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2004-11-22

The Killing of Ricardo Ortega: Witnesses Say U.S. Marines Fatally Shot Spanish Journalist in Haiti

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We speak with Spanish journalist Jesus Martin who traveled to Haiti earlier this year to pay tribute to his slain friend and colleague, Ricardo Ortega, who was fatally shot in the chest while he was covering a street protest. He says Ortega was probably killed by American marines–not by supporters of Haitian president Aristide, as had been claimed officially. [includes rush transcript]

On March 7th of this year, as the coup against Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide took shape, journalist Ricardo Ortega fell to the ground as he covered street protests in Port Au Prince. He had been fatally shot in the chest. His last words, as he was loaded onto a truck with other wounded, were "I cannot breathe." It was reported at the time that he had been shot by Aristide supporters.

Ricardo was in Haiti as a freelance journalist, after being dismissed as New York correspondent for the Spanish TV station Antena 3, which had ties to the former government of Jose Maria Aznar. The reporter told friends that he was dismissed after the government complained to his superiors that his reports of the Bush administration were too critical.

Months after the death of Ricardo Ortega, his friend and colleague Jesús Martin traveled to Haiti with a crew to film a program paying tribute to his friend. But as they began to interview the witnesses to Ricardo’s killing, they were shocked to learn that he was probably killed by American marines, and not by supporters of Aristide, as had been claimed officially. Witness after witness described the arrival of a contingent of Marines on the scene, and the subsequent gunfire that came from their direction and struck the reporter. The witnesses complained that no-one had ever contacted them to find out what happened, and that no investigation had ever been conducted into the killing of Ricardo Ortega.

  • Jesus Martin, a journalist with the national Spanish TV network Antena 3. He conducted the investigation into the death of his friend of Ricardo Ortega.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We welcome you Jesus Martin, to Democracy Now! Reporter also with the Spanish TV network Antenna Tres, who went to investigate what happened to Ricardo Ortega. Welcome.

JESUS MARTIN: Yes. We went to Haiti in September this year, trying to know what had happened with our colleague, Ricardo Ortega. In the beginning, everybody felt that he was shot in the demonstration in the streets of Port Au Prince, but we discovered that he was shot an hour later. He was trying to know what happened with an American journalist and an American photographer working for The Sun Sentinel, the southern Florida newspaper he was working with. He was trapped in a small yard with the rest of the journalists. They are all — they were all trying to get help from the American embassy in Haiti, and they were waiting for the arrival of the marines, and the regular ambulance to help the journalists, and that was hard. When they — when the Haitian people who were there heard that there was a helicopter flying over the yard, there were cars arriving to the yard, they said they were Americans. The Americans were there, and then Ricardo came out from his — from the place where he was, and at that moment, was shot. His last words were — they are here. They were trying to say to the other people that the Americans were there. Then we have what — we were speaking with the people working in the yard, and this person living there said to us that he saw everything, and he saw an American car going up to the — from the — through the main street and a second car and a third car where the Americans — an American soldier and marine with a big gun turn the gun to the — into the yard and shot several times. At that moment, Ricardo was shot.

AMY GOODMAN: So, where is the story? That he was killed by Aristide supporters, where did it come from?

JESUS MARTIN: Because there was some Aristide militant — pro militants in the area, but pro Aristide militants were in the other part of the street. They were behind Ricardo, and they were on the roofs of the area, and at that moment, they provided militants — the militants were not — they were not there. I mean, they have disappeared.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you expect to find the story when you left in September?

JESUS MARTIN: No

AMY GOODMAN: Were you doing an investigation of his death, or just there to pay tribute?

JESUS MARTIN: We were trying to know what had had happened, but our final aim was to pay tribute to our colleagues. We were trying to make a story about his life. His journalistic life, and starting from Haiti, where he had been shot, and I — we found that we made our report about our main story from that moment was the killing of Ricardo by an American soldier.

AMY GOODMAN: You report really just hair aired a few weeks ago, your television report across Spain. What kind of response has it gotten?

JESUS MARTIN: There’s been no response at all. It’s very small; just a few magazines have said something about it. We don’t understand what has happen, and that —

AMY GOODMAN: And what is the U.S. government saying? What do the marines say?

JESUS MARTIN: We don’t have any response from them.

AMY GOODMAN: And I was just speaking with El Pais reporter from Spain, a close friend of Ricardo, and he was saying how Ricardo, when he was of covering the United Nations in the lead up to the invasion was exposing a lot about general Colin Powell, the Secretary of State’s speech when he talked about the mobile units carrying weapons of mass destruction, that he was saying that these look looked like Lego trucks and he didn’t believe it for a moment, not just because of his instinct but because he had sources and he was getting nervous — his station was nervous. They were doing the reports live on the air. That’s why he was ultimately was relieved of his being a correspondent at the UN. Is this true?

JESUS MARTIN: Yes. This is completely true. He was reporting live from the door of the United Nations, and he said that it was not possible to believe what Colin Powell was saying. He said something very — was very ironic, and saying that first you have to believe that the CIA always tells the truth. Something like that. It was very ironic and very — I don’t know how to — he always said what he wanted and he was a little bit of — not very good for the government at that moment.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, he — they couldn’t fire him because he was so well known, he had such a reputation, but put on leave, but he was still reporting for Antenna Tres as well as La Clave, a magazine in Haiti he was contracted with?

JESUS MARTIN: Yes. He had been dismissed from the New York correspondent, and but he was living in New York all this time. He was working — waiting for the possibility of coming back to Spain or working for another company. When he went to Haiti he had to stop his permissions, and then he was again working for an international television. He wasn’t a freelance at that moment.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you calling for right now? You have done the investigation. You believe it’s the U.S. Marines who killed your colleague, Ricardo Ortega. Right now, President Aristide is in exile in South Africa. And it looks like the U.S.-backed government in Haiti, Latortue, is calling for President Aristide’s arrest. It will soon be official. What is your response?

JESUS MARTIN: My response about that, I really don’t know what is going to happen in Haiti. The only thing I can say about the killing of our colleague, they are trying to let everybody know what happened in Haiti. We are trying to work — we are trying to tell the Spanish government that it is necessary to do something. To open the investigation or something, but it’s something that happened there, we are almost sure that he was shot by an American soldier.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Jesus Martin, journalist with the national Spanish TV network, Antenna 3. We will continue to follow the story of Ricardo Ortega and what happened to him in Haiti.

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