Free Press Under Fire in the Americas
South of the border, muzzling journalists is a growing trend.


Deroy Murdock

The channel’s director, Carlos Cerda Acuña, said that it had received threats that its headquarters would be blown up if it did not stop criticizing the government.

Elsewhere, on February 19, someone phoned Luis Galeano, a writer for the Nicaraguan newspaper El Nuevo Diario. The message was simple: “You only have 72 hours to live.”

The same day, someone sent him a letter telling him to stop publishing stories about alleged fraud in the Supreme Electoral Council, which he and a colleague had covered one day earlier. El Nuevo Diario’s editor, Francisco Chamorro, said that this was the third threat Galeano had received in 2011. His physical safety also was challenged when he wrote about suspected corruption at the Finance Ministry.

Also, when El Nuevo Diario criticized corruption at Nicaragua’s Customs agency, this newspaper suddenly encountered delays in receiving imported production supplies that required Customs clearance.

Next stop: Ecuador.

On March 21, President Rafael Correa filed a libel lawsuit against the newspaper El Universo and its executives. Correa apparently disliked an opinion piece that accused him of ordering an attack on a hospital during a September 2010 police revolt. Correa wants $80 million in damages — $30 million from the newspaper and the remaining $50 million to be paid personally by executives Carlos, César, and Nicolás Pérez and by opinion editor Emilio Palacio. Correa also wants these four men to spend three years in prison.

Correa’s litigiousness has become notorious around Latin America.

In February, he sued journalists Juan Carlos Calderón and Christian Zurita over their book El Gran Hermano (Big Brother). It questioned government contracts received by Fabricio Correa — the brother of the president. This lawsuit demands that the journalists pay $10 million.

Correa will make more news on May 7 when Ecuadorians vote on whether to stop news-media owners from possessing other types of businesses — supposedly to prevent conflicts of interest. This ballot measure also would launch an official press council that could censor news coverage or, as the referendum states, make government “a regulator and controller of media content.”

On April 5, President Correa expelled U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges. According to former U.S. diplomat Roger Noriega, who now is with the American Enterprise Institute, “The expulsion of the tough-minded Ambassador Hodges sweeps a potential critic out of the way.”

Argentina is a wonderful country with warm, friendly, fun-loving, highly nocturnal, and carnivorous people — all superb qualities. How sad, then, to add this splendid nation to this list of notorious countries.

Last March 27, members of the left-wing Confederación General del Trabajo (General Confederation of Labor) waved pro-government banners while blockading the joint printing plant of the anti-government newspapers Clarín and La Nación. On at least four earlier occasions, these obstructions have lasted six or more hours, effectively holding entire editions beyond the reach of readers.

In December and January, Argentine civil court judge Gastón Polo Olivera held that the right to demonstrate cannot hinder freedom of the press. He blocked these blockades and ordered Security Minister Nilda Garré to enforce his ruling. Nonetheless, police have let these barricades proceed. Thus, the Inter-American Press Association declared on April 7: “The lack of action by the prosecutors in the investigation of these events has led to an impunity that will undoubtedly become the main factor for the increasing threats.”

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports, President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner is “trying to transform Argentina’s communications industry through a law that would break up media monopolies and force cable TV providers to include channels run by unions, Indians, and other activists.”

Argentina’s most amazing news in this area happened March 29 when the University of La Plata gave its Rodolfo Walsh Journalism Prize to none other than Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

“The prize we are giving is not neutral. It is not aseptic,” Florencia Saintout, dean of the University’s journalism school, explained to Chavez as she bestowed this award on him. “You head a profound process of emancipation in Latin America.” Saintout praised Chavez “for his unquestionable and authentic commitment” to “giving a voice to people who are the least heard from.”