Wednesday, May 23, 2012

More threats to journalism. Part 2: Latin-America

At least 13 journalists have been killed so far this year in Latin America. The death toll has increased compared to 2011, where 11 journalists were killed by this time of the year. Although the number of deaths seems to vary slightly from year to year, the reasons behind these murders seem to be the same: the exposure of uncomfortable things not everyone is willing to hear.

Unfortunately in countries like Mexico or Honduras, strongly whipped by organised crime and cartel violence, freedom of press still comes at a high price and journalism has become a dangerous profession. Most of these journalists were targeted because of their work: the report of issues such us corruption, organised crime, human trafficking, cartel violence and guerrillas. This is what happened to journalists like Regina Martinez, a correspondent for the Mexican news magazine Proceso who used to write about drug cartels and was found dead in her house last 28 of April. Or to Erik Martinez Avila, a vocal supporter of a gay rights group and a candidate for the left-wing opposition party; and whose body was found in the outskirts of the capital Tegucigalpa, Honduras, last 7 May. The latest victim is Marco Antonio Avila Garcia, a Mexican reporter who used to write about organised crime and whose body was found on 18 May in the state of Sonora. Mexico has become one the world’s most dangerous countries, closely followed by Honduras and Brazil. But the threats haven’t just been limited to Mexico or Honduras. Unfortunately Colombia has also been recently in the news due to the kidnap of the French journalist, Romeo Langlois, by the Colombian guerrilla FARC during an anti-drug raid in the south of the country. The group announced recently that the journalist will be released soon, although they haven’t specified the date or the terms on which it will happen. There’s a condition imposed by the rebels for the journalist’s release and this is to have a debate on freedom of information as the group accused the Colombian government of manipulating journalists to set them against them. I find it quite contradictory though, that in order to talk about freedom of information there’s a need to kidnap someone first; but what do I know??

Extremely high levels of embedded corruption, powerful drug cartels and rivalry among crime gangs are some of the big obstacles journalists face. In most cases the authorities never seem to have any suspects or even be able to confirm the reasons for all those killings. Thus it seems that impunity leaves the door open to commit crimes anytime as the chances for being prosecuted are pretty much nonexistent. With such a worrying and shameful situation, one would expect the authorities to intervene firmly and protect their journalists. Unfortunately, the situation seems to keep worsening year by year as journalists keep being murdered while their executioners seem to be seen playing freely. According to the International Press Institute, 51 journalists have been killed so far this year in the world, 13 in Latin America; and it doesn’t seem it will stop any time soon.

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