Tag Archives: Latin America

Criminal Defamation Laws in the Americas

This item was first posted at Journalism and the World.

The Committee to Protect Journalists along with the Thomson Reuters Foundation released a study that all but one country in the Americas have criminal defamation laws that can be used against journalists to suppress freedom of expression.

All but one country in Americas criminalize defamation

Laws that can be used against journalists include defamation, libel, calumny, or making false charges, and “desacato” offenses that refer to insulting or offending the state or state officials.

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Filed under International News Coverage, South America

Mexican media still threatened by gangs

Washington Post reporter Dana Priest has an excellent piece on the threats Mexican journalists face everyday: Censor or die: The death of Mexican news in the age of drug cartels

For anyone who has paid attention to what is going on in Mexico, this is not news, but confirmation that the war against the cartels is not going so well in Mexico.

The Mexican media was just getting out from under the thumb of the oddly named Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)  that ran Mexico for most of its 100+ years. A breakdown in the control PRI had meant journalists could start actually being journalists instead of stenographers for the government.

Then the cartels started gaining strength — with the help of corrupt national and local officials.

Suddenly the threats to free and independent journalism was no longer the loss of a job, but death.

As Priest notes:

Submitting to cartel demands is the only way to survive, said Hildebrando “Brando” Deandar Ayala, 39, editor in chief of El Mañana, one of the oldest and largest newspapers in the region with a print circulation of 30,000. “You do it or you die, and nobody wants to die,” he said. “Auto censura — self-censorship — that’s our shield.”

Just some items from the past 10 years:

In Mexico, as in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the issue is not government censorship but death threats from criminal cartels. The inability of the governments to address the issue speaks volumes about the corruption and weak legal systems in these countries.

To be clear though, it does not mean the governments have a policy of media repression. Too many observers of Latin America see any attacks on journalists — or civic society activists — as being ordered by the local or national government. Unfortunately the threats are essentially from the “private sector” — the cartels. The law enforcement systems in these countries are so weak that the threats against journalists — and civic society activists — either are not investigated or such a weak case is built against the murderers that they go free.

This impunity cartels enjoy can only be stopped if the governments are provided enough support and help to fight back. That is why cutting support to programs that seek to build stronger legal systems is not the way to go. (But tell that to a handful of Congress critters and US-based activists.)

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Filed under Censorship, International News Coverage, Killings, Mexico

Another Honduran journalist slain

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports another journalist murder in Honduras: Television station owner gunned down in Honduras.

Carlos Lauria, CPJ senior program coordinator for the Americas has it right:

“Honduras has a disturbing pattern of letting journalists’ murders remain unsolved and unexplained, perpetuating the cycle of impunity. Honduran authorities must launch an immediate and thorough investigation into the murder of Reynaldo Paz Mayes, fully examine all possible motives, and bring those responsible to justice.”

Part of the problem fully investigating the deaths of journalists — and taxi drivers and lawyers and anyone else — is that the Honduran government does not have well-trained law enforcement officers.

Some of that is changing, thanks to the US, Colombia, the EU and other countries. Together these countries are training special squads of police and prosecutors to seriously investigate crimes and to go where the evidence takes them.

Unfortunately, there are still too few of these trained (and vetted) investigators. But the number is growing.

Another problem is the rhetoric once a journalist is killed.

In the case of Paz, he had no background as a journalist. He was a political activist who set up his television station a couple of years ago to air stories and commentaries against the current government of Honduras. (Unlike, US stations, Honduran TV and radio stations are highly partisan.)

Paz received threats for his comments. So when he was killed, the immediate reaction from others also opposed to the Hernandez government was that Paz was killed for his political beliefs.

Juan Ramón Flores, owner of the television station CTV Canal 48 and president of the city chapter of  [the opposition party] LIBRE, told CPJ that Paz had received threats for years in connection with his political beliefs and, most recently, in relation to his on-air criticism of President Juan Orlando Hernández, who he accused of having undue influence over all branches of government. Flores said the most recent threats had been made in anonymous phone calls the week before the shooting. Paz had talked about the threats on his program, Flores said.

Other journalists in Comayagua, where Paz had his station, say they are not convinced he was killed because of his political views.

Without a doubt there are ethical and courageous journalists who have been killed because of their adherence to the idea of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. They thrived on exposing the pandemic corruption in Honduras. They saw their mission as one to let the disinfecting light of truth help clean up Honduran politics and society.

And many of these journalists were killed because of their dedication to their craft.

However, too often many of the journalists killed in the past few years in Honduras may not have been slain because they were journalists but because of other factors in their lives.

The pay really sucks for Honduran journalists, so some have side businesses. Maybe a stall in a weekend market, or maybe a small store. Unfortunately for Honduras, extortion of vendors and merchants is wide-spread. Gangs demand a “war tax” from companies and many market vendors.

Refusal to pay the “war tax” is often enough of an excuse for gangs to kill someone.

In at least one case, the murder may have been a case of mistake identity.

There are also situations that can best be described as “wrong place, wrong time.” A journalist is in a bar or restaurant just as any normal person would be. And maybe, a gang leader is also in the same bar or restaurant, completely unrelated to the journalist being there. Rival gangs have been known to just spray a place with gunfire to get the one gang leader they were looking for. (Thankfully, these types of killings were few and far between. And now seem to have abated completely.)

When threats seem to come to journalist for their political comments, it is often because the journalist is looking into a local political leader who is in the hip pocket of a local narco. So the threat is not based on liberal v. conservative views but rather on the potential damage to a lucrative financial arrangement between a crooked politician and a drug dealer. And then, the murder is handled by the narco, not the politician. (Think of the Mexico situation, where — according to reports — a corrupt mayor handed over 43 students to the local narco.)

Politics has little to do with the threat. It is all about the money and the power.

Complaints by a local media outlet of the overreaching power of the national government are an annoyance, but not one that would lead to the killing of a journalist.

Will we ever know why Paz and most of the other murdered journalists were killed? I doubt it.

Again, because of the poor quality of criminal investigation in the country, we may never be able to get to the whole story about these murders. And if the funding and support for the special investigative units is cut — as many in the US opposed to the current Honduran government argue — we may never know.

The threats to the funding of training and vetting of honest police and prosecutors comes from the very people who scream the loudest about the poor system of justice in Honduras. If the U.S., Colombia and the EU withdraw their funding and training, there is little hope for full and fair investigations and prosecutions of murders.

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Filed under Central America, Corruption, Honduras, Killings

Connecting corruption and traffic lights

I really like it when experts (and journalists) take a complicated issue and connect it to something John and Jane Doe on Main Street can understand.

And Alejandro Salas, Regional Director for the Americas at Transparency International, has done just that: CPI 2013: TRAFFIC LIGHTS IN THE AMERICAS – LIFESAVERS OR URBAN DECORATIONS?

Salas notes that in Latin America there are some pretty tough traffic laws and really draconian laws against corrupt practices. And yet in most of Latin America a red light is a suggestion to stop rather than a command. Likewise, business and government officials see the need to engage in corrupt practices because, “it is the way to get things done” thus making the anti-corruption laws suggestions rather than anything that should be enforced.

If you look at the Transparency International Corruption Index for 2013, you can see a correlation between corruption and traffic deaths, granted not a perfect 1:1 but enough to draw some useful conclusions.

Country TI Ranking Deaths per 100,000
Canada 9 6.8
United States 19 11.4
Uruguay 19 21.5
Costa Rica 49 12.7
Brazil 72 22.5
Peru 83 15.9
El Salvador 83 21.9
Ecuador 102 27.0
Argentina 106 12.6
Dominican Republic 123 41.7
Honduras 140 18.8
Venezuela                160 37.2

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Filed under Connections, Corruption

CPJ honors Ecuadoran journalist in free press fight

The government of Ecuador — like those of Venezuela and Bolivia — has no great love for an independent and free press.

This week The Committee to Protect Journalists honored television anchor, radio host, and reporter Janet Hinostroza from Ecuador for her work in opposing the government’s efforts to stifle independent media. Also honored with the International Press Freedom Award were  Nguyen Van Hai (Dieu Cay, Vietnam), Nedim Şener (Posta, Turkey), and Bassem Youssef (Capital Broadcast Center, Egypt).

Here is an interview with Hinostroza: Fighting for press freedom in Ecuador

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Filed under Censorship, Press Freedom, South America

Why it matters when a country is heading for collapse

Fareed Zakaria did a great piece today (Sunday, Nov. 17) on how the Venezuelan government is doing everything on the “how to destroy an economy” check list.

Five ways to ruin an economy

Here is the conclusion. (Read or view the whole piece. It is excellent analysis.)

Venezuela is on a fast-track to total ruin. The world saw this coming under Chavez. We hoped for change, but in his dying days Chavez handpicked a “mini-me” to stay the course. The sad truth is that Venezuela is wasting the world’s largest oil reserves. It could have been as wealthy as Saudi Arabia or Qatar. It could have outstripped Mexico or Brazil. Instead, it is beginning to resemble North Korea, simply by following the most ruinous set of policies in the world.

Click here to see full video.

But why should Americans care — other than for humanitarian concerns for human rights?

The bottom line is trade/jobs and regional stability.

On trade,

  • Venezuela was the United States’ 26th largest goods export market in 2011.
  • The top export categories in 2011 were: Machinery ($3.0 billion), Electrical Machinery ($1.7 billion), Organic Chemicals ($1.3 billion), Optic and Medical Instruments ($810 million), and Vehicles ($682 million).
  • The five largest import categories in 2011 were: Mineral Fuel and Oil (crude) ($42.0 billion), Organic Chemicals ($309 million), Iron and Steel ($263 million), Aluminum ($169 million), and Fertilizers ($152 million).

Looking at this shows that Venezuela buys American finished products while  the US buys natural resources. Finished products — machinery, vehicles, etc — mean high-paying quality jobs.

The top five U.S. states that export to Venezuela include the ones you might think, Texas, Florida and Louisiana (Numbers 1-3.) But Number 4 is Michigan and Number 5 is California. A collapse of the Venezuelan economy could mean more joblessness across the USA.

On regional stability, let’s face it, fighting the transportation of illegal drugs is a key component. And Venezuela is the major source for the shipping of drugs to North America and Europe. (Venezuela: Where the Traffickers Wear Military Uniforms)

There are also humanitarian and business issues.

With jobs across the United States at risk and humanitarian concerns growing, more and proper coverage of Venezuela is needed.

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Filed under International News Coverage, South America, Story Ideas, Trade

FARC: Rebels or just thugs

The latest news of the narco-trafficking operation known as FARC in Colombia is that the Colombian government revealed FARC was planning to kill former president Alvaro Uribe. (Colombia uncovers Farc plot to kill ex-president Uribe)

The BBC — and most media outlets — call FARC a “rebel” organization. 

The definition of “rebel” is pretty straight forward: 

“a person who rises in opposition or armed resistance against an established government or ruler.”

Synonyms for the word include: revolutionary, insurgent, revolutionist, mutineer, insurrectionist, insurrectionary, guerrilla, terrorist, freedom fighter.

Now it is true that the FARC have no love for the form of government in Colombia. In fact, they seem to despise any government as much as the Zetas in Mexico or the 18th Street gang in Honduras. 

It is true that FARC started as a political military organization. But the facts are that they are now nothing more than just another narco-trafficking gang looking to consolidate its power through violence and corruption. 

Giving them the title of “rebel” seems to legitimize their actions, or at least excuse them for political reasons.

So, I kind of wish journalists would call the FARC what they are instead of allowing them to come off as some sort of freedom fighters. The form of government they are fighting is democracy. Their actions show them to be just another gang looking to make money and corrupt legal systems.

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Filed under Corruption, International News Coverage, South America