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Journalist murdered in Buenos Aires <em>villa miseria</em>

Argentina is facing a possible attack on freedom of expression. Adams Ledesma was a Bolivian journalist living in Villa 31, the biggest slum of Buenos Aires. The founder of the community TV channel ‘Mundo Villa’ was stabbed to death on 3 September.

Two theories as to why he was killed have been circulating around this villa miseria (‘slum’); both are related to what Ledesma intended to do with his new TV channel.

‘We’re going to do reports about those who come in 4x4s to buy drugs in the neighbourhood,’ he announced to journalists who interviewed him when he started broadcasting, just two months ago.

Ledesma was also a delegate who mediated between the different parties fighting for grants awarded by the government of Buenos Aires. An article in La Vaca explained that in the last months, there have been serious clashes between the villa’s veterans and newcomers who are fighting for government funding.

‘A few days ago they wanted to take some houses adjacent to the Ledesmas’,’ one neighbour said. ‘He stepped in to help and said he would shoot them if they tried to re-offend.’ This is the other theory for the murder that is running through the neighbourhood.

For two years, Ledesma edited Mundo Villa, a neighbourhood publication. Taking advantage of Argentina’s new Media Law, he decided to create a television channel, the first slum TV channel in the country.

Ledesma’s neighbours highlight the professionalism that he wanted to make sure was the cornerstone of their channel. ‘You can have the truth, but to say it out loud here, you have to have the community’s support. This social commitment is more important than your journalistic work,’ agree neighbourhood leaders.

This is no reproach, but a crude description of reality. ‘And here we cannot change the reality of the top-down neighbourhood. It is a mistake you pay for dearly.’

FOPEA, a forum for defending freedom of expression, quickly issued a statement acknowledging Ledesma’s work as a journalist. It even decided to form an investigative commission to look into the murder. The Bolivian Press Association addressed the Argentine government, demanding an appropriate investigation.

The case went to the Congress of Argentina. The members of the Committee on Freedom of Expression of the Chamber of Deputies met on 23 September to be briefed on the details of the crime.

Ledesma’s widow, Ruth Torrico, demanded a quick investigation. ‘My husband was a social worker: he was there when others needed him,’ she said.

The police say they already have a named suspect, but are yet to find him. The officers believe Ledesma’s murder was the result of a conflict between neighbours. But his friends, family and colleagues don’t believe this to be the case.

Ledesma’s family lives in fear. His widow said she had been warned to leave the neighbourhood, otherwise her husband’s fate awaited her and their children. Torrico’s sister was also threatened.

During a march led by Torrico a few days after Ledesma’s death, his family members said: ‘They are killing our guys just because we have a dark complexion. This scares us because it has not happened in Buenos Aires in the past.’ 

In an interview with Chronicle TV Torrico also spoke of delays in medical care. She said the ambulance was called at 4.30 and arrived only at 7.30.

If it is true that Ledesma was murdered for his work as a social activist and a journalist, this would be one of Argentina’s most serious attacks on freedom of expression.

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