One of the main crimes against the press in Latin America was the bomb that officials The Sandinistas had a press conference put on by the guerrilla chief Eden Pastora, one of the leaders who confronted them when Nicaragua was disembowelled in the cold war. It was in La Penca, on the border with Costa Rica, on May 30, 1984. Seven people died and twelve were injured. The bomb was planted by Roberto Vital Gaguine, an Argentine collaborator of Sandinismo, a member of the People’s Revolutionary Army. He later died in La Tablada, that crazy and brutal assault on January 23, 1989.
In La Penca, Vital Gaguine posed as a Danish photojournalist and accompanied a journalist Swedish, Peter Torbiörnsson, who told the story from his anguish: “I knew he was a Sandinista spy but not that he was going to plant a bomb.” In Costa Rica, the oldest democracy in Latin America, the date of the attack was set as Journalist’s Day.
Now, in that area the situation is once again dramatic for journalists. We already know that there are three increasingly triple dictatorships in the region: Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. They cooperate among the three, present a homogeneous legitimizing discourse, and imitate each other in the repressive practices against journalism. Journalists in these latitudes know that if an attack against them starts from the official media, it is because incremental actions are being prepared to stop them. Propaganda is the first phase of repression.
When these dictatorships were forged, the first alerts arose from journalism, as happened with the Diario de la Marina when the Cuban revolution was made in 1959, to La Prensa de Managua or El Nacional de Caracas. This demolition is prepared with the delegitimization of the press, trying to persuade that reducing the freedom of journalism is expanding and not closing the civic space.
In Cuba, violence against the press is more institutionalized: journalists suffer torture from jail, from continuous detention on the streets, from confinement in their homes. Each one has a policeman who “takes care of it”. Journalists are still in jail for having covered the past mid-year protests. On the other hand, in Venezuela or Nicaragua the violence is more naked.
At the Latin American Conference of Investigative Journalism, organized in the first days of December in Canelones, by the Institute of Press and Society (IPYS), several of the journalists who spoke were in exile. But even that did not prevent the continuation of the abuses against them. Venezuelan Roberto Deniz, who is in exile in Colombia after uncovering the Alex Saab case from the site armando.info, had his parents’ house raided in Caracas; in Nicaragua they do something similar to Wilfredo Miranda, who at the age of twenty-nine is already living his second exile but says: “I don’t want to be in prison and I don’t want to be silent either,” and now when he publishes from Costa Rica patrol cars go to his parents’ house in the town where they live south of Managua.
Unfortunately, there are also pre-authoritarian signs in Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador, where there are already journalists who are in exile, or about to leave. A democracy with exiles is a qualitative leap in authoritarianism, since there is a recognition by the journalist that the arbitrariness of power has crossed a decisive line, and that defense is useless. The Guatemalan Marvin del Cid also went into exile, given the advance of legal pressure: a judge had restricted his access to Congress by applying the Law against Femicide and other forms of Violence against Women, because his investigations mortified a parliamentary official and , they also accused him, with the same law, along with another colleague with whom they carry out their investigations, for coercion and psychological violence against the sister and mother of one of their investigators.
A the journalists of El Faro, a digital media outlet in El Salvador, which does some of the best journalism from the region, threaten them with restricting international donations, which would affect the financing that allows them to do independent journalism.
Y in countries where the situation is not so degraded, the stigma towards journalists It is sometimes the ground that prepares for greater violence, as Leopoldo Maldonado, regional director of Article 19, said. This stigma is thrown above all against investigative journalists, who deploy their professional strength to influence the rights of citizens.
Those were the works awarded at that conference. The first two prizes went to major television journalism brands, Brazil’s Globo and Colombia’s Caracol. Journalist James Alberti, from the Globo program Fantástico, revealed that 83% of those unjustly detained for having been “recognized” in a catalog of photos of alleged suspects are black. One of those poor black youths was “recognized” nine times for crimes he did not commit, according to the Globo investigation. In Colombia, the great journalist Ricardo Calderón, in Noticias Caracol, revealed the falsehoods of the official version about the repression of a tragic riot in a prison. And in Mexico, the journalist Marcela Turati exposed from the Fifth Element outlet that the malpractice of the forensic experts degraded the evidence to investigate the crimes. Turati, like so many investigative journalists in the region, was herself investigated by the judiciary based on false accusations.
Also at that international conference Tucuman journalist Irene Benito presented her research on women who suffered femicides despite having warned with successive complaints. As with Turati, Benito suffers particular legal harassment from powerful sectors of the local justice system close to the provincial government. In our country, the harassment of leading investigative journalists is very relevant, as shown, among others, by the systematic attacks against Daniel Enz, Hugo Alconada Mon and Daniel Santoro.
The International Congress of the Argentine Journalism Forum (Fopea), held on December 9 and 10, was entitled “The pride of being a journalist.” In the two days there were many questions about journalism, but its importance was revalued, something that was endorsed globally by the delivery of the Nobel Peace Prize to two journalists. The new president of Fopea, Esquel journalist Paula Moreno, also highlighted the key importance of hyperlocal journalism in the country, which represents the vast majority of Argentine journalism.
The press often has a shameful relationship with its own power. Many have been convinced that it is a sectarian power, illegitimate, because it is not voted for. But there is no need to apologize for the power that professional journalism has. On the contrary, you have to use it. It is a democratic power that springs from our constitutions.
Almost forty years later, the Swedish journalist who was deceived in La Penca confronted the Sandinista leaders and managed to finally that one recognize before the camera the guilt of the government of Daniel Ortega. Years before, a journalist from the Miami Herald had told the story, and now Peter made it visible through his documentary.
The power of truth still needs help to expand, so the dark clouds that cast a shadow over journalistic activity do not have to hide what is fundamental: the essentiality of this profession was not born with the pandemic, but with democracy.
Journalism and Democracy researcher at Universidad Austral