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Ecuador in mourning, Nicaragua in flames, and violence against journalists: Americas in April

Last month the Ecuadorian journalists who had been kidnapped in Colombia were killed, and mass protests in Nicaragua left nearly 30 dead. With the rest of the continent also facing violence, IFEX's Latin American network denounced the barrage of attacks against free expression.

Journalists and photojournalists from national and international media protest the murder of their Ecuadorian colleagues by FARC dissidents, during an event in Bogotá, Colombia, 16 April 2018
Journalists and photojournalists from national and international media protest the murder of their Ecuadorian colleagues by FARC dissidents, during an event in Bogotá, Colombia, 16 April 2018

Daniel Garzon Herazo/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Paul Rivas, Javier Ortega and Efraín Segarra went to the border of Ecuador and Colombia to report on conflict and attacks in the area. On 26 March 2018, they were kidnapped by a dissident faction of the FARC. After days of suspenseful, unsuccessful negotiations, a video documenting their death was released; the incident was confirmed by the president of Ecuador. Their bodies have yet to be recovered, and terms for their retrieval have not been established.

Several local and international organisations lobbied the Colombian and Ecuadorian governments to guarantee that the bodies would be recovered, but this has yet to occur.

Four days after the incident, a couple was kidnapped on the border. They remain abducted to this day. "Guacho," - as the leader of the FARC faction is known - said that the couple would be released, and the journalists' bodies would be returned, if his comrades in Ecuador are released from detention, and a humanitarian corridor is established.

Nicaragua was another conflict hotspot in April. An attempt to reform the social security system, proposed by President Daniel Ortega, was rejected by a large majority of the population, who went out onto the streets in protest.

The government brutally repressed these demonstrations. At least 30 people died; among them was journalist Ángel Gahona, who was shot dead while conducting an on-air report about the protests.

Numerous organisations condemned these instances of violence. Among them are the Committee for the Protection of Journalists in El Salvador, the Centre for Citizens, the Association of Guatemalan Journalists (APG), the Journalism School of Honduras (CPH) and the Honduran Press Association (APH). Said organisations repudiated and forcefully condemned the violence unleashed against journalists and Nicaraguan media outlets by government forces and sympathisers of the Sandinista regime.

Regional overview

The incidents in Nicaragua and Ecuador were two of the worst developments in the Americas last month. However, the continuous threats to freedom of expression in various countries - in addition to constant attacks on journalists and media outlets - have led several organisations to speak out.

The IFEX-ALC network for the defence of freedom of expression, free, independent and safe journalism - made up of 24 organisations from Latin America and the Caribbean - spoke out against the murder of journalists in the region. This year alone, 16 journalists have been murdered. The network describes the violence as "a growing regional trend".

The network issued an urgent call for Latin American and Caribbean states to implement effective protection measures and eliminate impunity in cases of violence against journalists in the region.

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) - an IFEX member - held one of its biannual meetings in April. The association also forcefully condemned violence against journalists, reflected by the murder of several Latin American members of the press. IAPA also rejected the countless acts of repression, digital harassment and threats that media outlets face.

Reporters Without Borders published its World Press Freedom Index, which revealed an increase in the hatred of journalism around the world. Even though it may seem that the region is slightly improving, RSF's report concludes that various Latin American countries still face issues such as impunity, violence against journalists and authoritative attitudes towards the press.

More conflicts, some projects and new reports

In Cuba, reporter Rudy Cabrera was detained by state security agents at the beginning of the month. His adds to the case list of 16 journalists and human rights defenders who were attacked in Cuba in January and February 2018, according to the Cuban Association for Press Freedom (Asociación Pro Libertad de Prensa de Cuba).

According to Reporters Without Borders, Cuba continues to be a dangerous place for independent media. Year after year, Cuba ranks the lowest in terms of press freedom in Latin America, according to RSF's index.

Another country that ranks near the bottom of the index is Mexico, where attacks against journalists, and impunity for those attacks, continue to occur. It's now been two years since the murder of journalist Francisco Beltrán, and impunity for the crime persists. The authorities have yet to provide Beltrán's family with an explanation for the journalist's death.

Given the situation in Mexico, Amnesty International and ARTICLE 19 launched an online platform: "Mexico without fear". The platform monitors and analyses the frequency with which political candidates discuss human rights on Twitter.

Gender and Internet

Another report published this month tackles the issue of the digital divide between men and women in Mexico.
The report, Gender and the digital divide in Mexico: What do we talk about when we talk about access? was published by Derechos Digitales. The report reveals that even though the digital divide between men and women is narrowing, information technology is still not used as much by women as it is by men.

Mexico is not the only country engaging in this conversation. In Colombia, Fundación Karisma launched a campaign to promote feminist internet freedom initiatives. The campaign uses GIFS to promote inspiring projects, so that girls, women and youth can understand that their involvement is essential in the creation of an inclusive internet.

Through technology, women can strengthen their struggle. They can weave networks that promote solidarity and a collective way of knowledge-building for a more egalitarian world. #GirlsInICT

In brief

In Canada, IFEX member Open Media is gathering signatures and comments against a proposal that would require every person who applies for a visa to enter the United States to provide a list of all the social networks in which they are registered, in addition to sharing their usernames.

While Costa Rica continues to be the highest ranked Latin American country for press freedom, it still fell four spots from its ranking in a report last year.

In Venezuela, a Chavista journalist spoke out about workplace harassment and was fired.

In Honduras, journalist Mauricio Ortega received death threats through Facebook messages.

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