“A neighbor gave me a good-luck charm for the trip and a friend wrote down his shoe size for me to bring him a pair,” wrote Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez, an icon of freedom of expression in her country, towards the end of January, a few hours after having received her passport to travel abroad for the first time in many years and after many refusals by the La Havana government.   

Sánchez, 37, will be with the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) during its Midyear Meeting from March 8-11 in Puebla, Mexico.(1) However, other Cubans, such as Ángel Moya, a former political prisoner and the husband of one of the “Ladies in White,” were denied passports, compelling them to remain as “island prisoners.”              

The popular writer and journalist was named vice chair of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information in representation of Cuba and will be the keynote participant in the panel “How to Open the Cuban Bolt from the Inside.”              

During the IAPA’s mid-year event, whose opening ceremony will be conducted by Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto, current journalistic issues and the future of the press will be discussed in depth. In addition, the delegates of the press of the Americas will review the state of press freedom in the countries of the Western Hemisphere.              

The historic city of Puebla will also be the setting for a roundtable discussion on the increase in violence against journalists in Mexico and Central America, while another panel will focus on shared responsibilities for putting an end to the violence and doing away with impunity. Speakers in both presentations ­– investigative reporters, media editors and publishers, a senator and a representative of the Mexican government – will give accounts of the various forms of aggression in areas where the illicit drug trade seems to reign and will assess the effectiveness of their own and of other official measures aimed at ensuring the safety of media and journalists. 

Free speech trends and challenges in the Americas, the risks posed by authoritarian setbacks, and the people’s reactions to confront them will be some of the issues addressed by former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso during the ceremony in which he will receive the Chapultepec Grand Prize, awarded each year by the IAPA to persons or organizations that are remarkable in their defense of freedom of the press.              

“There is no state governed by the rule of law where someone can claim that he or she is not going to comply with the law and who places himself or herself above a law voted for by a wide majority, including opposition legislators, and above all, the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government,” declared an Argentine government official last November. Certainly that is how it should be. But what happens when the law masks censorship? That is precisely the topic that will be analyzed in Puebla by renowned constitutionalist lawyers, university professors, and Argentine journalists.              

A keynote debate lead by renowned figures, among them Mexican novelist Ángeles Mastretta, will examine in detail the differences and discrimination within the communications field to which women are subjected, as well as highlight the advances of the gender within journalism.              

Responses to questions on what has been the impact in the region of the actions of the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas), how to interpret the proposal of Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa that the government be the regulator of the flow of information for the people, and what will be the future of the Organization of American States’ Office of the Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression will be addressed by Mexican historian and essayist Enrique Krauze and the former President of Ecuador, Luis Oswaldo Hurtado, in the panel discussion “Political Changes in the Americas – Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina.”              

There will also be an opportunity during the meeting to review and reflect on the prevalence of populism in Latin American politics, the distortion of democratic processes, and the advances and setbacks in the battle for the right to information.              

The irruption of the digital age and its relentless arrival in news companies will be analyzed by experts, who will talk about the trends in traditional newspapers and digital advertising, and the new role that social networks are assuming.              

The agenda for the three-day meeting also envisions cultural conferences and programs that include visits to art and gastronomic venues, universities and Puebla’s historic districts. But without a doubt the highlight of the meeting will be the overview of the state of freedom of expression and of the press, to which IAPA holds is central commitment.

(*)  The author is the chair of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information and editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda.  

(1)   Details of the event are contained in the IAPA meeting’s program posted on www.sipiapa.org.

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