Silence is Not an Option for Latin America

Independent journalists refuse to submit to widespread repression.

Silence is Not an Option for Latin America

Independent journalists refuse to submit to widespread repression.

Latin American journalism, especially in Central America, continues to be defined by governments seeking to silence the media at all costs.

But even in the face of such repression, journalists continue to build networks to support high quality, ethical and independent reporting across the region.

Recent initiatives by groups such as the Central American Journalism Forum (CAP) and the Latin American Conference on Investigative Journalism (COLPIN) present clear examples of this courageous and encouraging response to attacks on media freedom. 

Journalists from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Costa Rica gathered in the Guatemalan city of Antigua for a CAP summit last month at which they founded the Central American Journalism Network.

This grouping will seek to provide reporters with emergency support as well as psychological assistance and legal aid, and encourage joint journalistic investigations.   

The meeting also highlighted cases such as that of Miguel Mendoza, a sports journalist from Nicaragua sentenced to nine years in prison for using social media to protest against the authoritarian government of President Daniel Ortega and his vice-president – and wife - Rosario Murillo. 

Those participating in the meeting also heard about the constant attacks perpetrated on social media by President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador, his cabinet and the ruling Nuevas Ideas (New Ideas) party against news outlets such as El Faro and Gato Encerrado.  

There was also the opportunity to learn about the judicial persecution of journalists in Guatemala. In one such case, Rubén Zamora Marroquín, the director of El Periódico newspaper, has been in prison since last August accused of money laundering and blackmail despite no evidence having been provided.

Guatemalan journalist Elsa Coronado was one of six reporters who won a scholarship from the IWPR-led Consortium to Support Independent Journalism in Latin America (CAPIR) to attend the presentations and workshops at the Central American Journalism Forum.  

“The CAP Forum was an oasis from the crisis our region is going through,” she said.

Also in November, a COLPIN event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, served as another example of how Central American journalists are organising to stand up to repression. 

More than 50 speakers from 15 countries gathered for workshops, networking and the results of the Latin American Investigative Journalism Awards.

Two of the prizewinners - El Salvador’s Juan José Martínez and Octavio Enríquez from Nicaragua - who won second and third place respectively, were of particular note.

Martínez carried out a four-part investigation into the organised crime group Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as MS-13, published in Spanish by Insight Crime. It explored how the group went from a street fighting gang to an entrepreneurial powerhouse with investments in both legal and illegal businesses,

Enríquez’ investigation on Negocios de Familia: la Riqueza de Los Ortega Murillo (Family business: Ortega-Murillo´s wealth) published by Confidential, revealed the involvement of the president and vice-president’s children in a network of 22 companies that benefitted from public contracts, among them gas stations and state broadcaster Chanel 6. 

What was exceptional about these particular stories? The investigations were both conducted while the journalists were living in exile. Martínez and Enríquez had to leave their countries due to the imminent risk of imprisonment by their respective governments. 

Their work serves to remind us that even amidst the worst conditions, journalists continue to speak out.

Silence was never an option, and never will be.  

Daniel Lizarraga is IWPR coordinator for investigative journalism projects in Latin America and Cuba.

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