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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

United States' annual report criticizes lack of freedom of expression in Ecuador and Venezuela



The United States State Department published on Thursday their annual report on human rights, where it strongly criticized the restrictions on press freedoms and freedom of expression in Venezuela and Ecuador. In the midst of a political crisis in Venezuela, the report highlighted that the Venezuelan government “continued taking actions to impede on freedom of expression and restrict press freedoms.”​

The report states that in the last year the Venezuelan government intimidated “private TV stations, news media and journalists through the use of threats, fines, property seize, arrests and criminal investigations.”

Radio Caracol reported that in addition to the actions the government took to restrict the media, which create a “climate of fear and self-censorship”, the report states that the “principal abuses” to human rights reported in Venezuela have to do with the “corruption and politicization of the justice system,” and expresses Washington’s worry that the Venezuelan government “does not respect the judicial independence and does not let the judges act in accordance to the law and without fear of repercussions.”

According to news agency EFE, the report also accuses Nicolás Maduro’s government of “using the justice system to intimidate and persecute in a selective manner the leaders of those critical of the government,” adding that the authorities are the ones who control the security forces, the ones who have violated human rights, and even though there are some cases of action taken against small-level government officials, there are very few of these taken against corrupt high-level officials.

“Now, two months into 2014, the tendency that persists in Venezuela, the government keeps repressing dissidence through use of force and restricts the distribution of information through television, radio and internet,” said the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, according to El Mundo. “The solution to the problems in Venezuela will not be found through violence, but through dialogue,” he added, in reference to the protests that have been taking place in the country for the last few weeks.

Another Latin American country highlighted in the report is Ecuador, where the restrictions to the freedom of expression and press make up the bulk of human rights violations that took place last year in the country.

The report states that “the government used legal mechanisms, like the defamation law and administrative rules, to suppress press freedoms and limit the freedom to congregate,” and that the government of President Rafael Correa “continued the verbal and legal attacks against the press during this year,” having declared the press “his worst enemy.”

The report stated that during his weekly speeches, Correa instigated government officials to present lawsuits against the media, which led to an increase in self-censorship among the news organizations.

El Universo reported that the Ecuadorian government rejected the report, stating that the critiques are “unilateral” and accused the United States government of having “a poor history in complying with human rights laws in the last few years.”

“The Ecuadorian government remembers that the country run by Barack Obama ‘has examples of illegal detentions, tortures in the Guantanamo Bay prison, persistence in the application of the death penalty, Cuban embargo, use of drones to kill populations and the impunity of the Iraq invasion,’” reported Noticias Terra, and added that in an official document, the Ecuadorian government asked the United States to worry about ratifying “at least” five international documents on human rights, highlighting that the country hadn’t signed international conventions against torture and the rights of migrant workers, and said that Ecuador has signed and ratified all of the human rights documents mentioned.

When he presented the report, Kerry stated that his government will “keep supporting those without a voice in Venezuela, where the government has faced peaceful protesters with a display of force in the streets, and the imprisonment of students,” published El Universal.

Venezuela, Ecuador and Cuba -- which was accused of intimidating anti-government dissidents -- are the three Latin American countries mentioned in the State Department’s “black list” which is sent to Congress each year. The report is a guide to help U.S. lawmakers decide on the foreign aid they extend to each country. 



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