that will happen overnight.”
The National Police has made one arrest and issued several warrants in two of the eight cases.
In the case of David Meza Montesinos, a person of interest was identified and interrogated but later released due to lack of evidence. But if new evidence arises in the next five years, a suspect can be prosecuted according to Honduran Criminal Procedure Code 295. A Honduran court has issued arrest warrants for four suspects in connection with Meza’s killing.
In the case of Jorge Alberto “Georgino” Orellana, there is a suspect in custody at the San Pedro Sula Detention Center, but a trial isn’t scheduled to begin for the next 18 months – at the earliest.
“We continue investigating the other cases with extreme precision,” Banegas said. “There are persons of interest in almost every case.”
Galdámez hosted a show the day after the attack.
“I submit myself to the Honduran justice system, and they can pull up all the programs that I’ve done, and if I have lied or if someone says I’ve blackmailed them in my 10 years of having this program, then I turn myself in … they can put me in jail or do whatever they want with me,” Galdámez said. “I’m not scared because I have done nothing wrong … if they want to kill me they know where I am.”
Six months, eight murders
Joseph Hernández Ochoa, 26, shot several times in his car on March 1 in Tegucigalpa
David Meza Montesinos, 51, shot several times in his car on March 11 in La Ceiba
Nahúm Palacios, 34, shot several times as he was entering his home on March 14 in Tocoa
José Bayardo Mairena, 52, and Manuel Juárez, 54, were shot 26 times in their car on March 26 in Juticalpa
Jorge Alberto “Georgino” Orellana, 50, shot in the head as he was leaving work on April 20 in San Pedro Sula
Luis Arturo Mondragón, 53, shot several times as he left work on June 14 in El Paraíso
Israel Zelaya Díaz, 56, kidnapped and shot three times in the head on Aug. 24 in San Pedro Sula