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In Central America, despite facing censorship and recurrent attacks from authoritarian regimes, the press remains resilient. The Latin American Conference of Investigative Journalism held in December exemplified the unwavering commitment of the independent press in the region. Journalists often find themselves compelled to go into exile, yet this does not deter them from continuing their work altruistically.
The Latin American Conference of Investigative Journalism (Colpin), conducted from December 6 to 9 in Mexico, serves as a rare platform for Central American press to come together and strategize responses to ongoing assaults from both left and right authoritarian regimes in the region. The outlook presented during the round table titled “Central American Journalism in Danger” is grim, with investigative journalists frequently opting for exile to evade imprisonment.
In El Salvador, 17 journalists have left since Nayib Bukele assumed power in 2019, a number comparable to Guatemala from where 20 journalists are currently exiled in Mexico and Costa Rica. Nicaragua surpasses both, with 20 journalists convicted of “treason to the homeland,” 150 exiled, primarily to Costa Rica, the United States, and Spain following the 2018 violent demonstrations that resulted in nearly 300 deaths. Colpin provides an opportunity to spotlight these tragedies and discuss effective investigative techniques to circumvent censorship and persist in investigative efforts.
Nicaraguan journalist Martha Irene Sanchez, founder, and director of the online media Republica 18, residing in Costa Rica, highlights the challenges of informing while safeguarding journalists still in Nicaragua and a few sources within the state apparatus willing to speak.
Colpin notes the paradox of unprecedented repression alongside extraordinary quality and creativity of independent media. Despite facing orchestrated social media campaigns from the presidential palace to discredit their revelations, media outlets like Guatemala’s Vox Populi in Costa Rica continue to produce high-quality journalism.
Confidencial, a Nicaraguan media outlet that had its facilities were seized in December 2018, demonstrated at Colpin and continues to operate from abroad, investigating topics like “the military around Daniel Ortega,” detailing gifts given by President Ortega to ensure military loyalty. Journalists, such as Arlen Cerda, emphasize the need for meticulous fact-checking due to the lack of public data.
In Cuba, where opinion surveys are prohibited, media outlets collaborate on platforms like Cuba data to collect public opinions on various daily life subjects. Despite facing censorship, independent media outlets increasingly collaborate rather than compete, forming regional partnerships to investigate migration, drug trafficking, and political corruption.
However, these initiatives operate in precarious conditions, relying on international organisations for support. As Martha Irene Sanchez notes, there is decreasing international community support due to the perception that little can be done against the Ortega regime.
Facing legal proceedings, like those initiated by the Guatemalan prosecutor’s office against the media, adds to the challenges. Guatemalan journalist Jose Ruben Zamora spent his 500th day behind bars during the conference, sentenced to six years for money laundering. His case highlights the broader issue of corruption in vaccine purchases against COVID-19. Despite such challenges, the independent press in Central America responds to attacks with increasingly critical and professional journalism, as demonstrated by the resilience of journalists like José Carlos Zamora, whose father faces persecution in Guatemala.
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