By Samantha Badgen
More than 20 years after the fall of the dictatorships and civil wars that dominated Latin America, the region continues to be marked by a strong retaliation against the press, according to Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) most recent annual index on the state of press freedom, which was published on Feb. 12.
The index is an annual report that RSF publishes since 2002. It reflects the degree of freedom of the press in each country and what measures authorities currently employ to ensure that freedom is respected.
Journalists and human rights defenders face violence coming from organized crime, paramilitary organizations and even their own governments, the report said.
One of the most alarming cases is Brazil, which surpassed Mexico as the country with the most journalists killed, with five journalists murdered in 2013.
In Honduras, number 129 on the list, 30 journalists have been killed in the past decade -- 27 of them during the June 2009 coup that overthrew the president-elect Manuel Zelaya. It was confirmed that nine of the journalists were killed in relation to their profession.
“In this failed state, almost-absolute impunity constitutes the rule. The attacks, the threats, the aggressions and even the “canonization” of certain communications media are the work of private militia at the pay of the landowners, de military and the police (of military status), as well as of cartels with a strong presence in the region,” the report said.
The same thing happens in Peru and Colombia, where covering drug trafficking, corruption, territorial conflicts or mining heightens risks for journalists. Even if the Colombian governments and the FARC are able to come to an agreement, it won’t erase the “narco-paramilitares”, paramilitary organizations born from years of war that pose a significant risk to journalists in the area.
A similar situation occurs in Mexico, where cartels like the Zetas, and other criminal organizations, act in the collusion with corrupt authorities at the local and federal levels. With 88 journalists killed and 18 gone missing in the last 13 years, the “federal offensive against drug trafficking” that former President Felipe Calderon began only worsened the situation, in addition to leaving more than 60,000 dead.
At the same time, journalism is used as a political weapon in countries where the private and public (state) sectors battle it out. Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and, to a degree, Argentina, illustrate this with their various forms of communications laws.
Also in the report, RSF wrote that the continent's two largest powers, Brazil and the United States, “should place more importance in freedom of information… unfortunately the reality is far from that.” The organization condemned the U.S. government's response to Edward Snowden, who leaked information about the massive surveillance programs developed by the National Security Agency (NSA).
There were no Latin American countries in the top 20 places on the list, but Costa Rica and Uruguay were 21 and 26, respectively.
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.