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South America is facing the worst wave of press censorship since the authoritarian military dictatorships of the 1970′s. Several leaders of Latin American countries have introduced mechanisms to censor the freedom of speech and freedom of the press of their citizens.
Journalists working for media organizations are protected under article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “Freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.” This is a fundamental right that gives the ability to have opinions and write about them without having to worry about whether journalists will get into trouble for what they believe.
However, some countries are taking a step backward in regard to free speech, especially in Latin America. According to FORO Nacional Internacional, “Repression and open threats have come from national and sub-national governments and even from criminal organizations. Moreover, the persistence of such pressures often results in media self-censorship, as they abstain from disseminating political views that are critical of powerful government or private interests.”
Human Rights Watch published last year how Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez undermined journalistic freedom of speech. Chavez officially removed the licenses of 32 private radio stations and 2 television channels in 2009 for “technical and administrative reasons.”
Nicaragua is the best example of the reasons behind the desire to limit freedom of speech in many Latin American countries. President Daniel Ortega has forced all private media companies to join a guild that is associated with his Sandinista Party, but few media businesses are still resisting Ortega’s proposal. Ortega limits what type of information is received by his citizens.
Freedom of expression is fragile in Colombia because it is threatened by state and non-state factions, such as the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) guerrilla group and the “Black Eagles,” a paramilitary band.
Catalina Botero, special rapporteur for freedom of expression at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), said to a newspaper in 2010 that “death threats, stigmatization, and spying on journalists by state agencies had led the country to a red alert status.”
Reporters Without Borders (RWB) cited that four journalists have been killed since the start of 2010 in Colombia in connection with their journalistic work. RWB mentioned that, in 2011, the Black Eagles made a campaign threatening the life of five journalists: Hollman Morris (Contravía), Daniel Coronell (Univisión), Marcos Perales (Portada), Claudia Julieta (Radio Nizkor), and Eduardo Márquez, the president of the Colombian Federation of Journalists (FECOLPER). These professionals media activities were spied on and hacked by Colombia’s leading intelligence agency and the Administrative Department of Security which involved the Colombian President Álvaro Uribe with this scandal.
Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries to work as a journalist. Despite the fact that Mexican President Felipe Calderón promised a number of international press monitors in 2010 and a new program to guarantee safety conditions for journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) found that these measures did not work.
According to the CPJ, seven journalists and one media worker were killed in 2011. A total of 80 journalists have been murdered since 2000, and 14 have disappeared since 2003. Even social media as an alternative for journalists to shed light on democracy is threatened by Mexican cartels. For instance, social media journalist Macías Castro was killed last year for her anonymous story on the drug war through social media.
Cuba does not let any independent press operate outside the control of the state. The official media (one television channel, one radio station and two dailies are the official channels to serve propaganda for the regime with just a few Catholic magazines being tolerated. Many Cuban journalists have been forced to publish from Miami and Spain against the regimen.
In general, by monitoring the media, the South American governments have control over all aspects of their citizens’ lives. Governments are able to stop any reports that show the real facts of politicians and is even capable of getting the media to publish false election results to keep the status quo. Censorship is a tyranny mechanism whose practice limits the freedom of speech instead of promoting a real democracy in Latin America.
Image Courtesy of The Israel Project