Paraguay newspaper says slain journalist was investigating drug gangs for ties to politicians

A newspaper said Friday that a journalist who was shot to death was investigating drug gangs with suspected links to Paraguayan politicians.

Pablo Medina was killed Thursday in a crime-ridden northern area that is a hotbed for drugs and arms smuggling. He worked for the newspaper ABC Color and focused on investigations exposing corruption and drug traffickers.

ABC Color on Friday published on its front page the names of suspects in the crime, all of them residents of the northern town of Ypehu, including one with an elected post in the municipality. Several calls were made to the municipal offices seeking comment on the allegation, but no one answered.

President Horacio Cartes on Friday lamented the killing and said the investigation will not be influenced by any political party. "Today, I feel like we'll all been killed," he told reporters.

At the opening of the 70th General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association in Santiago, Chile, the organization condemned the killing and called on Paraguay's government "to conduct a speedy and exhaustive investigation to determine the motives of the crime and punish those responsible."

The IAPA said Medina was returning after doing some reporting "when he was intercepted and attacked by two men wearing camouflage who shot him at close range several times."

Medina's assistant, Antonia Almada, 19, also was killed, while another woman, identified as a local peasant leader, escaped uninjured. Medina was 53, rather than 48 as reported initially in stories about his slaying.

"The murder of Medina and that of 10 other journalists in the Americas since April this year reminds us of the importance of strongly raising our voices to demand justice in such crimes and call for guarantees for the safety and protection of members of the press while covering the news," said Claudio Paolillo, the chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information.

Two other journalists have been killed so far this year in Paraguay while working along the porous northern border with Brazil.

"Working on the border with Brazil is very risky because all the big issues have to deal with marijuana and cocaine," said Aníbal Gomez, a journalist from the northern city of Pedro Juan Caballero who has gotten death threats.

Former Paraguayan lawmaker Elvis Balbuena said proposed legislation he authored that would legalize marijuana should be brought up again in Congress and approved to avoid more violent deaths.

"The prohibition and persecution of marijuana raise its price, and the many drug gangs commit all types of crimes in order to smuggle it into Argentina, Brazil and Chile," he said.

Anti-drug chief Luis Rojas has estimated more than 100 gangs, made up of Paraguayan and Brazilian drug dealers, operate in Paraguay's northern region.