Reporters Without Borders has mixed feelings about the guilty verdicts and sentences ranging from four to 30 years in prison that a court in San Salvador passed yesterday on 11 of the 31 people, mainly gang members, who were tried for the September 2009 murder of Franco-Spanish documentary film-maker Christian Poveda .
“The sequence of events and the immediate motive seem clear but was a two-day trial sufficient to establish exactly who did what and to shed light on all the unexplained aspects of this case?” Reporters Without Borders said. “Did it reconstruct the entire story of what happened between Poveda and the young people who appeared in his film? And why was there such a big difference between the sentences requested by the prosecutors and those handed down?”
The press freedom organization added: “We greet this verdict with a mixture of relief and frustration. It marks a victory in the fight against impunity but as an attempt to establish the truth, it may have been too hasty.”
As instigators and perpetrators of Poveda’s murder, alleged gang leaders Luis Roberto “El Tiger” Vásquez Romero and José Alejandro “El Puma” Melara were each sentenced to 30 years in prison while a female associate, Keiry Geraldina Mallorga Álvarez, was given a 20-year sentence on a charge of complicity.
Seven alleged gang members – Javier Amilcar Fuentes, Daniel Cabrera Flores, Juan Anastacio Jiménez, José Mateo Cruz, Armando Rivera, Carlos Peraza and Salvador Peraza – and a former policeman, Juan Napoleón Espinoza Pérez, were each sentenced to four years in prison on criminal association charges.
The prosecution had requested 50-year jail terms for 30 defendants on charges of aggravated homicide, instigation and conspiracy, and 56 and a half years for Espinoza, the former policeman, on a charge of criminal association. Two other suspects were never found.
The testimony given during the two-day trial and reported in the Salvadoran press should be treated with considerable scepticism. Furthermore, the special court began the trial behind closed doors and did not allow journalists to attend until the second day.
Poveda was accused of breaking his promise to provide financial help to the members of the “Mara 18” gang in exchange for being allowed to film them for 16 months for his documentary, La Vida Loca. The gang also allegedly felt betrayed when a pirated DVD version of the film began circulating. They claimed that Poveda had promised not to release the film in El Salvador and to edit out a couple of scenes that were compromising for some of the gang’s members.
There is no longer any way of establishing whether Poveda really did promise La Vida Loca’s protagonists any financial aid. Claims of this kind are unfortunately often made to discredit a victim. The pirated DVD does not seem to be a credible motive inasmuch as Poveda had no interest in seeing a version of his film circulated and sold without his agreement. Who pirated it and with what purpose are questions that have yet to be answered.
These developments clearly undermined the trust that had previously existed between Poveda and the gang members but fail to account for his murder. According to the prosecution, the decision to kill him was taken when Espinoza, who was then a policeman, told the gang that Poveda was acting a police informer against them. But what motive would Espinoza have for telling the gang this? Another unanswered question.
According to the testimony given in court during the trial, 15 gang members met in a house on the outskirts of the capital on 25 August 2009 and sentenced Poveda to death in his absence. He was asked to come to a meeting five days later but was out of the country. The sentence was finally carried out on 2 September 2009 in La Campanera, the neighbourhood on the outskirts of the capital where La Vida Loca was filmed.
“I have a meeting in La Campanera with four furious crazies,” he told Carole Solive, the film’s producer, and his close friend Alain Mingam, a member of the Reporters Without Borders board, shortly before his death.
Despite its reservations about the outcome of this case, Reporters Without Borders is well aware of the difficulty of combating organized crime and rendering justice in such circumstances. Read the report on organized crime that Reporters Without Borders released on 24 February .