It’s a sign of how far press freedom in Latin America has sunk that a leading expert on press freedom in the region can point to Cuba as a potential bright spot amid a sea of negative developments in the region.
At a briefing on the state of freedom of expression in Latin America on Capitol Hill today, Edison Lanza, special rapporteur for freedom of expression for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior Americas program coordinator, plowed through a depressing litany of the challenges to news media in most of the region:
- Mexico remains the most dangerous country in the hemisphere, with eight journalists or bloggers killed in 2014. “Journalists are working in terror” and cannot report on even basic news developments, Lauría said.
- Venezuela “is the clearest example of the lack of tolerance for dissenting opinion,” Lauría said, suppressing reports of protests or shortages of staples, depriving newspapers of news print, physical attacks against journalists, blocking news websites, and concentrating ownership of media outlets in the hands of the government or its allies.
- Ecuador’s new communications law is probably the most restrictive in the hemisphere.
- In Brazil, where investigative journalism is thriving, nonetheless there has been a spike in violence against journalists, with at least 13 killed since 2011.
- Paraguay, Colombia, and Peru have shown an increase in murders “directly related to the exercise of freedom of expression,” Lanza said.
- In Honduras, gun violence is out of control due in large part to the presence of Mexican drug cartels. Eighteen journalists have been killed there since 2009.
Lanza began his remarks at the briefing, which was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Sam Farr of California as part of a monthly series, by pointing out that 2014 was the worst year for attacks against journalists in the last five years, with 25 journalists killed as well as two of their relatives. By contrast, the office of the special rapporteur tallied 18 murders the previous year.
So what about Cuba, then?
In Lauría’s view, the elimination of the requirement for Cubans to obtain exit visas opens up the opportunity for Cuban journalists and bloggers to travel and write about events in Cuba. There is “a vibrant community of bloggers” in Cuba now, he said, highlighting the work of Yoani Sanchez. Lauría said he is hopeful that when Cuba and the United states re-establish diplomatic relations, there will be more dialogue and more space for media.
Who would have thought?