By: Mark Fitzgerald
For the sake of press freedom in the hemisphere and the world, here’s hoping that Paul Wolfowitz — the Iraq war architect picked by President Bush to lead the World Bank –has more in common with the bank’s retiring president, Australian native and Clinton appointee James Wolfensohn, than just his lupine surname.
Wolfensohn arrived at a particularly rough time for the World Bank. It was 1995, and the anti-globalization crowd was feeling its oats coming off its “Fifty years is enough” campaign to blacken the bank’s anniversary.
There was much not to like about the bank back then: Its “structural adjustment” policies made daily life miserable for many Third World people without delivering promised long-term growth. It winked at corrupt governments that squandered aid and further impoverished their citizens. It loved to fund colossal projects — hydroelectric dams, especially — no matter the environmental or cultural damage they wreaked.
Wolfensohn brought many fundamental changes to that World Bank. Some of the changes only enraged the bank’s critics all the more, and sometimes with good reason. Critics assessing his 10-year term also assert that Wolfensohn’s Clintonesque charm made cosmetic changes look like tectonic shifts.
But Wolfensohn’s legacy includes at least one unalloyed triumph: He moved the World Bank out of the ranks of those international institutions that never quite see the point of freedom of the press and that think honest journalism is somehow at odds with economic development.
It might have been an inevitable turn under any leader. In the late 1990s, the collapse of the so-called “Asian Tigers” such as Indonesia and Malaysia clearly demonstrated the failure of the notion that nations could have zooming growth and a muzzled press. As the world learned, the go-go growth was a lie, based on an unsustainably corrupt crony capitalism that might have been exposed before it collapsed if their soft-authoritarian leaders had allowed an aggressive homegrown press.
In 2002, the World Book published a remarkable collection of essays that argued there was a link between press freedom and economic growth. “The Right to Tell: The Role of Mass Media in Economic Development” included works from the economist Joseph Stiglitz to the novelist Gabriel Garc?a M?rquez to the Polish journalist Adam Michnik.
As an E&P editorial pointed out at the time, the book’s intended audience was the Third World, “where a certain vogue for statist controls persists and where the relationship between press liberty and development can be as obvious as the difference between Costa Rica and Cuba.”
“A free press is not a luxury,” Wolfensohn declared in foreword to “The Right to Tell.”
Does Wolfowitz, who takes charge at the World Bank on June 1, believe that as well?
Certainly, there’s reason to worry about free-press beliefs of anyone who rose to such prominence in the secretive George W. Bush administration.
But some are convinced that Wolfowitz will, indeed, keep the World Bank on the side of transparency and press liberty. As Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby wrote last month in The New Republic, “Wolfowitz grew up in a family marked by the Holocaust, and he despises dictators.”
Mallaby argues that Wolfowitz’s push for democracy and transparency in the Philippines in the Ferdinand Marcos era and in Indonesia under Suharto augurs well. The World Bank realizes that to fight corruption, Mallaby wrote, “democratic virtues — transparency, accountability, a free and lively press — are indispensable.” And Wolfowitz, he added, has “pro-democracy instincts.”
The rap on Wolfowitz is that he’s too much the rigid ideologue, and the complexities of the developing word awaiting him at the bank will surely test whether that is true.
One idea, though, Wolfowitz should always hold fast during his tenure at the World Bank. It’s neatly summed up in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
An occasional report on the working conditions of journalists in the hemisphere
Ariel D?az Jaramillo, a freelance photographer working for the Bogota daily El Tiempo, was assaulted by university students in the central city of Pereira while covering a May Day demonstration, the Bogota-based Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) reported. Jaramillo was beaten with sticks, kicked, and doused with an acidic liquid that blinded him for several minutes. “It appears that the students acted out of fear that the photographs would later be used to identify, harass and harm them, as often happens when photographs are taken at public demonstrations in Colombia,” FLIP said.
Julio Augusto Garc?a Romero died April 26 after inhaling tear gas while covering a demonstration in Quito, the New York City-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) reported. Garc?a Romero 58, collapsed while photographing police firing water cannons and tear gas at demonstrators. He went into cardio-respiratory arrest at a Red Cross station and died later at a nearby hospital, CPJ said. He worked for the Chilean news agency La Bocina and the Ecuadorian weekly Punto de Vista.
Argentinean journalist Olga Wornat was placed under house arrest May 6 by a judge ruling in the civil suit brought against her by Marta Sahag?n, the wife of President Vicente Fox. Sahag?n is suing over claims in Wornat’s book, “Damned Chronicles from a Devastated Mexico”, that the first lady’s sons were involved in corrupt construction contracts. Wornat told Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Wornat that she believes her phone is tapped and that she’s under surveillance. “I have never been so afraid,” she told RSF. “I have been harassed for several days by people following me and watching me in the hotel where I live.”
Sally Bowen, a former correspondent for the Financial Times and BBC, was ordered to pay a fine of about $3,000 by a judge who found her guilty May 4 of libeling a Peruvian businessman that the U.S. government has identified as a Peruvian drug kingpin. “Not only am I not in agreement with the sentence, I am indignant,” Bowen told the judge, according to an account by The Associated Press. Fernando Zevallos sued Bowen and a Peruvian publisher for $10 million over a single sentence mentioning him in Bowen’s 493-page book, “The Imperfect Spy: The Many Lives of Vladimiro Montesinos,” Peru’s now-imprisoned former intelligence chief. The judge said there was insufficient evidence of intentional malice in the reference to justify a prison sentence for the alleged libel. Bowen plans to appeal the sentence in Peruvian courts, and to the Inter-American Commission of Human Right in Washington, The Associated Press reported.
Journalist Luis Pe?a Vergaray and his translator, Eduardo Arrobo Samaniego, were released May 11, after five days being held hostage by a group of Aguaruna
indigenous people in the Amazonas region in northeast Peru, the Lima-based Institute for Press and Society (IPYS) reported. The Aguarunas took the pair hostage May 6, “refusing to allow them to leave the community before a government commission came to the area to see the group’s miserable living conditions,” IPYS reported. Pe?a went to the area to investigate the April 21 murder of four government health workers.
Peru’s ambassador to Spain, Fernando Olivera Vega, assaulted radio reporter Bettina Mendoza April 21, slamming his car door violently on her arm and causing serious injury, IPYS reported. Video showed the diplomat apparently slammed the door intentionally, according to the report. As he left, Olivera shouted that journalists were “invading [his] private property.” He later apologized to Mendoza and claimed the incident was an accident.
Eight months after the murder of journalist Mauro Marcano, who was gunned down on September 2004 in the northeastern state of Monagas, “an air of impunity hangs over” the case, RSF said May 9. “An air of impunity hangs over this murder case, which could implicate senior police and military officers whose ties to drug trafficking had been exposed by Marcano,” the free-press group said. “The investigation has come to a complete halt, and we therefore call on the competent authorities to revive it at once.” Marcano was a columnist for the daily El Oriental and hosted a radio show. A day before he was shot by two gunmen as he left his home, El Oriental published his lat column, reporting on the disappearance of several kilos of cocaine after they were seized by the police, RSF noted.