Presidential Report

President Andrés García 59th IAPA General Assembly Chicago, Illinois One year ago, in the city of Lima, when I began my term as president of IAPA, I asked all of you for your support, as I was convinced that only with your support could I do a satisfactory job of fulfilling my duties. Today, as I present this report on my work, I would like to extend my appreciation and recognition to all of you for your invaluable help and friendly understanding. During this year we have worked tirelessly in defense of our noble mission: to defend and promote freedom of the press in the Americas. At that time I invoked the memory and spirit of brilliant predecessors such as Germán Ornes, Raymond Dix, Lee Hills, Julio Mesquita and John Watkins, as well as the example of our esteemed friend Rómulo O’Farrill and my dear father Andrés García Lavín, both of whom are here with us. Their thoughts and example have guided my work, as have the valuable advice and opinions of past presidents and other collaborators and friends who diligently work to defend freedom of expression and freedom of the press. I am grateful to them and pay tribute to them. The grave developments restricting freedom of the press this year have forced us to redouble our efforts and stake out our position in favor of freedom of information in all countries. In defending this precious value that is freedom, I would like to congratulate and thank all the members of IAPA who have joined in this struggle. We have more than a hundred members who participated in missions and activities, both in this hemisphere and in Europe as well. We are increasingly outraged, as are all democratically minded people in the world, by the actions of the Cuban government, which has ignored every voice of protest and every request for clemency for the 33 journalists sentenced to lengthy prison terms, one of whom is our admired fellow member, Raúl Rivero. On March 18 of this year, when 28 of them were arrested, we initiated a defense campaign for our colleagues, and we recently stepped up this campaign by requesting the intervention of the United Nations Rapporteur on Human Rights, the intercession of friendly governments, and a campaign to get all of the newspapers in the Americas to ask their readers to join this ongoing public protest until this injustice has been rectified. At the General Assembly of the OAS in Chile, we met with several foreign ministers and asked them to take a stronger stance in condemning the abuses of the Cuban government. We have taken similar action in Miami, where we met with consuls from Latin America. I am asking all of you to participate in this campaign and promote public support for it. From here let’s extend to Raúl our unshakable pledge and determination that we will not stop fighting for his release until we can have the pleasure of shaking his hand again. Furthermore, we have constantly and relentlessly supported our colleagues in Venezuela who are under attack from the government of Hugo Chávez, who is trying to stifle the free press and prevent our great friends in that country from reporting the news and expressing their opinions freely. We held an emergency forum to analyze the problem and expose it to the hemisphere. We went to Caracas on an investigative mission, and in Valencia, in the country’s interior, we offered a conference and training seminars for journalists along with the Press Institute and the Journalists at Risk Committee. Also, at the OAS Assembly we succeeded in defeating the initiatives of this tyrannical government, and we succeeded in having the principles that sustain our Association included in the final declaration of the meeting. We must continue this struggle until it has been won, and this is why I am asking you for the same earnest support that you have given to IAPA and the free press in Venezuela. Please pardon my insistence concerning these serious attacks on freedom of the press, which not only are still going on, but in fact are getting worse. This is why we must continue the struggle. In order to make our efforts more effective, I believe it would be wise for us to maintain our strategy of partnering with journalists’ organizations and organizations that defend basic rights in the Americas and throughout the world. Our work in this regard has yielded positive results. As for the status of our other activities, great progress has been made on the Impunity Project to promote just punishment for those who murder journalists. This progress is reflected in the significant decrease in this type of crime. In addition, the Rapid Response Unit has also become more effective. As you know, during my term we placed emphasis on the World Summit on the Information Society, due to the threats hovering over the independence, plurality and diversity of the private media around the world. Taking advantage of the overall theme of closing the digital gap that new technologies have created between rich and poor nations, numerous governments and groups have been using the summit’s preparatory meetings to include various forms of governmental regulation and control of the flow of information and the free exercise of journalistic activity. In our strategy of partnering with the IAB and institutions such as the International Press Institute and other groups in the Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organizations, we have firmly maintained our convictions and advocated for new-technology media to be held to the same standards of free speech and freedom of the press as traditional media operating in democratic countries. In another one of our more satisfying achievements, we have succeeded in stabilizing the finances of the Association after several years in the red. Thanks to the fundraising campaign of our fellow members and support from several foundations, such as the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Robert McCormick Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation, we eliminated the financial problems at our headquarters in the Jules Dubois Building in Miami. Also, with foundation support we strengthened programs such as the Impunity Project, the Press Institute seminars and the Latin American Accreditation Council on Journalism Education Programs. All of these initiatives made considerable progress. Especially noteworthy is the increase in the number of seminars offered by the Press Institute, the originality of their topics, their high quality, as well as the growing interest from an ever-increasing number of attendees. At the beginning of my term, I conveyed to you my conviction that we needed to provide more opportunities for our increasing numbers of new members to participate directly in leadership positions in IAPA, in order to further strengthen the institution. We have embarked on a course toward meeting this goal, and we should continue and step up this initiative in the immediate future, without losing sight of the efforts and greater experience of our veteran members. I am certain that the vitality and strength of IAPA depends on our ability to take advantage of its greatest asset, its members. In keeping with changes made in our bylaws for the recruitment of new members from online media outlets, we created a committee that is drafting a plan to incorporate these outlets into our ranks and defend their rights and freedoms in the face of government persecution. In conclusion, I would like to call attention to some issues of particular importance where we must increase our participation and effectiveness. In addition to stepping up our defense of freedom of the press, we need to ask our regional representatives from the appropriate committees to increase their scrutiny of government compliance with our recommendations in promoting the Declaration of Chapultepec, whose principles were recently signed by the new President of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe, and by Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutiérrez. Also, we should ask them to denounce court decisions that allow those who murder or assault journalists, or who violate the confidentiality of sources, to go unpunished. Our international work has continued to develop. In addition to maintaining our presence in sister organizations such as the World Press Freedom Committee, the Coordinating Committee, the World Association of Newspapers, we also maintain a presence in the human rights divisions of the OAS and UNESCO. In this regard, just yesterday we signed a cooperation agreement with the IPI, which is headed by our beloved former president of IAPA, Jorge Fascetto. This agreement will make us more effective in our struggle for freedom of the press. Similarly, it is our intention to sign a similar agreement with the president of the IAB, Eladio Lárez, who will undoubtedly ratify documents that we have previously signed in Panama, Caracas and Sao Paulo.