Sign up for PM Award Updates!

French Journalist Murdered Covering Violence in El Salvador

September 8, 2009

Christian Poveda, a 53-year-old French photojournalist and filmmaker, was killed on September 2 in El Salvador, a victim of the rampant violence he had hoped to help bring to an end.

Poveda first went to El Salvador in the early 1980s, to cover the Central American country’s long, bloody civil war as a photojournalist. He returned after the armed conflict was over to document the brutality and poverty faced by members of street gangs, particularly the Mara 18 and rival Mara Salvatrucha gangs, which “make up a huge criminal network that runs from Los Angeles, where a diaspora of Salvadoreans lives, down through chunks of Central America.” He spent 16 months filming the gangs for his film La Vida Loca, a disturbing documentary which won entry and awards in many high-profile South and Central American film festivals. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times in April, Poveda said that while the gang members could be “savage,” they were “people of their word” and “victims of society,” and that he was not frightened of them.

But while touring his film in El Salvador last week, he was found dead in his car, having been shot in the head, in the rural region of Tonacatepeque. Salvadoran police vowed to work “tirelessly” to find the killer or killers, although – as Poveda’s film showed – anonymous gang murders in the country often go unsolved by the overworked police force.

The son of Spanish Republicans who sought refuge in France, Poveda reported from Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship, and during the civil wars of the 1980s in Nicaragua and El Salvador. “Christian Poveda was a respected journalist; a professional who never hesitated to take great risks in the name of freedom of information,” said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.