The Cuban, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan regimes are employing repressive strategies that mirror each other. With strikingly similar tactics, they restrict freedom of expression and limit the exercise of journalism in their countries. Despite this difficult context, independent journalists have responded with quality reporting and investigations.
A recent panel brought together journalists Monica Baro of Cuba, Luz Mely Reyes of Venezuela and Carlos Fernando Chamorro of Nicaragua. The moderator was Pedro Vaca, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expressionof the OAS and the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. Pedro Vaca is also secretary of the OAS Americas Summit.
The three participants coincided in their observations that the regimes they’re living under persecute, slander and wall off journalists,. Underlying the repression, are laws criminalizing independent journalism.
Luz Reyes is director and cofounder of the digital media site Efecto Cocuyo. She indicated that government persecution of journalists from her newsroom forced them to go into exile. In addition, the site was compelled to eliminate crediting the journalists for their reports “to avoid having them individually harassed”.
Journalists from other independent media outlets in Venezuela have had the same luck. Reyes mentioned two of them: Armando.info, and the radio station Fe y Alegria.
“In Venezuela, approximately five million people reside in what the Press and Society Institute have called an ‘informational desert’. This has to do with the fact that some 200 independent media sites have closed since 2004.”
In Nicaragua, at least 70 journalists remain in exile, due to the persecution and harassment of the police and Ortega sympathizers. This information has been documented by organizations of journalists and communicators.
Carlos Fernando Chamorro directs the website Confidencial and the internet television programs Esta Noche and Esta Semana. He asserted:“In Nicaragua there’s no rule of law. We’re living under a police state. There’s a national emergency, as a result of the profound human rights crisis. That crisis has culminated with the de facto breaching of all the democratic freedoms. The regime has curtailed freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, freedom of the press and free expression,”
Laws criminalize independent journalism
In addition to harassment from the government, journalists from these countries find themselves threatened by laws that punish their profession. Monica Baro, who’s exiled in Spain, stressed that the Cuban laws and statutes contain several articles that punish journalistic labors. “They penalize you if you go out on the streets to report.”
Luz Reyes noted that Venezuela has also approved laws and regulations that menace journalism. One of them is the so-called “Hate Law”, which ostensibly punishes those who engage in hate speech. However, it’s the regime of Nicolas Maduro that decides what constitutes “hate speech”.
Another repressive Venezuelan law is the “Anti-blockade law”. It “indicates that there are actions and decisions that are going to be secret,” the Reyes explained. This encourages secrecy in the government and its dependencies,
In Nicaragua, the Special Cybercrimes Law entered into effect last December. This law, known as the “Gag Law”, threatens jail terms for those accused of “spreading false information”. Experts and analysts warn that this law seeks to punish journalists from the independent media, “with the aim of silencing their voices.”
Journalists, activists and former staff of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation have filed appeals against this law. In the last days of February, over forty such suits were entered, on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional. It violates ten articles of the Nicaraguan constitution, as well as a number of international treaties.
Capacity for resilience
Despite this adverse context, the three panelists emphasized that independent reporters and media have responded with quality investigations and information.
“Journalism has a great capacity for resilience,” Monica Baro highlighted. “We’ve become skilled at producing valuable journalism in any context. I’m speaking of the strength of the journalists, of the abilities and intelligence they’ve had to develop. These qualities have enabled them to do journalism – even investigative journalism – in a context where there are no legal guarantees.”
“In the unfavorable atmosphere of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, there’s a commitment to the profession and a great passion. It leaves you hopeful,” she declared.
Chamorro indicated: “The future is uncertain, but the press is surviving the worst aggressions and menaces in Nicaragua. In all Central America, there are obstacles to freedom of the press. These barriers are promoted by the governments and powers that be in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. However, none of these countries has anything comparable in its brutality to what’s being experienced in Nicaragua.”