04 October 2015

Claudio Paolillo



“If you issue a sufficiently big lie and repeat it enough times it will be believed by the people.”

“It is true that freedom is a precious asset, so precious that it should be carefully rationed.” Who were the authors of these phrases? They could have been, undoubtedly, numerous Latin American presidents, members of Congress and even judges of our times. However, I am going to tell you who the authors really are: That phrase which says that “if you issue a sufficiently big lie and repeat it enough times it will be believed by the people” it was Hitler. And the one that says “freedom is a precious asset, so precious that it should be carefully rationed” it was Lenin. It might seem disproportionate. The number of deaths and acts of terrorism which that concept of freedom established in the Soviet and Nazi dictatorships were of such a brutal dimension that they have no comparison in quantitative terms. They were a cancer from which humanity has not yet fully recovered. But if the comparison is conceptual and not regarding the millions of innocent deaths that those totalitarian ideas provoked, then the comparison seems to be legitimate. To emit lies from the seat of power and repeat them tirelessly and to ration freedom in the function of the interests of governments has in recent years become something too frequent in numerous countries of the Americas. What else have the governments of Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua done, for example that is not to unceasingly communicate lies to people and rationing freedom of expression to suit their own interests? They have precisely done that. And not only them. In the rest of the Americas freedom has been rationed or there have been dangerous attempts to do so and the lie or the hiding of information of interest to society, which another form of cheating the people, are commonplace. No country of the Americas is safe from this censoring current that prostitutes the central idea according to which those in government are circumstantial administrators of public affairs and therefore are obliged to render accounts to their superiors, who are the common and current citizens. Instead of that in many countries of the Americas those in power – that is to say the employees that the people had put in those positions of power for a set time to manage their resources – forget that they are at the orders of others and play an almost monarchic role that is of course profoundly anti-democratic and profoundly anti-republican. The regional vice chairmen of the IAPA Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information will be more explicit and detailed as they present to the General Assembly the corresponding report of each country. But in giving a review of what they have already communicated to us it is worth mentioning some salient points. In Argentina in an election year that will wind up late this month the government of President Cristina Kirchner has broken records in expenditure on official propaganda and, despite two clear rulings of the Supreme Court, continues to use advertising that the government pays for to punish critical and independent media and to reward media that she considers “friends.” In addition the president has abused the national television networks with the explicit and evident aim of making party propaganda, something that not only goes against the Constitution and the law but also – and above all – goes against a minimal ethic limit of any government that respects itself and which moreover would wish to be seen by the rest of the world as democratic and republican. The same thing is happening in Bolivia, where the government of President Evo Morales uses official advertising to pressure independent or critical media, some of which have dispensed with influential journalists and where there has been  considerable increase in expenditure on propaganda about official activities. In Nicaragua something similar is occurring: there remain there only one non-pro government television channel, one radio station and one newspaper. All the other media are in the hands of the duopoly made up of the president’s family and a Mexican businessman, a friend of those in power. In Cuba we are still waiting for some positive result of a renewal of diplomatic relations with the United States. There are a lot photos of President Obama and dictator Raúl Castro shaking hands, there are a lot of photos of the Pope talking to dictator Fidel Castro, but the gigantic security apparatus that represses the people on the island in charge of jailing all those that dissent from the regime and wish to approach the Pope or whoever it may be to express their protest at the shutdown of freedoms of expression, of association and of the press which in that country do not exist. Perhaps after more than a half century of totalitarianism it sounds a little anxious. But we cannot stop denouncing that the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Washington and the official visit of the Pope did not serve for anything in terms of obtaining the release from jail of journalists, an end to censorship of critical Web sites, a halt to the continuous inspection of dissidents’ e-mails and cel phones, and putting a stop to physical and verbal attacks on activists for freedom and on independent journalists. I short, many photos, many visits, much courtesy, much speculation – and no results in favor of freedom. The government of President Rafael Correa in Ecuador does not cease applying harsh repression of journalists and the press that want to make use of their freedom, and the agencies of control and application of the “gag law” in force for two years now, every day and every minute put on such intolerable pressure that it has led newspapers and non-governmental organizations to declare themselves “in resistance,” having recourse to an article of Correa’s Constitution which the president regrets having had adopted. Every Saturday, including yesterday again, while it was raining here in Charleston in Quito President Correa abused the national television network (it already has had 444 hookups obligatory for all the media) to insult and stigmatize newspapers, radio stations, television channels and journalists that part from the official line. He calls all of them “corrupt press” and from his position in the seat of power incites the population to attack those media and journalists, in a behavior clearly rooted in fascism. This year 2015, although it still has three months to run, has already become the most violent year for the practice of journalism and protest in Ecuador. During the first nine months of the year the NGO Fundamedios counted 279 attacks on freedom of expression, that is to say 24 more than those recorded in all of 2014. Since 2008 Fundamedios has detected 1,301 attacks upon this human right. That means that as the years pass Correa’s anger at the free press and that of his collaborators not only has lessened but is increasing. Venezuela is, unfortunately, a classic in the IAPA reports for more than a decade now. This General Assembly will not be an exception. During the last six months the regime of President Nicolás Maduro provoked almost 300 violations of the right to freedom of expression, among attacks on journalists, criminalization of the work of the press and limits on access to information. On this the Venezuelan colleagues are ready to provide us with abundant information. The creativity for censorship is a constant, and not only in the more repressive governments. In Chile, for example, the government of President Michelle Bachelet has determined to prevent the circulation of newspapers if they do not present a detailed and thorough plan for what the readers do with the newspapers after reading them. That is, if someone throws out the newspaper that he or she purchased on a stand the government wants to blame the newspaper for degrading the environment. It looks like a joke, but it is not. The United States, where this General Assembly is being held, does not escape from this panorama. The Justice Department revealed in a recent report that in 2014 it issued two citations and a search order and on two occasions authorized the interrogation of news media and journalists. In addition two reporters covering last year’s riots in Ferguson were accused of alleged “interference and violation of property.” In some cases the government, police and certain U.S. judges should take a quick course to remind themselves of the First Amendment to the Constitution that the founding fathers of this country left as a never to be forgotten legacy 224 years ago. If the First Amendment is in force – as it is – and if it says that “Congress shall not be able to make any laws … that limit freedom of expression or of the press” then all those that in this country do limit that human right are acting against the Constitution and under the protection of no law. Regrettably the murders of journalists have not lessened since our Midyear Meeting in Panama. From March to September this year there were already murdered 11 journalists – 3 in Brazil, 3 in Mexico, 2 in Guatemala, 1 in Colombia, 1 in Honduras and 1 in the Dominican Republic. These deaths, added to those that had already occurred in the first two months of 2015, raise to 16 the number of journalists taken down so far this year by criminals, almost all of whom continue to go unpunished. It is as well to also mention the good news of this period and some victories for freedom of expression. In all these cases the IAPA has been very active and its participation, its resolute action and its powerful voice of protest have contributed decisively to these good results. Let us start with the recent decision of the Inter-American Human Rights Court that ordered the government of Venezuela to restore the frequency and equipment of RCTV to its legitimate owners after Hugo Chávez seized them unlawfully in 2007. The Court has said that the Venezuelan regime violated freedom of expression and the minimum guarantees of due process in confiscating RCTV. Since then the government of President Maduro has decided to ignore the Inter-American Court’s non-appealable ruling, so it being placed even more if that is possible in the category of a dictatorship. In May we were in Costa Rica, where the government had submitted to Congress a bill similar to the “gag law” of Ecuador. After we in the IAPA thoroughly analyzed and warned about the threat being made to freedom of expression in that country, traditionally respectful of this human right, President Luis Guillermo Solís fired the ministers responsible for that monster, threw it in the garbage and when he received us at government headquarters he not only confirmed his decision not to go ahead with the idea but decided to sign the Declaration of Chapultepec at that time. Of course, the Declaration of Chapultepec is the dead opposite of the bill that the president had just thrown out. And in September the IAPA was in Ecuador, organizing along with Fundamedios the “Quito Forum for Freedom of Expression.” The government had decided to shut down that NGO given that President Correa had found intolerable its denunciations of ongoing attacks on press freedom. Just a few days after the Quito Forum, and following the pronouncement by five OAS and UN rapporteurs for human rights, the Ecuadorean government left without effect, for the time being, its decision to permanently shut down Fundamedios. We are not winning the war but we are winning an important battle. But these major advances, obtained after long and tiresome battles for freedom, we cannot give up. All around those that want to prevent the people knowing what is happening are lying in wait to lash out at any moment. There is the press of Panama battling against a terrible legislative bill promoted by the member of Congress belonging to the government of President Juan Carlos Varela that would place a terrible gag on free speech and would almost return the country to the dark years of censorship. There is the press of Colombia, concerned at the claims of the FARC guerrillas for there to be included in the peace negotiations that they are holding with President Juan Manuel Santos a law aimed at “democratizing” media. We already know what is meant by some when they proclaim “democratization” of the media. We know that what they are seeking is to control the flow of information and impose censorship. And there are many other concerns that extend the length and breadth of the hemisphere, about which the regional vice chairman of each country will illustrate us during the day today. That is why we cannot give up. That great statesman Sir Winston Churchill, in circumstances fateful for humanity, called on citizens, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” And he added: “Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.” The battle for freedom of expression comes from way back and will never end. That is why in the IAPA we will always be alert, we will redouble our efforts and we will never give in. Let everyone know well we will never, never, never yield.