Returning to the Fold? Guatemalan Newspaper Director, Who Resigned Rather Than Submit to Self-Censorship, Seeks to Return to His Paper

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Guatemalan newspaper director, who resigned rather than submit to self-censorship, seeks to return to his paper

MARIO ANTONIO SANDOVAL, a guatemalan newspaper director who resigned in May rather than submit to self-censorship and who later became an adviser to the country's new reform-minded president, has resigned that post and is exploring his chances of returning to journalism.

"I discovered that journalists make lousy bureaucrats," Sandoval said, referring to his decision to resign in January as an adviser and speechwriter for President Ramiro de Leon Carpio.

On May 25, then-President Jorge Serrano made an abortive effort to suspend the constitution and rule by decree, ordering censorship of the country's daily newspaper and broadcast media (E&P, July 31, 1993, p. 14).

Sandoval was the director, or editor, of Prensa Libre, Guatemala City, the country's leading daily. He successfully faced down the censors, threatening to run the paper with their marks on the page proofs. Serrano then ordered police to surround the newspaper building to block distribution.

The following day, the paper's board of directors agreed to Serrano's offer of self-consorship. Sandoval, 46, who had spent 27 years at the newspaper co-founded by his father, resigned in protest.

"I found myself out on the street without anything to do for the first time in 27 years," Sandoval related during a recent speaking tour of four U.S. colleges. He said he joined in the mass demonstrations protesting Serrano's assumption of dictatorial powers.

"People started yelling, 'Censura a la basura (censorship to the garbage),'" he said. "There were 500 or 1,000 people from all different levels of society and we were marching in front of the Presidential Palace for two days. The second day, the government fell.

"It was interesting because this was a country that 10 or 15 years [ago] had no freedom of expression, and now the people were defending me. Even though people criticize the press, here and everywhere, when the freedom of the press is in jeopardy, people have a tendency to think they are losing something, that it's bad with journalists but it's worse without them."

Sandoval was not unemployed for long. Serrano was forced into exile in Panama, and the congress elected de Leon Carpio, Guatemalahs human rights ombudsman and a friend of Sandoval since college, to succeed him. The new president named Sandoval his adviser.

Sandoval explained, however, that the title of adviser has a negative connotation among Guatemalans because of the sycophants who traditionally have surrounded the president. Moreover, unlike in the United States, the salary of presidential advisers is even more abysmal than that of journalists. After only six months, Sandoval again decided to take his changes with unemployment. …

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