(IPS) – The news director of the Radio Cadena Voces (RCV) radio station, Dagoberto Rodríguez, fled Honduras Thursday after the police warned him that he could be killed by "sicarios" (paid gunmen) in the next 72 hours.
"My life changed in 24 hours," Rodríguez told IPS just before he left the country. "I never expected to abandon my country this way, because the only thing I have ever done is journalism. But the levels of intolerance of criticism and of freedom of speech, and the growing lack of safety in Honduras, have forced me to leave."
"You can just imagine how I feel when it is the authorities themselves who have told me that there are plans to kill me and that they can do nothing to prevent it," he added.
"They came to the radio station on Tuesday to tell me not to leave the building, because I was going to be killed. I had to go to the Human Rights Commissioner to ask for protection, which I was fortunately given," he said.
Rodríguez fled the country 12 days after the murder of Carlos Salgado, the host of an RCV radio programme "Fríjol, el terrible", which mixed humour and news.
Salgado, 67, was shot by two unidentified gunmen as he left the offices of the RCV, an independent station that often carries out investigative reporting.
Rodríguez, whose whereabouts are being kept secret for safety reasons, clarified that despite his departure, "Radio Cadena Voces will still be an independent station that will continue its responsible, professional news reporting."
"The government’s intolerance is so great that it was even insinuated to us two months ago that if this government were that of (Venezuelan President) Hugo Chávez, the station would have been shut down long ago because we are very critical of the present administration."
National Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio told IPS that "when a reporter flees the country because the authorities are incapable of protecting his life, we are facing not only a regrettable situation, but also one of intimidation against freedom of expression and the right to inform the public."
"The climate of alarm in which we are living has given rise to a lack of public security which leads us to interpret that an apparatus of power is trying to terrorise the media and those who denounce corruption and demand transparency in the public administration," said Custodio.
"This apparatus of power is telling us that it is so powerful that it can do anything that it has planned, with total impunity," said the head of the National Human Rights Commission, which answers to Congress.
Salgado’s murder and the threats against Rodríguez have come amidst a climate of growing tension between the government of President Manuel Zelaya of the traditional Liberal Party and the press.
Two weeks ago, the president complained to the Inter-American Press Association (SIP/IAPA), which is made up of media companies and owners, that certain media outlets were carrying out a campaign against him.
Since Zelaya took office nearly two years ago, he and his closest associates have been at loggerheads with certain widely-read newspapers in Honduras, while encouraging less popular publications to form alliances to report on the "official agenda."
Rafael Nodarse, owner of the Channel 6 TV station, said three weeks ago that there is a "media war."
"We brought President Zelaya to power, and now he has to answer to us," he said, alluding to coverage by his station and others that allegedly helped the president win the elections.
There is also a climate of growing social conflicts. So far this year, 200 protests, strikes and demonstrations have been held, according to the Honduras Documentation Centre.
Analyst Víctor Meza, the director of the Centre, told IPS that in September there were a particularly large number of protests over soaring crime rates and the high cost of basic food items, and against the imminent privatisation of public enterprises.
The Centre reported that the social conflicts were related to environmental problems, protests by miners, land disputes, labour issues, the government’s economic policies, privatisation plans, basic services, and poverty.
According to the Centre, the government has largely ignored the conflicts, complaining that they are the result of a media campaign, which Meza said is "absolutely false."