How One Woman Is Using The Media To Expose Corruption In Guatemala

Sylvia Gereda, a founder of El Periodico, the first independent newspaper in Guatemala, is making sure her country has the benefit of a free and vigorous press. We heard Gereda speak this past weekend at the Aspen Global Leadership Summit.

Guatemala's El Periodico

Journalism is perhaps the best tool for exposing corruption; once corrupt institutions are shoved into the spotlight, they tend to shrink back. But while some of us in the U.S. take quality investigative journalism for granted, real reporting isn’t easy to come by in other countries. Enter Sylvia Gereda, one of the founders of Guatemala’s first independent newspaper.


El Periodico was started 1996, just as Guatemala was emerging from a 30-year civil war. Since its inception, the paper has investigated abuses of power (rampant in the country), and it was instrumental in pinpointing former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo in a money laundering scheme.

Gereda’s work has not come without risk. had the chance to hear Gereda speak at this week’s Aspen Global Leadership Summit at the Aspen Institute, where the journalist recounted one evening when she was walking by herself and someone put a gun to her head, saying they would kill her if she continued to publish damning information about the president.

Sylvia Gereda

But Gereda didn’t quit. She is currently attempting to find the stories behind drug trafficking in the country. Three-quarters of all the cocaine that ends up in the U.S. passes through Guatemala each year, and 40% of the country’s 6,200 murders in 2008 were related in some way to drug trafficking.

The journalist also recently launched Switch, a magazine insert in El Periodico that is designed to offer role models to Guatemalan youth. And that’s not all–Gereda’s other new venture is Informe Especial, the first investigative journalism television show in Guatemala. A sample topic: femicide (Guatemala ranks second in violent homicides of women). Gereda says that her new challenge is “to be with people, to touch the misery.” Because if the mainstream media in the U.S.–and elsewhere–isn’t going to do it, somebody has to.

[Image: Top: Flickr user catorze14; Bottom: Aspen Insitute]

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more