One can complain of many things in Latin America, but not of dull uniformity. From bird-watching to watching -- or enduring -- revolutions, the overriding impression gotten from Latin America is that of the paradoxical variety, the at times surreal singularity of events. As time goes by and a new century approaches, while Latin American countries like Peru manage to produce Fujimoris instead of Fukuyamas, one cannot avoid feeling that instead of marching toward the end of history, we are moving, floating or crawling toward its beginning.
Change -- all too often haphazard and dismantling by nature -- seems to be a constant feature in the political systems of Latin America. Whereas the inhabitants of most other regions in the world can recall perhaps just one or two major changes of political systems in their lifetimes, most Latin American baby-boomers have lived through a couple of democratic experiences and dictatorial experiments.(1) We have been exposed to a nominal tabula rasa -- to a purported new beginning -- on three, four or five different occasions, as waves of democratic regimes or autocracies have swept Latin America more or less each decade.
Unpredictable politics is just one of the reasons why Latin America is the continent where paradox often seems to dictate reality. As paradox creates a wide, patternless range of experiences, Latin America is often better understood through narrative rather than analytic categories. After ideologies and models will have proved once and again their insufficiency, both the people and the land will remain brimming with stories. These stories must be told in order to make sense of history. This is one of the reasons why literature and journalism are so important in Latin America, compared to other regions of the world. The press itself is a story too, sometimes as confusing or paradoxical, often as compelling, as the continent it covers.
JOURNALISM IN A DUALISTIC CULTURE: THE REAL, THE IDEAL
The influence of the press in Latin America, especially during periods of democracy, is generally strong. Notions both new and traditional about the role journalism plays in society hold true; despite superficial similarities, these notions are different in many ways from those prevalent in the United States. It was Brazilian reporting on former President Fernando Collor's alleged corruption that launched the momentous process that eventually ended in Collor's resignation. In Argentina, the investigative reporting on corruption in the Menem-Yoma family, especially that of journalist Horacio Verbitsky, greatly ruffled and irritated an otherwise smug Menem regime, and in the end made it much more cautious and sensitive about its own accountability. In Colombia, certain journalists and papers, such as El Espectador, were repeatedly the victims of assassination and bombing campaigns carried out by the drug trafficking mafia against the Colombian state and society. Yet their determination to hold ground in the unlikely exchange of voice against bullet, print against bomb, also held together the national will to resist, even at its weakest.
In Peru, after Alberto Fujimori's 5 April 1992 coup d'etat abruptly ended the 12-year-old democratic system, the independent press -- rather than the political parties -- led the opposition against the dictatorship. Before that, every important drug-trafficking organization and every human-rights atrocity had been exposed in the press well before the formal legal authorities began to acknowledge, much less to deal, with the case.
Throughout Latin America, journalism shares certain common characteristics. The best journalists normally see themselves as waging a life-long "war by other means." journalism, as trench warfare or as perpetual crusade, is the paradigm -- and the common stereotype -- of the profession.
At the same time, Latin American journalism has suffered from deep-seated contradictions. …