Monday, August 3, 2015

Press Freedom in Latin America (August 3, 2015)


Last week, the US Congress highlighted 'Threats to Press Freedom in the Americas' in a subcommittee hearing that included presentations from Freedom House, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Inter-American Press Association, El Universo in Ecuador, and the Dallas Morning News. "The panelists called upon the US Congress to persuade the executive branch of the government to have a stronger voice in these issues: “There are legal dictatorships in place today. We need to look back at the Inter-American Democratic Charter. It is in place now, it is enforceable now," according to a summary of the hearings by the Wilson Center.  Alfredo Corchado, the Mexico correspondent for the Dallas Morning News, said that "there are many places in Mexico, many regions that are known as ‘zonas silencios’, zones of silence, where people say nothing, know nothing, and that doesn’t help democracy," said according to the Congressional hearing by PRI.

According to Freedom House's 2015 report, Freedom of the Press (32pp), only 43% of the countries in the Americas are ranked as having ‘free’ press. The remaining countries fall in the range of ‘partly free’ (43%) and ‘not free’ (14%) (see p. 9 of their report). 

The murder over the weekend of Mexican photojournalist Ruben Espinosa, highlights the precarious nature of being a journalist in the Americas. Espinosa, who worked for the investigative magazine Proceso, continues to gain attention, according to the NY Times and the Guardian. (for updates, follow #RubénEspinosa). He was likely tortured first, and was one of five killed in Narvarte, district ("colonia") of the D.F., where he had fled because of harassment in the state he covered. Proceso's profile of their own journalist (he worked for two other agencies as well) said that he quit working in pr for several politicians after seeing too much violence and has focused on covering social movements since. "Mexico City's attorney general appeared more eager to examine any motive for Rubén Espinosa's murder except for the threats he received while working as a photojournalist in Veracruz," according to the Associated Press. And the LA Times offers details on how dangerous it is to be a reporter in Mexico.

A heretofore unknown group in Ecuador, la Frente de Liberación Nacional, attacked two newspapers with home-made bombs in Guayaquil, including the government run El Telégrafo, according to the PanAm Post and El Tiempo.

  • Extrajudicial executions at the hands of police officials are frequent in Brazil, according to 'You Killed My Son: Homicides By Military Police in the City of Rio de Janeiro (92pp),' a report released this morning by Amnesty International. The report focuses on a series of cases of police killings that occurred during 2014 and 2015 in the city of Rio de Janeiro, particularly in the favela of Acari. "In the context of the so-called 'war on drugs', military police forces have unnecessarily and excessively used lethal force, resulting in the deaths of thousands of people over the past decade, according to the press release. Amnistia Brasil's 90-second video connects this issue directly with the upcoming Olympics and asks, 'Are We Ready?'
  • In 2011 Brazil enacted a Freedom of Information Law and a new report tries to answer ‘to what degree are Brazilian public entities complying with the obligations set forth in the law?’ The recently established Transparency Audit Network published The Brazilian State and Transparency Evaluating Compliance with Freedom of Information (136pp), which includes two audits of Brazil's government: the first is a large 55-question general assessment of federal, state, and municipal compliance with transparency statutes. The second audit (starting on p. 76 of the report) is an 8-question assessment of the judiciary, focusing primarily on the remuneration of judges.  "For the General Audit, which involved over 500 unique freedom of information requests, the overall response rate was 69%, the overall accuracy rate, 57%, and the average response time was 21 days. The state of Rio de Janeiro and the municipality of Rio de Janeiro exhibited an alarmingly low rate of compliance, with response rates of 27% and 38% respectively."  The Network is supported by the Open Society Foundation and the Fundação Getúlio Vargas.
  • Toronto's Globe & Mail publishes a lengthy essay on race and ethnicity in Brazil, full of history, policy, and more. The highlight might be the 3-minute video which gives individual Brazilians the opportunity not only to self-identify who they are but also the complexities (and perhaps absurdities) to these classifications.
  • Jose Dirceu, a minister under President Lula, is now the most senior member of the ruling Workers' Party to be arrested in the Petrobras probe, according to Folha do Sao Paulo and Reuters. Dirceu was already under house detention for conducting a vote-buying scheme during Lula's government.
  • Mexico's president Peña Nieto's poll numbers are at an all time low, according to El Daily Post. Helping this slump are continued allegations of corruption against First Lady Angélica Rivera, according to an investigation by NPR which has "obtained all public documents registered to the first lady's house located in one of the capital's most exclusive neighborhoods."
  • El Chapo's escape from prison is reviewed in an investigative piece by Proceso magazine which highlights the "contradictions and falsehoods" made by the government related to this affair. And 24 hours after his extradition to the U.S. was approved, it was ("temporarily") suspended, according to Reuters.
  • New research shows that providing context for human rights issues yields a broader range of responses to peace talks in Colombia, according to an essay in Open Democracy (written by Jennifer McCoy, Ryan Carlin and Jelena Subotic. This is an updated survey from what the authors published a year ago. (They are co-editors of the new book, The Latin American Voter (Univ of Michigan, 2015; available on Amazon at the end of August).
  • As another cycle of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC winds up in Havana, the para-military group has announced hopes to get an audience with Pope Francis during his upcoming September visit to Colombia, according to El Espectador. A new poll in El Espectador shows that 69% of Colombians are pessimists over the dialogue; that 81% are uneasy about the FARC's intentions.
  • El Espectador reviews the status of gay marriage in Colombia through profiles of Senator Claudia López and Congresswoman Angélica Lozano, a gay couple, each elected by the Green Party in 2014.  Electoral law does not allow people who are married to be elected to Congress from the same party.
  • "It is time to lift the Cuban embargo", argues an editorial in this morning's NY Times. "In 1962, the year Bob Dylan released his first album, Marilyn Monroe died of an overdose and Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, the American government began imposing an economic embargo on Cuba in an effort to subvert Fidel Castro." The article cites a recent essay by Marriott’s CEO on 'Why Now Is the Moment to Embrace Business in Cuba.' Still, an oped in the Miami Herald argues quite the opposite, and Mary O'Grady's column in the Wall St Journal says that Hillary Clinton (a proponent for quitting the embargo) should "read up on the Castros." Separately, on Friday, the US envoy to UN, Samantha Power made the first visit by an American ambassador to the United Nations to Cuba's U.N. Mission in over a half-century, according to the Associated Press.
  • The Peruvian government has rescued more people, including children, being held as forced labor by the Shining Path according to El Comercio. One difference from the group set free a week ago is that this group is reported as not being in good health. 
  • "The bodies of Guatemalan children have been put into mass graves after being removed from burial niches because their parents could not - or forgot - to pay the upkeep fee," according to a NY Times blog. "Guatemala’s mind-numbingly high levels of violence have created an unceasing demand for new burial spaces."
  • Venezuela received a US$5 billion loan from China, according to Reuters, as part of an oil deal.
  • It is not helpful to compare gangs in Central America with ISIS, declares a column in Warscapes, which challenges the notion proposed by a Daily Beast column did last Friday.
  • Ecuador may have spied on and illegally targeted political and environmental opponents to president Rafael Correa’s plan to extract oil in Yasuni national park, according to The Guardian.  Separately, Bolivia has given the green light to oil exploration in seven of 22 protected natural reserves, according to Deutsche Well.
  • The OAS has announced it will create a new agency, the Center for Excellency and Sustainable Development for Major Sports Events, to clean up the corruption-ridden soccer business in the region, according to Andres Oppenheimer's Miami Herald. The largest donor to this anti-corruption unit, according to the column, will be funded by Qatar, which is under investigation in connection with possible bribes to host the 2022 World Cup.

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