“The freedom of speech situation in Nicaragua has reached a new extreme,” the president of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), Honduran Jorge Canahuati, said in an interview with EFE news agency. He noted that Latin America on the whole is moving “backwards” due to a boom in populist governments, which result in a “less informed” society.
Canahuati is in Madrid to pick up an award from the Global Conference of Lawyers for Nicaraguan journalist Cristiana Chamorro. The opposition candidate for elections in November was arrested by Daniel Ortega’s government on June 2nd on fabricated money laundering charges.
“The dictator Ortega has been applying pressure to the media, and now the situation is extreme. Cases like Cristiana Chamorro’s are flowing in, and she comes from an iconic and respected family, whose commitment to freedom cannot be questioned. Her father was a martyr of Nicaraguan society [back in the time of the struggle against Somoza]. The situation is extreme,” the IAPA president said.
According to Canahuati, Ortega has been pressuring the Nicaraguan media for a long time, but the situation became “a lot more dictatorial in 2018, after popular uprisings.” Ever since then, IAPA has been paying close attention and carrying out missions in the country, albeit virtually as they are unable to be in-person due to the pandemic, he noted.
“When special events happen, we report them and ask for some kind of rectification, but the situation is really terrible, the media has been crippled for many years in Nicaragua, and newspapers are unable to put their paper in printing presses, TV stations have been pressured and they have ended up falling into the hands of the Ortega family / dictatorship,” he explains.
General setback in Latin America
According to the IAPA president, freedom of speech throughout Latin America “has always been at risk and has its ups and downs,” but it is experiencing a setback right now: “There have been periods where the region has seen very dark nights and very clear days, but now there are greater risks and pressure.”
This is due to the fact that “some populist and authoritarian presidents or political leaders have emerged, who then become dictators. There can be no free press in this style of government. If you look at Latin America, you see that there has always been a tendency for this kind of political leader, in Brazil, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, we have Lopez Obrador in Mexico…”
“It’s really hard to fight against this, and honestly, I’d like to say something else. IAPA has made progress in more open societies, where you draw someone’s attention to an issue and some corrections are made or a formal commitment is made to freedom in one way or another, but in a case like Ortega’s, the only thing we can do is report it, expose it, apply pressure and wait. It’s the same thing that’s happening with Venezuela,” he says.
A decline with Lopez Obrador and Bukele
The course Mexico is taking is being followed by IAPA with great concern, “particularly the issue of stigmatization that is being created, and not just because of Lopez Obrador’s power against the media, but also because of the other kind of dangers that this creates, like a person who supports him can take justice into his own hands and attack a journalist.”
Cases such as the president of Mexico or the president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, are based on the fact that they can’t accept criticism, “they are like (former US president, Donald) Trump and they are casting doubt on the media, and causing a lot of harm, because these leaders have followers who instead of following a democratic path, follow the path of questioning those who question them,” Canahuati points out.
IAPA’s president also adds the number of Mexican journalists who have been murdered, “accompanied by impunity, because managing to get to a material author, but especially an intellectual one, is very hard, and this promotes greater violence against journalists.”
Canahuati also highlights Bukele’s case, and his controversial history ever since he was the mayor of San Salvador (2015-2018): “You could already see that this was a sensitive issue, and now with the control he has over the government, we can imagine him doing terrible things with the media, with laws.”
IAPA’s president insists that “the media has to have its place in society. We make mistakes, of course we make mistakes, but it’s better to have a free press rather than not having one.”
However, cases like Ecuador, whose new government is considering revoking the press law approved during Rafael Correa’s term in office, is opening up a door for hope that there is a shift in the relationship between the government and the media.
“When a government arrives with a more democratic mindset, they change the rules a lot of the time, like in Argentina after Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s presidency, although now this country is regressing again very slowly, but we’re keeping an eye on it,” he said.