To the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina
And to Mr. Persio Maldonado, of the Host Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to this lovely location.
Just six months ago, for the occasion of its 71st General Assembly, I welcomed IAPA to my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. It was not quite so lovely as this. As most of you probably know, we had a little rain. It started on Thursday when attendees began to arrive, and it ended on Monday as they left, but as a bit of reference, in the 24 hours between midnight Saturday and Sunday alone, it rained more than 27 inches (69 cm/690 mm) which is over 60 percent of Punta Cana's average annual rainfall. It was more rain than any other 24-hour-period since official, or even unofficial, records have been kept. It exceeded that of any tropical hurricane in South Carolina's history ... Of which there have been many. The storm and resulting floods caused $12 billion in damage and killed 19 people.
So, Mr. President and those of you who were not with us in Charleston for this historic event, it is perhaps impossible to understand how happy we are to be in the beautiful – and dry – Dominican Republic! Thank you for hosting us in your country of sunshine and great natural beauty.
It is also an honor of special significance for our organization, which unites all new world Americans in common cause, to meet on the island where Christopher Columbus settled more than 500 years ago, paving the way for all of us, from Patagonia to Alaska, who have immigrated since.
Mr. President, I believe we have come to your country at the most opportune and appropriate time, just weeks after the Dominican Republic joined a group of countries in Latin America that do not believe that a journalist should go to prison for what he or she reports or thinks.
From the press freedom report on the Dominican Republic, we learned that the Constitutional Court struck down seven articles of the "Law on Freedom of Expression and Dissemination of Thought" that had criminalized defamatory acts in matters of public interest. We celebrate this news, and we know that the newspapers in the Dominican Newspaper Association will continue to insist that other articles of this law, as well as other provisions of the Dominican penal code, must be repealed because they are incompatible with Article 13 of the "American Convention on Human Rights" and with Articles 10 and 11 the "Inter-American Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression" of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, which state that the reputation of a public official or public person should only be guaranteed through civil sanctions.
However, we would also like to express our continued concerned over the high-profile cases involving the killings of two Dominican journalists, Narciso González and Orlando Martínez, for which justice has not been fully carried out. We are also monitoring the case of Blas Olivo, who was killed last year. Coincidentally, putting an end to impunity was the topic of a successful conference that we organized in Santo Domingo in 2007, which was attended by more than 20 chief justices of supreme courts from throughout the Americas.
At IAPA, we always pay close attention to violence against journalists. Unfortunately, 12 journalists in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela were killed in recent months. I ask that their memory and their work be honored now with a moment of silence
At IAPA, we remain alert to how the political changes in several countries in the region are impacting—and not always positively — press freedom, the work of journalists, and the right to seek and receive information freely.
In February, I joined a delegation of representatives of international press organizations, including IAPA and Ecuadorean media outlets, that visited Washington, DC, and I had the tremendous pleasure of meeting with Luis Almagro (thank you for joining us today, Luis!) and with officials of the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the U.S. State Department, and the U.S. Senate with the goal of encouraging these entities, as providers of financial assistance, to include in their discussion agendas the possibility of placing conditions on assistance to those countries that fail to uphold press freedom and democracy, as set forth in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
Not all news is bad, however. We continue to pursue 28 murder cases that we brought before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. And in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, we continue to pursue the case of Colombian journalist Nelson Carvajal along with attorneys from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. We have confidence that the ruling that ultimately emerges from this case will serve as a legal precedent for other cases of unpunished crimes against journalists in our hemisphere.
One of the commitments of my presidency has been to provide our members with solutions to the challenges facing our industry. On Friday we provided seminars on the digital transformation and technological innovation, and you all know that the SipConnect conference, to be held June 29-July 1, is becoming a benchmark event in the industry. We are seeking partnerships with Google as well as other Internet companies and startups to secure their support in disseminating and promoting freedom of expression and other truths enshrined in the Declaration of Chapultepec.
We are making significant progress in updating our bylaws in support of the strategic plan laid out by our organization with the aim of strengthening itself. We have already focused on impact and sustainability activities, and we continue to work toward improving our finances and are performing due diligence on digital partnerships that could possibly provide a new revenue source as well as help advance media technology, which both is essential to our industry and our efforts to recruit and retain members.
We have been addressing governance issues and are in the process of holding discussions aimed at adapting IAPA to 21st century realities and providing for greater inclusion and participation of our members. We are streamlining our burdensome policy for admitting new members and are reviewing our dues-and-fees structure with an eye toward trying to engage more members in our meetings. I would like to thank Alberto Ibargüen, the president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, for his support in this regard.
As part of this strategic plan, the sale of the Jules Dubois Building was finalized during this period and we moved our headquarters to the building that houses The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. Before sharing with you a video of our new headquarters, I would like to point out that despite the challenges that this new era brings us, we are optimistic because we have the commitment and support of all our members. And finally, I would be remiss were I not to recognize the hard work of Executive Director Ricardo Trotti and the entire IAPA staff, who work with great diligence and dedication to advance our mission on a daily basis. We are extremely fortunate to have such a talented and professional team overseeing our home office.
Thank you to all of our colleagues.