Jorge Canahuati, president of the Inter-American Press Association fears that the actions taken by the Ortega regime against journalism will be copied by other governments.
HAVANA TIMES – The president of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), the Honduran Jorge Canahuati, noted that the recent official confiscation of the newspaper La Prensa, by the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, is “one more step” to silence all media outlets in Nicaragua. A situation that, he warned, is troublesome because it sets a negative precedent that can be replicated by other “non-democratic governments” of the American continent.
“There is no doubt that freedom of the press in our hemisphere has deteriorated in the last three or four years,” warned Canahuati during an interview with Esta Noche and Confidencial program director, Carlos Fernando Chamorro. “Central America, in particular, is an area that has triggered our concerns,” because of cases such as Nicaragua or Guatemala, where the director of El Periodico, Ruben Zamora, is imprisoned. These situations may motivate other regimes to “take actions against media outlets or press freedom,” he commented.
The IAPA president said, “organizations such as ours should not hesitate” to express their “concern, denunciation or condemnation of these violations” of press freedom. “Nicaraguan journalism must be confident that from IAPA we will continue to be present,” since the “worst thing that can happen is that this becomes normalized or forgotten.”
Last week Daniel Ortega’s regime illegally confiscated the newspaper La Prensa’s instalations. What impact has had this new aggression against freedom of the press on the newspapers of the American continent?
It is really another step by Mr. Ortega to silence the media. Any journalist who censures themself and let’s not talk about any media outlet confiscated or closed, the repercussions are important. First for Nicaragua, which loses an important voice and for Latin America in general due to a tendency that has been seen recently to harass, to stigmatize, to threaten the media, from the United States to Argentina and Chile. What is the biggest concern that we think about at this time? It is that they become an example to be followed by other non-democratic governments or those who want to silence their critics.
Last year in Venezuela there was also the confiscation of the newspaper El Nacional, which together with La Prensa are two emblematic newspapers, each one in its own country. From the Inter-American Press Association, you have been following these crises. At this time, what can be done from the IAPA?
On April 19, the Inter-American Press Association together with 27 world organizations presented a statement on Nicaragua, in which we demanded some actions to improve the situation of journalism and press freedom in your country, ranging from asking countries to receive journalists in exile, which already number more than 300 journalists who are outside, as far as I understand, to requesting multilateral financing organizations to demand that press freedom or freedom of information be respected among the conditions for granting loans. We are not going to remain silent. We are going to continue insisting on denouncing these abuses, on denouncing all the illegal actions taken by the Nicaraguan government against not only journalists, but also against anyone that may have a dissonant voice, such as the NGOs that were recently closed by the Ortega-Murillo government.
Despite the confiscation of La Prensa, Confidencial, 100% Noticias, and other media outlets, we continue doing journalism from exile, spreading contents through the internet and social networks. How do you assess the international press coverage of the Nicaraguan crisis? Is there a fear that there is a kind of oblivion and normalization of this dictatorship in Nicaragua?
There is no doubt that such is real. I believe that organizations like ours will not falter in presenting the denunciations. And that is our commitment. It must not be silenced. It must not be forgotten, as you very well expressed. IAPA, not only in Nicaragua, but before any other minor or major expression such as the case of Nicaragua or Venezuela, will always be there to express our concern, our denunciation or our condemnation of these abuses. It is important to continue to have a voice. You should not be left to oblivion. And I think that Nicaraguan journalism must be certain that from IAPA we will continue to be present. But yes, the worst thing that can happen is that this becomes normalized or forgotten.
You mentioned the bad example that this manifestation of impunity imposed in Nicaragua by Ortega could have in other countries in the region. Are there any other specific concerns about threats to press freedom?
There is no doubt that for those rulers who are sensitive [to criticism] or do not understand the importance of having a vigorous and free press in their countries… all these aspects (abuses) that happen are examples. And, unfortunately, the world crisis left by the pandemic has had an effect, a feeling, that anything could happen, and governments are making decisions in which before they were more cautious.
In Guatemala, (Ruben) Zamora, an emblematic journalist who in one way or another energized journalism in Guatemala. (Nayib) Bukele with his pursuit of legal actions against some of the most important newspapers (of El Salvador) or their main figures. We have a threatened Peru. We have a Colombia in which the entire (electoral) campaign was stigmatizing against the media. A (Jair) Bolsonaro still active in Brazil.
There is no doubt that freedom of the press in our hemisphere has deteriorated in the last three or four years. Less democratic or more dictatorial attitudes have emerged with the excuse of this crisis that we have had in the world about the pandemic. So that Central America in particular is an area that has triggered our concerns. In the case of Zamora, an imprisonment that seems to be unjustified. A process in which they did an over-measured raid on their facilities and so on and so forth. Yes, there is concern. There is no doubt that the enemies of freedom could use this as an encouragement to take action against the media or freedom of the press.
How do you see the case of Nicaragua in the context of Central America?
I think that what we are seeing is part of diplomatic hypocrisy. There is no doubt that the actions of the government of Daniel Ortega and Mrs. Murillo go against not only freedom of the press but also against all liberties. There is no doubt that in many countries governments arrive with a flag of denunciation and protection of human rights in the past, but when these cases happen they go to what is convenient. Yes, I would say that Central American countries must do more. Society must demand more so that this cancer of dictatorial, abusive, repressive governments cannot act without any consequences. I believe that the role of the media and associations such as IAPA are important, and I hope that we could accompany them in creating awareness in the Central American people of the serious deterioration and the great threat that society has of the deterioration of freedom of the press.