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Hugo Chavez Wages War on Free Press in Venezuela, Other Latin Presidents Follow Suit

Latin American media and the journalism profession have had a difficult history with dictators and military juntas that killed and imprisoned many journalists, and closed down or censored many newspapers, radio and television stations. But the democratization, experienced by the region during the last decades, brought freedom of expression and a nascent critical media that openly denounces and debates national issues, public policies, political scandals and corruption in government.

Yet, in recent years a new wave of leftist politicians came to power in Latin America and some of these “progressive” leaders have been openly hostile to media freedom, to the point of closing hundreds of television and radio stations and harassing and persecuting journalists. In Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and other countries these leftist regimes and politicians are proclaiming a new economic and social model, a socialist revolution that -- sadly -- it's based on the Cuban model where free and independent media has no place.

Hugo Chavez, in Venezuela, has closed more than 30 radio stations and many newspapers and television stations. Newspapers have been threatened and fiscally harassed by the Chavez regime. In election times Chavez utilizes all the controlled media to attack his competitors and manipulate information.  

Argentina's intentions to control the press are well-known, in 2010 they tried to regulate production of newsprint to control printed media, and it prompted international criticism against the unconstitutional measure (the Obama Administration took notice as well). It is quite normal for Cristina Kirchner, in Argentina, to publicly accuse El Clarin, La Nacion and other media in incendiary speeches describing them as traitors and as having conspired with former dictators, when their only problem is that they criticize her public policies. 

In Ecuador, Rafael Correa's Administration has also persistently attacked television stations; he has taken some of them to court. In Nicaragua, Ortega uses state-run television to attack the media, which he publicly accuses of being controlled by the CIA and the "elite" classes of the country. At the same time, government-friendly media establishments are rewarded with profitable public contracts in all these regimes.

In Mexico, Lopez Obrador, a two-times presidential candidate, continually attacks Televisa, Milenio, El Universal, Excelsior and other media establishments because they criticize or question his actions and will not bend to his particular views. His incendiary discourse against the media enrages his followers who insult and attack journalists in social networks as well as in the streets. Never have so many newspapers, media establishments and journalists felt so threatened as they are today with this leftist and messianic leader in Mexico.

These so called “progressive” leaders base their attacks on the media on some fabricated premise of “democratization of the media,” an euphemism for media control by the state, so they deny licenses to television and radio stations and independent journalists. Editors and shareholders are harassed at a personal level and many have had to leave their countries while populist demagogues aim at controlling media freedom and manipulate the masses to remain in power. Some of them have been successful, Chavez has been in power for twelve years already and the Kirchner family has been ruling Argentina for more than a decade. 

These attacks against the press in Latin America are undermining the practice of free and objective journalism. Many journalists, writers and intellectuals are now afraid to criticize populist and demagogue leaders; they fear being lynched by mobs in the streets, in social networks and academia, where left-wing ideologists abound and easily manipulate youngsters who lack any political criteria.

This issue must be brought to the AOS and the UN, because it is compromising freedom of expression and democracy in Latin America.

Editors' note: The article previously stated that Chavez closed "hundreds of radion and television stations and newspaper" – this has been corrected to reflect the smaller number of media outlets impacted by Chavez and his administration.

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