Tag Archives: Bolivia

Assange Latin American supporters major free speech violators

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange remains holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy while his supporters denounce the U.S., the U.K. and Sweden.

Assange’s supporters see him as the champion of free speech and expression and praise Ecuador for “protecting” him. They kinda miss the fact that Ecuador has a horrible record when it comes to freedom of press, speech and expression.

And then came the meeting of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). The organization set up in 2004 by Cuba and Venezuela is hardly a bastion of countries that believe in the values Assange and his followers speak of.

Let’s look at the members of ALBA and their press freedom records:

Country

Freedom House Press Freedom Ranking

Freedom House Political Freedom Ranking

Reporters Without Borders Ranking

Antigua and Barbuda Partly Free Free N/A
Bolivia Partly Free Partly Free Noticeable Problems
Cuba Not Free Not Free Very Serious Problem
Dominica Free Free N/A
Ecuador Partly Free Partly Free Noticeable Problems
Nicaragua Partly Free Partly Free Noticeable Problems
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Free Free N/A
Venezuela Not Free Partly Free Noticeable Problems

And for the record, the United States, the United Kingdom and Sweden are all ranked as FREE politically and with freedom of the press and expression in the Freedom House rankings.

It is ironic that people are so willing to turn a blind eye to the violations of freedom of press, speech and assembly done by Ecuador if it means sticking their fingers in the eyes of the US and UK. Do any of Assange’s supporters really think that he could get away with what he has done and what he advocates in Ecuador? Venezuela? Cuba?

If they do, then they are just as delusional as those on the right who think the world in only 6,000 years old and that rape victims can’t get pregnant.

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Filed under International News Coverage, Press Freedom, South America

Things are getting tougher for journalists in Latin America

It took a long time for journalists to feel secure in Latin America. Between the right-wing and left-wing dictatorships and the private hit squads, freedom of press was a delicate thing in the region.

The 1990s were the best years for press freedom.

And then things started to go bad.

The right-wing dictatorships were gone but new “populist” left wing governments started taking over. And these governments saw the “need” to “guide” the media. In some cases — such as Ecuador and Venezuela — the governments just decided free press was not a luxury the country could afford.

Then there were hit squads from narcos and less-than-reputable local businessmen who did not like reporters poking into their affairs.

The annual Press Freedom Index from Freedom House documents the sorry state of press freedom in the region.

The Fragile State of Media Freedom in Latin America

While I disagree with the Freedom House designation of Honduras as having a “Not Free” press, I can understand why some might think so. The attacks on the media here make life dangerous for journalists.  The only problem is that there is no proof that most of the 24 murders of journalists took place to intimidate the journalists.

To be sure, it is a good assumption, but in some cases there is also indications that the dead journalist could also have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. (After all, Honduras has about 20 murders a day.)

Lots of people — mostly on the left — got upset when President Obama focused on the threat to free media from Ecuador in his Press Freedom Day statement. These people said he should have gone after Honduras.

The difference between Honduras and Ecuador is that the government of Ecuador has a concentrated campaign against independent and free media. While the Honduran government does not.

To me, that is a major difference.

Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Freedom House Project Director of “Freedom of the Press”  sums up the government situation in Latin America nicely:

[In] Bolivia and Ecuador the state has assumed a growing share of media ownership, following the example of Venezuela, where the government has actively subsidized or opened media outlets and then used them to propagate pro-government messages.

The Freedom House charts show the major deterioration of press freedom takes place mostly in countries aligned with Venezuela. Mexico is the only exception.

Journalists in Mexico — like those in Honduras — don’t face official government threats, but rather threats from weak and corrupt government institutions that cannot or will not properly investigate murders. Or corrupt individuals who turn a blind eye to murders committed by narcos and organized crime.

In neither Mexico nor Honduras does the evidence point to a concentrated campaign against journalists. Rather the weakness of the political and social structures make it nigh impossible for the governments to properly investigate and prosecute the murderers.

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Filed under Central America, Corruption, Killings, Mexico, South America

Freedom House: State of media in the world

International Press Freedom day saw Freedom House roll out its annual report on media freedom in the world.

As expected, it had its moments of elation and gloom.

The year 2011 featured precarious but potentially far-reaching gains for media freedom in the Middle East and North Africa. Major steps forward were recorded in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, where longtime dictators were removed after successful popular uprisings. While trends in these countries were not uniformly positive, with important setbacks to democratic prospects in both Egypt and Libya toward year’s end, the magnitude of the improvements—especially in Tunisia and Libya—represented major breakthroughs in a region that has a long history of media control by autocratic leaders. The gains more than offset declines in several other countries in the Middle East. And even the greatest declines, in Bahrain and Syria, reflected the regimes’ alarmed and violent reactions to tenacious protest movements, whose bold demands for greater freedom included calls for a more open media environment.

The numbers are impressive (or depressing, depending on how you look at it).

The report found that only 14.5 percent of the world’s people—or roughly one in six—live in countries where coverage of political news is robust, the safety of journalists is guaranteed, state intrusion in media affairs is minimal, and the press is not subject to onerous legal or economic pressures. Deterioration was also seen in a number of Partly Free media environments, such as Ecuador, Macedonia, Malawi, Uganda, and Ukraine.

And so we come to a real problem. Deterioration is not only about governments imposing their will on journalists but it also comes from many other threats. And, unfortunately, too few people take the time — or are unwilling — to see the difference.

What struck me was the ranking of Honduras as Not Free.

I live there and I have to say the newspapers and broadcast journalists are pretty feisty and independent of government control. (Much to the shock and horror of the Honduran government when critical stories make the rounds.)

So, for Freedom House, the lack of freedom in Honduras does not come from an overt action by the current government. It comes from non-governmental forces. However, Freedom House sees a growing problem in the region from both criminal elements and governments.

Whether due to violence by criminal groups, as in Mexico and Honduras, or government hostility to media criticism, as in Venezuela, Argentina, and Bolivia, media freedom is on the defensive in much of Central and South America.

Journalists in Mexico and Honduras are working very hard to tell the stories about what is happening in their countries. For both places the threat is not from their governments — except for the incompetent nature of those governments to deal with criminal elements and corruption of many government officials — but rather from “private” players. Reporters are threatened and some are killed. (Most recently in Mexico the bodies of three photojournalists were found.) But not by government agents.

In Venezuela and Bolivia the threat is both from the governments and criminal elements.

In Honduras, under the coup government of Micheletti, there was an active and official campaign to harass and detain journalists but that has pretty much stopped under the Lobo government. That does not mean that occasionally Lobo doesn’t say things about press freedom that he quickly regrets. And those statements do make people nervous. But unlike his predecessor — Micheletti — he has not ordered arrests or harassment of journalists.

Honduras also stayed in the Not Free category because of continued harassment and intimidation of journalists. Although fewer journalists were killed than in 2010, self-censorship and a lack of access to information were still problems.

The last sentence is significant and shows a continued problem in Honduras.

The governments of the past have shown little desire to be transparent. And while the Lobo government makes all the right noises about being more transparent it shows little action in that direction. It even failed to send a delegate to the most recent meeting of the Open Government Initiative. (Not a good sign.)

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Filed under Censorship, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Forget politics: FARC is just another narco gang

More proof, as if any more was needed for people not blinded by politics, that the Colombian rebels FARC are nothing more than just another narco gang that has little to do with justice and leftist ideals.

French reporter Romeo Langlois was captured by the FARC as he was accompanying the Colombian military on a series of raids to destroy drug cultivation and production facilities.

Farc rebels ‘holding Romeo Langlois as prisoner of war’

The grabbing of Langlois also shows that the FARC cannot be trusted to hold to their word. Back in February the organization said they would be foregoing kidnapping as a regular part of their “revolutionary” acts.

Originally set up as a revolutionary army back in the early 1960s, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia evolved into nothing more than a group of thugs who first hired themselves out to the famous Colombian cartels as bodyguards and security forces. They later began running their own drug cultivation, processing and smuggling operations.

But they always kept up the radical rhetoric and sucked in people around the world who refused to see the change that took place.

Among the supporters of FARC are Venezuela and Ecuador. Presidents Chavez and Correa have repeatedly voiced their support for FARC as a legitimate revolutionary organization. The two leaders even arranged for training and finances for FARC operatives.

The capture of a FARC leader a few years ago included computers. The decrypted files showed letters from FARC’s leaders to Chavez as well as memos to FARC leadership describing diplomatic initiatives involving senior officials of Ecuador.

The FARC is facing fewer supporters in Colombia as the government moves aggressively against drug operations. That leaves Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia as the last group of real supporters. So it is no surprise that more and more of the drug planes, boats and submarines are tracked back to those three countries.

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Filed under Corruption, International News Coverage, South America

New law limits free speech in Bolivia

Thanks to IFEX for circulating a report from Bolivia.

Journalists protest against controversial anti-racism law

Seems the Bolivian congress — at the urging of President Evo Morales — enacted the new law that takes effect January 1.

Morales said the Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination will reverse centuries of discrimination against the country’s indigenous majority.

Unfortunately it also threatens to shut down news organizations for doing their jobs.

Article 16 says that “any media outlet that endorses or publishes racist or discriminatory ideas will be liable to economic sanctions and the suspension of its operating license.”

Article 23 stipulates that when a crime is committed by a journalist or the owner of a media outlet, the individual will face “a prison sentence of one to five years” and “will not be able to claim immunity or any other privilege.”

The journalism and free speech groups in Bolivia have argued against the wide scope of the law from the very beginning.

In the latest protest against the action, journalists and other news media workers went on strike for 24 hours October 1. Some have even started a hunger strike.

On the day before the law was approved by the congress and signed by Morales — October 7 — 17 major newspapers across the country made a last-ditch plea for amendments to the law. They published their front pages blank, except for the message “No democracy without freedom of expression”.

In response to the protests of the media, Morales said there would be no amendments to the law. He then said press organizations will be invited to a discussion on how to implement the law. He said in an earlier press conference that freedom of expression was still protected but not if it is used as a pretext for racism.

To be honest, this is not surprising.

Morales takes his cues from his buddy Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Both use laws and executive actions they say are designed to correct a previous injustice to silence critics.

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Filed under Freedom of access, Harassment, South America