Marielos Monzon | 2003 Courage in Journalism Award
reporter and anchor, Guatemala.
In her remarks at the 2003 Courage Awards, Monzon pledged to continue in the footsteps of her father, Guillermo, who was gunned down by the then-military government at the age of 37. Guillermo Monzon was a lawyer who defended families of people kidnapped by the military government. “I saw him fight for people who had no voice. The things he taught me still affect me very much,” said Monzon, who was 10 when he died.
Monzon won the Courage in Journalism Award in recognition of the reporting she did for her newspaper column and also for her radio program, Punto de Encuentro, which dealt with human rights violations during the country’s civil war. She had received many threats, including anonymous calls threatening her two children. In 2002, she was burglarized and her dog was kidnapped. In 2003, her radio show was cancelled and her home was broken into again. Monzon also worked with Reporters Sans Frontieres to document these threats for submission to the Organization of American States Inter American Commission on Human Rights, which raised the issue with the Guatemalan government.
The commission statement and the Courage Award came near the same time in 2003. They had a double impact on Monzon when she returned home in October 2003, fresh from an interview with CNN en Español about her award.
“The award was a type of protection for me and my family,” Monzon said. “When the government then in power in Guatemala saw that the international community gave us attention, then they paid attention. They said they were very worried about what was happening in Guatemala – even though it was not true; the same people were making threats against us.”
A month after returning to Guatemala, Monzon said she was threatened verbally by two men “who said I was a very bad citizen because I was talking about violence in Guatemala and that if I don’t stop, they will kill me,” said Monzon.
But these were the last threats Monzon has received. In addition, Guatemala elected a new government in December 2003, with fewer ties to the military. This is progress, of sorts, Monzon said. Still, she points to an outcry about tactics used by police in removing campesinos from a private farm near the town of Champerico.
In August 2004, police raided the farm with planes and helicopters. Ten people were killed, including two teenagers and two elderly men. The police burned the farm where the campesinos had camped out for more than a year and also seized videos and film from journalists who had documented the violence.
The campesinos were on the land because one of their organizers had been kidnapped more than a year before. Monzon said he probably has been killed. The campesinos had vowed to stay until his return or the government offered them other options.
“The police had to take them out of the land. The problem was the way they did it,” she said. “The government wants to protect the interests of the rich people but not of those who are very poor. And there are 195 other cases where campesinos are on [private] lands. So what is going to happen?”
By early September 2004, she was back on the air with Good Morning with Marielos on an FM station run by San Carlos University in Guatemala City.
Monzon put that question to Vice President Eduardo Stein on her morning radio show. “He said it’s only a matter of time – they need to solve the problem because if not, blood is going to be all over the country.”
She sees the government is split, however, between those who defend traditional structures of power and those, such as Stein, who want to attack endemic problems of poverty and homelessness. Monzon also has reported on random murders that take a high toll on innocent women and children. Since the start of 2003, there have been 1,520 murders including 500 children and 352 women. Some women are victims of domestic violence; others are killed by gangs, still others by “these little private armies who want to make people feel fear. We have a president, vice president, courts and a military, but we have ‘hidden powers’ who want to continue having the real power,” she said.
For the past year, Monzon also has been doing interviews and political analysis for news shows on a new cable TV channel, Guatevision. She hopes to have her own investigative journalism show that would focus on the cross-fertilization between public opinion, current issues and the media.
She also continues to write a weekly column for the newspaper Prensa Libre.
She has high hopes for a report due later this year from an Organization of American States task force looking into the violence against women, which is expected to dissect the causes of the problem and make recommendations.
Monzon also helped bring Jane Fonda, whom she met when Fonda presented her Courage Award to her in New York, into Guatemala for a 24-hour blitz to raise public awareness about the violence against women and children.
Monzon has committed to help San Carlos University improve its meagerly funded radio network. This will include developing courses for communication students on how to do interviews and produce radio programs.
“We want to make things better for the whole radio station,” she said. “They have a very good frequency. They can reach 60 percent of the population,” she said.
But right now the university radio station has outdated equipment and minimal money to pay for telephone lines – or even basic electricity to keep the station on air.
“You can interview the president by telephone – but not if you don’t have money to pay the telephone bill,” Monzon said.
“It’s public radio, at a public university, and doesn’t have a budget for this. So we have to find those people who can help us make this happen,” said Monzon. She estimates it will take $200,000, with two-thirds of that for basic equipment, to get the station on its feet.
“It’s a very big challenge. There’s a lack of everything, but in Guatemala you have to dream and you have to work for these dreams,” she said. “A friend of mine from Spain says we must be ‘the dream team’ – and we are.”
Marielos Monzon is the first Courage in Journalism Award winner from Guatemala.