Whenever news of the murder of a beloved Argentine journalist comes out, it’s as if history books will be rewritten to include the event as if it had happened a hundred years earlier.
Here in Chile, residents in the Atacama Desert, a vast expanse of volcanic rock straddling northern Chile and the Argentine border, have been dealt the latest casualty in the ongoing war on journalists and an other diminishing freedoms in the region.
Reporter Pablo Burmeister, who covered political corruption and human rights for the La Tercera newspaper, was found dead in his car with seven bullet wounds on April 14, according to multiple news organizations. His murder, the fourth journalist shot in the last week, comes days after another five journalists were killed in the region.
Burmeister was last seen on April 11, when he went to file stories for La Tercera. After searching for him through the night, his corpse was found early on the morning of April 14. In the video posted on social media, Burmeister can be seen exiting his car, he asks the reporter in Spanish where she’s from and she replies “Atacama.” Shortly afterward, gunshots ring out and Burmeister falls to the ground.
For the past 20 years, Burmeister served as the human rights correspondent for La Tercera, the country’s leading newspaper.
“There is no doubt that the murder is related to the crime of journalism,” said Diana Valverde, spokesperson for media organizations in the Atacama.
Previously the murder of freelance investigative journalist Martín Llorca in La Serena in February was reported as a “hit” by the local government, though state investigators have said they are still trying to piece together exactly what transpired.
Burmeister had reported extensively on corruption in the Atacama. In recent years, politicians as well as those involved in the smuggling industry have been terrorizing the population of the Atacama. Burmeister covered the kidnapping of an Argentine journalist kidnapped by Mexican organized crime groups in 2007. He also traveled to San Nicolas de Atacama for the investigation, one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.
The explosion of violence in the Atacama adds to a more worrying trend of what journalists see as a creeping dictatorship in parts of Latin America. In recent years, governments have strengthened laws in countries that include the leftist governments of Venezuela and Argentina, both of which have seen journalists assassinated in the line of duty. Venezuela is in the hands of a ruthless socialist dictatorship, while Argentina has been negotiating a government-sponsored deal with the so-called “corrupt exiles” of the country, which took over the once prosperous nation in 1983 and quickly turned it into one of the wealthiest socialist countries in the world.
As technology has expanded in the region, journalists — especially in the developed economies of Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela — have continued to be pressured to publish a particular story or write stories which run counter to political agendas.
In some cases, journalists have been approached by armed paramilitary groups, who try to broker deals on the press. In Colombia, media houses are pressured by organized crime groups to follow certain political orders. In Mexico, officials have expressed frustration at stories in the press that publish government information that they believe only the Mexican government can access.
As Burmeister demonstrated, dangerous times are ahead for those who chronicle the daily life of the masses in Latin America, so long as repressive governments remain in power.