Despite Democracy, the Free Press Is under Fire in Latin America RIGHTS ABUSES

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THE right to freedom of the press is still in jeopardy in Latin America and the Caribbean, despite the spread of democracy in the region, the Inter-American Press Association concluded in a recent meeting here.

"Only two countries ... are not democratic right now, but paradoxically, the new democracies and the old democracies are starting to find ways - not as brutal as the old dictatorships but more subtle and nonetheless equally offensive - to limit the freedom of the press," says Juan Emmanuel Santos, deputy publisher of El Tiempo, a top Colombian daily newspaper.

The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) is a group of North, Central, South American, and Caribbean newspaper editors and publishers that meets every six months to gauge press freedom and discuss new trends in the hemisphere.

Drug traffickers are now one of the main threats to free speech in the region, Mr. Santos says. His own paper's pro-extradition stance on the Medellin cocaine trafficking cartel led to an anonymous phone call in 1989 threatening to "wipe me out," he says.

Although many of the bosses of the Medellin cartel are now in prison, he says "other {drug cartels} are emerging and they are following the example of the Medellin cartel, harassing and threatening the press."

In the last six months 11 journalists have been killed in Colombia. In addition, drug traffickers only recently released Santos's brother Francisco and a colleague, also of El Tiempo, from eight months of captivity. As drug routes expand to include Brazil and Argentina, IAPA members fear damage to news coverage.

In Peru, however, the key problem is terrorism as journalists are drawn to the battles between the Shining Path guerrillas and other groups. Four journalists have died in such violence in the past six months, according to the association.

"IAPA's fight against this type of violence ... can be compared to its battles against arbitrary political regimes," outgoing President Julio Cesar Ferreira de Mesquita told members Oct. 23.

The September kidnapping of Christian Edwards del Rio, general manager of Chile's family-owned El Mercurio daily newspaper, illustrates the risks journalists run.

"Today we understand more vividly than ever the struggles undertaken in other countries of our hemisphere like Colombia, Peru, and others where violence and terrorism have battered the media and entire populations," said Mr. …

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