A former vice president of Guatemala allegedly used her majority stake in two newspapers to try to influence their coverage of her administration, a stark reminder of the way in which direct control over media forms part of many political strategies.
During her time in office under the administration of Otto Pérez Molina (2012 – 2015), then Vice President Roxana Baldetti allegedly controlled 70 percent of the media group Corporación de Noticias, reported La Prensa Gráfica. Corporación owns the dailies Siglo21 and Al Día.
The revelations came as part of a testimony offered by Salvador González Álvarez, alias "Eco," a former government functionary during the Pérez Molina administration who on May 31 testified in a case known as "Capture of the State" ("Cooptación del Estado"), which involves a series of pay-for-play schemes.
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The witness also claimed Baldetti used her power to ensure Siglo21 and Al Día provided favorable coverage of the vice president and the government. As reported by La Hora, Eco said that in January 2015, Baldetti allegedly instructed Siglo21 to publish a supplement to congratulate the government for its third-year results.
"As the government published its third report…I asked the production team [at Siglo21] to give me some time because Baldetti wrote me saying she wanted us to publish a supplement congratulating the government for its third year in office," Eco was reported by La Hora as saying, adding that the former vice president seemed annoyed at the fact that he had not come up with the idea before. "She sent me a message saying that we were those that should have come up with this sort of stuff, not her."
Baldetti and Pérez Molina resigned and were arrested in 2015 after authorities discovered they were running a customs fraud network. Each of them is currently under investigation for three distinct corruption cases.
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The case is a powerful illustration of the ability of Guatemalan elites to co-opt different institutions in an effort to increase and sustain their power. It is certainly not rare in a region where elites routinely purchase parts of or create their own media.
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The interesting thing is that it works the other way as well. Media mogul Ángel González, who owns several television and radio stations in Guatemala, also allegedly gave significant campaign contributions to Baldetti's party and others as part of a quid pro quo between himself and the political elites to secure government contracts, favorably legislation and licenses, according to the same government investigation.