For many, Latin America is the far-flung realm of exoticism, the epitome of passion, dance and the humanoids that are Victoria’s Secret models. It’s a reputation, however, which has been tainted over recent years as brewing political corruption, drug wars and gang violence have highlighted the ever rickety struggle for ideological power.
It’s a conflict which has had severe repercussions for numerous sections of society; women, transvestites, homosexuals and the poorer classes have (as is all too often the norm) been most at the mercy of the exploitation such instability hails. However, under an ever more watchful eye, is Latin America’s media. Last year, 12 journalists were murdered in Latin America alone, with Brazil and Mexico holding fort amongst the world’s 11 deadliest countries for journalists since 1992. Indeed, such cases as the murders of Mexican photojournalist, Rubén Espinosa and Brazilian blogger, Italo Diniz in 2015 have emphasised the consistent struggle between liberty and repression which has characterised Latin America’s turbulent history. Yet, as a symbol of progression, many journalists have demonstrated their influence, offering more liberal hopes for advancement.
Last year, 12 journalists were murdered in Latin America alone
To say that history is always written by the winners is perhaps all too true of Latin America. As far as written documents show, Latin American history can be traced from the 15th and 16th centuries when the Aztec, Inca and Mayan civilisations were overthrown by the invading conquistadores who imposed their own Western values on these indigenous cultures. In spite of this consistent Hispanic influence, however, the indigenous identity of Latin America has still remained potent. Indeed, the emergence of the literary genre, ‘indigenismo’ in the 19th and 20th centuries explored the impact of native minorities on political ideologies – a relationship which seemed to manifest itself in the growing popularity of left-wing philosophies.
In a culture which remained inherently opposed to Western capitalism, historical sympathies almost facilitated the rise of such rulers as Salvador Allende in Chile, Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala and Víctor Paz Estenssoro in Bolivia. However, for many governments, such political advancements were short-lived; continuous interventions by the United States and the CIA helped to instigate and underpin some of the most repressive military dictatorships of the twentieth century, most notoriously those of Argentina’s Jorge Rafael Videla (1976 – 1981) and Chile’s Augusto Pinochet (1979 – 1990).
Although many nations have now returned to a democratically-elected system, such interferences have completely destabilised Latin America’s search for an ideology, particularly in Mexico and Central America where drug cartels and gang violence have seized swathes of control.
such interferences have completely destabilised Latin America’s search for an ideology
It is these interventions which have had a significant impact on press freedom throughout the continent. Although the 1990s appeared to signal an explosion of liberalism, this was rapidly undermined in many nations. Cuba, Mexico, Honduras and Venezuela notoriously face significant press limitations with many major news channels encountering strict censorship by the government and local drug lords.
However, many journalists have still not allowed this to deter them from their work. The Colombian journalist, María Jimena Duzán was renowned for being one of the most active critics of Álvaro Uribe’s regime (2002 – 2010), regardless of threats to take legal action against her. Indeed, even the death of Rubén Espinosa in Mexico has only strengthened media criticisms, as students, photographers and journalists have protested against severe press repression in cities such as Veracruz. Independent news outlets such as El Faro (El Salvador), IDL-Reporteros (Peru) and The Clinic (Chile) have all acted as vehicles for unfettered criticism. This resolve was strengthened in 2013 when they united with seven other Latin American publications to create the ALiados network, enabling ‘mutual cooperation and finding new ways to sustain independent journalism.’
students, photographers and journalists have protested against severe press repression
Within this climate of fear, it would be easy to assume that all Latin America media will simply fall under such repressive mechanisms. However this consistent search for journalistic independence has proven otherwise, offering more liberal hopes of progression and advancement. Far from submitting to the corrupt grip of local politicians and the judiciary, many journalists are waging a powerful war of words which aims to not only publicise but actively reform. It’s a cause which has attracted not only students and intellectuals, but the international media.
The venality which is actively dissected does not only surround Latin American issues, but implicitly pioneers reform in all sections of the world. Be it media censorship in the Middle East or mafia violence in Africa, the problems being tackled in Latin America are only an intrinsic aspect of a global network. It is these journalists, be they in Mexico City or Santiago who are fiercely, potently advocating reform. They are not submissive cogs in a greasy political machine but autonomous sparks seeking for liberty and human rights in all sectors of life.