CNN on Friday carried the story that a new report by Amnesty International ranks Latin America amongst the most dangerous regions for journalists.
According to the report, nearly 400 journalists were threatened or attacked in the Americas in 2010, and Mexico is one of the worst offending countries, according to Javie Zuniga, a special adviser on human rights for Amnesty International. "It's a sense of impunity that feeds into more killings and more abuses throughout the continent, especially in Mexico, Colombia, Honduras and Brazil," he said.
Media laws passed in Argentina in 2008, in Venezuela in December 2010 (known as the Ley Resorte) and under consideration in Ecuador, all extend presidential power over media critics of their regimes.
Other countries that seriously threaten journalists include the Dominican Republic and my own home country, Venezuela.
I remember going through immigration at the Simón Bolívar International Airport outside Caracas, entering on my Venezuelan passport in one of my regular visits home. This one must have been a couple of years ago now, but I already had earned a bit of a reputation as a vocal critic of the presidency of Hugo Chávez. In the “occupation” box of my immigration card, I defiantly wrote: “periodista,” journalist.
This prompted a further inspection of my passport, a scrawl in red ink across my immigration form of “PERIODISTA” in huge letters and its being put in a separate pile.
Then the questions started: Was I there for work? No, just visiting family. How long would I stay? A week or so.
I pointed out that I am in fact a Venezuelan citizen and expect to be treated as such -- not as some foreign spy.
“You will be subject to surveillance while you are here,” the woman behind the counter informed me coolly.
“Good. I hope Chávez likes what he sees,” was my response.
At home, my brother was a lot less sanguine. “Why?” he demanded. “Why would you do that? You should’ve just written ‘housewife’.”
“Because,” I answered, “if we don’t stand up, we’re doomed. If we don’t defy, we aid a repressive regime. Didn’t we learn that from the Nazi and Communist persecutors of our ancestors, little brother?”
With this, he could not disagree.