French filmmaker who exposed Salvador gangs slain
Christian Poveda was found dead near his vehicle on a road north of the capital San Salvador on Wednesday.San Salvador -- Salvadoran police Thursday arrested a man suspected of involvement in the murder a day earlier of a high-profile Franco-Spanish journalist who had been investigating violent drug gangs.
Christian Poveda, 54, was found dead near his vehicle on a road north of the capital San Salvador on Wednesday. An autopsy later confirmed he had been shot in the face four times, police and doctors said.
Poveda was killed just weeks before the release of his latest documentary on violent drug gangs that blight the country. He had been filming in La Campanera, a suburb of El Salvador's capital where gangs known as "maras" pervade.
Investigators said it was not clear if Poveda was the victim of a robbery, or was killed by members of the gangs whose lives he had meticulously documented.
"We can't link his death to any particular hypothesis," said Marco Tulio Lima of the police department's homicide division.
Others said robbery appeared not to have been a motive, since Poveda's car, cameras and recording equipment remained untouched near his body, along with spent nine-millimetre bullet shells.
Police said Thursday they had arrested a person suspected of involvement in Poveda's murder.
"A person has been detained, and we are investigating to determine whether he has any relation to what happened," National Police chief Carlos Ascencio told reporters.
Ascencio said the suspect was detained in the area where the killing occurred, about 15 kilometres (nine miles) northeast of San Salvador between the towns of Apopa and Tonacatepeque, but did not provide details.
Born in France to a family of Spanish origin, Poveda covered El Salvador's 1980-1992 civil war and moved here permanently in 2003. He was married to a Salvadoran woman.
La Vida Loca, his film about the Mara 18 gang, whose heavily-tattooed members engage in drug trafficking and extortion, is set for release in Europe on September 30.
His other documentaries have been broadcast around the world and featured at film festivals.
But his work appeared to have earned him disfavour among some gangs and death threats had been issued against him, according to local media.
"The most probable thing is that he was the victim of one of the gangs he was investigating, a murky underworld that even the local authorities have no handle on," said Jean-Francois Julliard, head of Reporters Without Borders.
El Salvador's President Mauricio Funes, a former journalist who knew Poveda, said he was "dismayed" by the death, which he "strongly condemned."
Funes said he gave "precise instructions" to Justice and Security Minister Manuel Melgar and police chief Asencio over their investigation of the crime.
The murder "has shaken" the country, Funes said, adding that the filmmaker was presenting to the world an "objective" view of gang life.
He said the crime should be "cleared up as quickly as possible" and those responsible "put behind bars," while urging Salvadorans to unite to "combat" the scourge of gang violence.
Attorney General Astor Escalante warned that Poveda may have been cut down by people similar to those he portrayed in his documentaries.
"He had contact with extremely dangerous active gang members," Escalante said.
"It is a sad loss," said Juan Jose Dalton of the Foreign Correspondents Association of El Salvador. "The cruel hand of violence has taken him from us."
Tributes to Poveda poured in from around the world.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists lauded Poveda's "powerful inside look into youth violence in one of Central America's most dangerous regions," and urged authorities to carry out "a prompt and exhaustive inquiry" into his murder.
The French foreign ministry described him as "a great professional who did not hesitate to take great risks in the service of freedom of information."
In Spain, organizers of the San Sebastian Film Festival paid tribute to Poveda, where La Vida Loca was first presented last year.
The festival organizers condemned Poveda's murder and said, "the best tribute that can be done is to see" the film.
Poveda spent 16 months filming in La Campanera to show the drugs deals, thefts, killings and police raids that fill the daily lives of the "maras," gangs who have multiplied in several Central American countries in recent years.
In an interview with AFP in 2008, Poveda said he wanted to draw attention to what he considers a "social phenomenon" and not just a "problem of delinquency."
Alain Mingan, a journalist and friend, paid tribute to "a great professional, widely respected in the world of photojournalism and documentary-making. He wanted to show what remained of humanity in this world of violence, and he has paid the price for it."
The French embassy said his remains would be transferred to Alicante, southern Spain, where his family lives.