Press freedom is under attack in Latin America. Biden can help defend him

It’s no secret that Trumpism lives on in Latin America, where leaders with authoritarian leanings, both left and right, have borrowed from Trump’s populist playbook – from embracing his most popular strategies. more radical and toxic to discredit the elections to the usual critics on Twitter. .

But perhaps nowhere is Trump’s toxic impact more evident than in world leaders’ renewed war on the news media. Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro, Salvadoran Nayib Bukele and Mexican Andrés Manuel López Obrador are just three examples of such dynamics in Latin America. All three have constantly used the terms “fake news” and “fifi”, Mexican slang meaning elitist, to refer to the press. With Joe Biden in the White House, the United States must return to its traditional role as champion of the free press in the hemisphere.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro regularly attacks and humiliates journalists. Actual acts of aggression against members of the press increased under his presidency. All of this translates into a general feeling of hatred and mistrust towards the media. The far-right leader, elected in 2018 as an outsider who took inspiration from Trump, was a COVID-19 denier and often blamed the media for the coronavirus panic. That was before he contracted the virus. Then things got real: Bolsonaro used an oppressive old law to launch criminal investigations into citizens, including journalistswho criticized his administration’s dismal response to the pandemic.

Bukele, for his part, has weaponized social media to undermine unfavorable and critical independent journalism, just as Trump did. According to the media, the young Salvadoran president wants to become “the first millennial dictator in Latin America”. He displays worrying anti-democratic attitudes, such as when his administration blocked El Faro and Revista Factum – two of the country’s most reputable investigative outlets – from attending presidential press conferences. More recently, Bukele announced that El Faro was being investigated for money laundering, without providing evidence. The series of attacks even prompted members of the US Congress to write a letter to Bukele expressing their concern.

In Mexico, which remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist, the leftist president has taken aim at autonomous watchdog organizations – such as the Institute for Access to Information and the Federal Commission for Economic Competition, an anti-monopoly watchdog agency – which have long been consulted by journalists to expand their investigative work and examine government operations and potential corruption. Recently, López Obrador, also known as AMLO for his acronym in Spanish, forcefully decried the well-deserved Twitter Trump’s ban, calling it censorship, and said he would look into limiting the power of social media companies.

Biden expected to see conditions deteriorate in these countries as an opportunity to reclaim America’s role as an international leader in press freedom. The Committee to Protect Journalists has recommended that Biden deliver a major speech on press freedom around the world and appoint a special presidential envoy who would report to the secretary of state and be empowered to speak out against freedom violations. of the international press.

To underscore the need to improve press freedom, Biden can also direct the US State Department to exert high-level pressure on these Latin American governments – and possibly even use foreign aid. or public shame, according to CPJ experts.

“Bukele is really image conscious so that’s something that will matter to him,” said Natalie Southwick, the organization’s South and Central America program coordinator. Specifically, in Mexico, the Biden administration should prioritize strengthening institutions created to protect journalists that are at risk of being underfunded or suppressed by Mexican lawmakers.

Media vilification has finally waned in the White House with a president who fully respects the role of a free press no matter where the tokens fall for his administration. Yet the sad reality is that a former US president helped normalize attacks on the press as a strategy of government and set the stage for the atmosphere in Latin America today. Biden should actively and vocally endorse the importance of an unfettered and unintimidated press as a fundamental pillar of democracy — because it’s the right thing to do and because the United States has a responsibility to help. repair the damage they caused under the previous administration.


Editorials represent the opinions of the Editorial Board of The Boston Globe. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.

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