Independent journalists in these three countries report a pattern of persecution and harassment by the Ortega, Diaz-Canel and Maduro regimes.
The OAS Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression reports that there is no Rule of Law is these countries, nor are there any safeguards for journalists.
HAVANA TIMES – “There are no safeguards for freedom of the press in these three countries,” Pedro Vaca, the OAS Special Rapporteur, said, who attended the forum with the name “Latin American press under siege, freedom for arrested journalists.”
Independent journalists and media outlets in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba, lack fundamental safeguards for the exercise of their rights and face systematic persecution from these regimes. These were the words of the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, as well as journalists from these three countries, at a forum held by the National Press Club in Washington D.C.
Vaca described the situation in the three countries as “a State policy of silence, using sophisticated censorship mechanisms,” with the participation of the Judicial System, the Attorney-General’s Office, the Police and other public institutions of security and justice.
“The entire institutional framework doesn’t work in favor of human rights and freedom of expression, but protects these authoritarian mechanisms,” Vaca explained, after hearing testimonies from Nicaraguan, Venezuelan and Cuban journalists.
Organized by Fundamedios, Voces del Sur and other organizations that look out for freedom of the press in the hemisphere, the Forum noted that 27 journalists had been killed in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela, in the past 20 months alone.
During the same period, 11 journalists have been arrested in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, the last country being where over 30 have been taken to court for their work.
Nicaragua: “an unbearable situation”
Nicaraguan journalists Tiffani Roberts, from the TV channel Univision and Anibal Toruño, from the Radio Dario in the city of Leon, gave ample coverage to exposing this problem in the Central American country.
Roberts described the situation of Nicaraguan journalists as “unbearable,” and said that the few independent journalists that are still in the country have plans to go into exile because of the regime’s harassment and persecution.
Roberts listed the events that have happened since June of this year, when the regime focused its persecution against the Violeta Chamorro Foundation, a non-governmental institution that the journalist described as “a kind of fairy godmother to independent media that face economic problems to survive under Ortega’s government.”
“From then on, the regime came crashing down on it with its persecution and in June of this year, Violeta Chamorro’s daughter, Cristiana, who was the Foundation’s president, was arrested and charged with money laundering because most of the Foundation’s money came from USAID. From then on out, numerous independent journalists in Nicaragua has been summoned or accused by the Attorney-General’s Office as a witness or indicted in the case against the Chamorro Foundation,” Roberts said.
The experienced Univision reporter stated that an “exodus of journalists” ensued as a result, which she described as “incredible”.
Persecution extends to families
“Practicing journalism in Nicaragua is increasingly difficult, it’s no longer a matter of them harassing you on the street if they see you, they station police patrol cars outside your home, they follow your wife/husband and your children when they go to school, the situation has become unbearable,” she stressed.
Roberts said that in June, the last time she was in Nicaragua, a day after she entered the country by land from Honduras, two pick-up trucks with 20 men armed with AK47s were sitting outside her mother’s home, even though she wasn’t staying there and was at a hotel instead.
“But that’s how it works,” she explained.
Roberts mentioned the case of Miguel Mendoza, a sports journalist, who was arrested by the regime over two months ago.
“He thought he wouldn’t be arrested because he was just a sports commentator, but he was making too much noise on social media, he was a real firecracker on social media, he had a lot of followers, so they arrested him. When they arrested him, it was like a kidnapping. Nobody has seen him, and we only know that he was arrested because the Police issued a statement,” Roberts lamented.
On August 31st, Mendoza was charged by the Interior Ministry for crimes of “conspiracy to commit harm to national integrity,” alongside journalist Miguel Mora, former political prisoner and founder of news channel 100% Noticias, whose offices were raided by the police and confiscated by the State.
Siege on La Prensa Newspaper
The journalist described the situation of media outlets and journalists as one of “frightening arbitrariness” and also reported the occupation of La Prensa newspaper’s offices and the arrest of its editor, Juan Lorenzo Hollman Chamorro.
La Prensa was the last national newspaper in circulation and the oldest press outlet in Nicaragua, printed for 95 years. On August 12th, the newspaper reported that once again, the government via Customs had seized production materials including newsprint, so they were forced to close the print edition and only operate in the digital format.
The next day, Police troops raided the offices, along with prosecutors and government officials, confiscating production equipment, charging the paper with money laundering and arresting its editor, Juan Lorenzo Holmann Chamorro.
A death sentence or exile
Meanwhile, journalist Anibal Toruño, director of Radio Dario, reported the news blackout produced by the Ortega regime and its constant attacks against independent media outlets.
The journalist and radio business owner from Leon, who is currently in exile, described the regime’s strategy on this level: destruction and confiscation of editorial offices; confiscation of assets, equipment and buildings; persecution of journalists and their families, and the total closure of a media outlet, with the arrest of journalists and its editors, who were charged with serious crimes.
“What happened in Venezuela in 10 years, happened in less than 3 years in Nicaragua, Toruño reported, whose radio station was burned down in April 2018 when social protests broke out, and further back in 2008, when he reported the first electoral fraud in Nicaragua in favor of the Sandinista government.
The Leon radio owner said that since Ortega came into power in 2007, at least 22 media outlets had closed down, either for economic reasons or because of court orders to close down; more than 18 independent opinion programs have been taken off the air and approximately 150 journalists have been driven into exile, 34 in the last few weeks alone.
Toruño described La Prensa newspaper as “the last survivor”, which has now become the “last victim”.
“The country’s oldest and most important newspaper, has been raided by the police, its editor has been arrested and charged with fabricated crimes,” he reported.
Political police against journalists and the media
Toruño also mentioned the exponential growth in Police officers which now stands at some 20,000 officers, indoctrinated under official discourse and follow superior orders to selectively persecute members of the opposition and journalists.
“This excessive police force is being used to persecute journalists and their families, dozens of their vehicles are being parked outside our offices, our homes and the homes of our parents, spouses and children. Press employees are a police target and are charged with whatever invented crime once in police custody,” he revealed.
Toruño said that Ortega wants to transform the country “into one big prison” and stressed that being a journalist in the country “was a court sentence, a death sentence, a prison sentence or exile.”
“Right now, we only have some 10 independent media outlets in Nicaragua and their future is uncertain, they are under constant pressure from prosecutors, and have had to apply self-censorship in order to survive,” Toruño said.
Cuba: widespread repression
In Cuba, independent media and journalists suffer widespread repression, Cuban historian and political expert, Armando Chaguaceda, said, who also writes with the digital daily Havana Times.
Chaguaceda reminded the Forum of the arrests of journalists Esteban Rodriguez, Yoandi Montiel and Lazaro Yuri Valle last April, and the arrests of many journalists that came during and after the July 11th protests on the island.
The political expert reported the rough conditions of these three journalists’ imprisonment, the people he also described as human rights activists.
“It’s not only these three journalists who have been arrested, we are seeing widespread repression against the independent press, against citizen journalism which is led by young people who have grown up within the system,” Chaguaceda said.
Ban on independent press
The academic reminded those present that “Cuba is the country that is the most sealed off to journalism and information in Latin America, legally sealed I mean.”
“We don’t have the right to exercise independent journalism,” he stressed.
The political expert asked that people understand the situation in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua “not as an ideological issue of Lefts and Rights, not as an ideological struggle, but as a political struggle between autocracy and democracy.”
“If we could understand this, we can show solidary with every independent journalist regardless of their ideology or the government that is repressing them, because journalism is a professional activity and a social right,” he said.
Venezuela: the same persecution pattern
Venezuelan journalists Carlos Roa, from the Association of Venezuelan Journalists in Exile (APEVEX) and Luz Mely Reyes, from the digital newspaper Efecto Cucuyo, described the situation in the South American country as having a similar pattern of persecution as Nicaragua and Cuba.
It’s the same script, the similarities are scary,” Roa said, who denounced Nicolas Maduro’s government for having systematically dismantled freedom of the press in Venezuela, as part of its plan to strengthen his dictatorship.
“Journalists are systematically persecuted, via a legal system that is tailored to be used against them. Thirteen journalists are in Venezuelan prisons,” Roa pointed out.
Roa listed the cases of Rolando Carreño, Eduardo Galindo, Jesus Medina and Luis Carlos Diaz as proof of this persecution.
He further advocated for the US to extend personal sanctions to government officials who have participated in the persecution of journalists and have silenced the independent press.
Attorney-General’s Office and Police as instruments against journalists
For his part, journalist Reyes listed a series of attacks against journalists by the Police and the Attorney-General’s Office prosecuting them for their reports and denunciations, which has forced them to go into exile or abandon their profession.
“There is a pattern of arbitrary arrests, there is a pattern of intimidation and public defamation, which has been pointed out by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,” Reyes reported.
“I have personally suffered these patterns and had to leave the country. Intimidation, public defamation and public harassment are the most common forms of violence that journalists suffer in Venezuela,” he stressed.
According to Reyes, the Press and Society Institute identified 481 cases of assault against journalists between 2019 and 2021, throughout Venezuela.
“Practicing journalism in Venezuela can put you in prison, in exile or take you to a doctor because of physical injuries, and even psychological ones because of mental health as a result of harassment,” Reyes said.
OAS Special Rapporteur reports absence of Rule of Law
According to the OAS Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Pedro Vaca, “there are no safeguards for freedom of the press in these three countries.” He pointed out that the absence of Rule of Law and the controlling of all institutions of power by the presidents as the main causes of harassment and persecution of journalists.
“He also pointed out that these political leaders don’t believe in pluralism and democratic values. In a democracy, controversy and debate is welcome, censorship goes against freedom of the press, and is against anyone who wants to stay informed with current events,” Vaca said.
The report also denounced discourses that stigmatize journalists, that slander them for their work, “which is something that results in consequences on the daily flow of information.”
Vaca expressed his concern for the use of justice systems in these countries to persecute journalists and close down media outlets, as well as their lack of independence.
“They want to silence and impose widespread censorship,” he said.
Vaca warned that countries within the hemisphere “have the democratic duty to be aware of the consequences that these examples will have on the region and the potential repetition of their practices in other countries.”
“Unfortunately, authoritarianism is back and it could be inspiring others, and we will sadly and disturbingly see the consequences of this,” he added.