José Rubén Zamora, tireless defender of the truth in Guatemala, receives the 2024 Gabo Award for Excellence

José Rubén Zamora, tireless defender of the truth in Guatemala, receives the 2024 Gabo Award for Excellence

  • José Rubén Zamora has been imprisoned since July 29, 2022 under false accusations of money laundering. He will be the grand honoree at the 2024 Gabo Award ceremony during the 12th Gabo Festival in Bogotá, Colombia.
  • With this award, the Governing Council of the Gabo Award aims to honor the 30-year career of the founder and director of Guatemala’s most important investigative media outlet, and to call for the defense of good journalism, embodied by Zamora.

The Gabo Foundation announces Guatemalan journalist José Rubén Zamora, founder and editor of elPeriódico, as the winner of the 2024 Gabo Award for Excellence for his more than three decades of tenacious and courageous professional work dedicated to uncovering the corruption and human rights abuses that have plagued Guatemala.

The Gabo Award’s Governing Council—composed of 13 prominent journalists, writers, and academics—decided to grant this award to Zamora because he is considered to be “the paradigm of an investigative journalist and possibly the ultimate symbol of the fight against corruption in Latin American journalism,” as stated in the report justifying the Governing Council’s decision. 

The Gabo Award’s Governing Council emphasized that this recognition “goes far beyond this individual; he is a symbol of the democratic crossroads that Guatemala and other Latin American countries are facing. It is a fervent call to seek new ways to protect freedom of the press in our societies and to vindicate good journalism, an integral aspect of democratic life,” which José Rubén Zamora “emblematically represents.”

ElPeriódico, which Zamora founded in 1996, was the result of a great personal effort to create an alternative source of information that was different from the long-standing Guatemalan media outlets. The impartial position of the media and its head-on approach in reporting corruption and pointing out responsibilities led to a number of animosities. As a result, his house and the premises of elPeriódico were raided and Zamora was arrested. 

Zamora has been in prison since July 29, 2022. During the first 17 months, he was subjected to inhumane conditions and was sentenced in a controversial trial—condemned by international organizations for “numerous violations of international and regional norms”—to six years in prison for money laundering. His bank accounts were frozen, and without money, elPeriódico—described by the Governing Council as “the most important media outlet in Guatemala’s recent history”—shut down in May 2023.

Three decades of courageous journalism

José Rubén Zamora, born on August 19, 1956, comes from a family with a remarkable legacy in journalism. His grandfather, Clemente Marroquín, stood out as a journalist in the 1920s and was the founder of the daily newspaper La Hora. Alarmed by the attacks and persecutions suffered by his grandfather, Zamora chose to distance himself from the media and focus on his studies in industrial engineering, and later in banking and finance.

However, the encouragement of one of his many cousins active in journalism led him to direct his first media outlet, Telenoticiero Siete Días, between 1988 and 1989. In 1990, he founded Siglo Veintiuno, the first investigative journalism media outlet in Guatemala. For six years, he led and financed this project with backing from businesses; however, they later withdrew their support after Zamora exposed the military’s abuses and human rights violations.

Siglo Veintiuno‘s revelations reached beyond Guatemala’s borders and provoked confrontations with government censorship, as well as kidnappings, beatings, and attacks. After President Jorge Serrano Elías attempted a self-coup in May 1993, a resistance movement spearheaded by Siglo Veintiuno’s claims led to his overthrow. José Rubén Zamora’s rigorous and courageous work overseeing this media outlet was recognized internationally, being awarded the María Moors Cabot Award and the CPJ International Press Freedom Award in 1995. He was also named one of the 50 “World Press Freedom Heroes” by the International Press Institute five years later.

Along these same lines, since its inception, elPeriódico marked its independence by boldly confronting corruption and its perpetrators, becoming a benchmark of Guatemalan journalism, tirelessly reporting the crimes of corrupt power as well as civil war crimes for nearly 27 years.

During Alejandro Giammattei’s administration (2020-2024), Zamora published more than 200 journalistic investigations that revealed the alarming level of corruption in Guatemala, even involving people in the president’s inner circle. Some of these investigations were presented in El Peladero, a column that—although written with a humorous tone—maintained a rigorous commitment to the truth and reporting the abuse of power.

As corruption and abuses intensified, animosity towards Zamora and elPeriódico, as well as other courageous journalists and media outlets, increased. Zamora paid the price for being the symbol of good Guatemalan journalism when a corrupt Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a warrant for his arrest and trial.

By winning the 2024 Gabo Award for Excellence, Zamora joins a group of exemplary professionals who have also received the award since its creation in 2013: Giannina Segnini (2013), Javier Darío Restrepo and Marcela Turati (2014), Dorrit Harazim (2015), the El Faro team (2016), Jorge Ramos (2017), Ignacio Escolar (2018), Jesús Abad Colorado (2019), the Radio Cooperativa team (2020), Pedro X. Molina (2021), Juan Villoro (2022), and Jennifer Ávila (2023).

About the Gabo Award for Excellence

Every year, the Governing Council of the Gabo Foundation chooses a journalist or journalistic team known for their independence, integrity, and commitment to the ideals of public service journalism and who deserves to be highlighted as an example, either for his or her career as a whole or for an exceptional contribution to the search for truth and the advancement of journalism.

As of March 2023, the Governing Council is made up of the following members: Rosental Alves (Brazil), Jon Lee Anderson (United States), Carmen Aristegui (Mexico), Martín Caparrós (Argentina), Carlos Fernando Chamorro (Nicaragua), María Jesús Espinosa de los Monteros (Spain), Héctor Feliciano (Puerto Rico), Mónica González (Chile), Leila Guerriero (Argentina), Sergio Ramírez (Nicaragua), Germán Rey (Colombia), Luz Mely Reyes (Venezuela), and Natalia Viana (Brazil).

More about the Gabo Award

The Gabo Award is organized by the Gabo Foundation in order to encourage the pursuit of excellence, innovation, and ethical coherence in journalism, inspired by the ideals and works of Gabriel García Márquez. The Gabo Award is made possible thanks to Bancolombia groups and SURA and their affiliates in Latin America. To keep up to date with the latest news about the Gabo Award, you can subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on our social media networks: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.