Latin American ”˜democracies’ continue to target whistleblowers

Jose Coronado

On March 15, the Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui was fired from MVS Network, one of the main TV and radio networks in Mexico. The day after Aristegui was fired, millions of people backed the journalist on social media, and some signed a petition for her reinstatement. The firing of Aristegui became so popular because she and her team of journalists discovered that the Mexican first lady owned a mansion worth seven million dollars; this house was given to her by a construction corporation in order to obtain more contracts from the Mexican government.

Aristegui and her team had always been critics of the government. On her show, Aristegui denounced corruption among government officials and corporations. A couple of months ago they discovered that the leader of the PRI (Mexico’s most important political party) was running a prostitution ring in Mexico City. As we can see, Aristegui and her team had many enemies who wanted her off the air. According to MVS Network, she was fired because of inappropriate conduct and contract violations.

I do not want to accuse the Mexican government of pressuring the MVS network to fire Aristegui, but there are enough stories of censorship to make this plausible. Aristegui is very popular, and I am sure she will either find another job or move to the United States to continue reporting about Mexico. Many other reporters from Latin America have done the latter after having problems with governments or major networks in their countries. Government censorship in Latin America shows that individual rights and free speech are not protected and that the region is still not all democratic.

The case of Carmen Aristegui is the latest major case of censorship in Latin America, a region well-known for corrupt governments and powerful drug cartels who want to keep the population ignorant. Fortunately government control of the media in Latin America has decreased since the Internet came to the region. Now people can organize and learn what is happening in their countries from independent sources. People have become reporters and often upload videos and pictures of the injustices around them.

However, not even they escape from government censorship. In Venezuela, people began to videotape long food lines and the markets empty because of a food shortage. The government of Venezuela, in an attempt to hide the economic and political crisis, has made videotaping of long lines and markets without products a crime that can send you to prison.

Bloggers and independent reporters are also censored and attacked in Mexico. Maria Fuentes was a Mexican blogger that in 2012 began to write on a Facebook page named Valor por Tamaulipas which gave information about the actions of drug cartels in her state. In October of 2014, Maria was murdered by members of a drug cartel. I feel proud that there are people worried about the situation of their countries and risking their lives and liberty to show the world the problems around them.

A government that restricts the rights of freedom of speech is a dictatorship. This case is more clear with Venezuela, where the government puts citizens in prison just because of their opinions. The cases of Mexico, and other countries where cartels control entire regions, are similar. When the government is not protecting the freedom of speech of its citizens, it is a sign that this country is becoming a failed state because of its incapacity of protecting individual rights.

I feel sad that people willing to tell the truth have to hide their faces in order to avoid attacks from the government or cartels. Unfortunately they have limited options. They can’t go and denounce the aggressions they suffer because police in Latin American countries are often corrupt and inefficient. Their best option for now is to continue reporting anonymously and to unite with others that do the same.

Censorship shows us that apparently living in democracies does not mean that Latin America is democratic and that individual rights are not fully protected. No one should have to risk being shot because of his or her opinion.