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Home > Publications > Quill > Peru becoming a hostile ground for journalists


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Wednesday, March 1, 2006
Peru becoming a hostile ground for journalists

By Bruce Swaffield

Editor’s Note — To help you become more connected with the world we are living in, the Global toolbox section will highlight a different country each month. You will learn about the top stories of that region, the demographics and the problems journalists there face.

Beyond the beauty and charm of Peru — with its quaint mountain villages, sacred valleys, lush rainforests, tranquil lakes, mysterious rivers and fabled lost cities — another image is developing: the picture of a country that is hostile ground for journalists.

Last year, there were six times as many reported attacks and incidents involving members of the press than in 2004, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Recently, Peru was ranked as being one of the more dangerous countries for journalists. Listed as 116 out of 167 countries in the RSF 2005 Worldwide Press Freedom Index, Peru was followed by Haiti (117), Rwanda (122) and Afghanistan (125). The survey measured “every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats).”

On the RSF Web site, the headlines and stories during the past year chronicle the growing violence against journalists in Peru:

* Suspect in Rivera Fernández murder says mayor and investigators involved, Sept. 12

* Journalist probing colleague’s murder gets death threats, Aug. 9

* Journalist flees town following threat from coca growers, April 13

* Journalist beaten up by 15 policemen, told to shut up, March 31

* Municipal employees attack journalist in northeastern Amazonian region, March 10

In all, there have been 17 recorded incidents. Read more details at www.rsf.org

No doubt there are many reasons why journalists are experiencing more persecution in Peru. Perhaps none is more germane than the fact that the current government administration continues to have difficulty running the country. In early 2005, The New York Times reported the overall approval rating of President Alejandro Toledo was 8 percent. Months later, after much political turmoil, Toledo was forced to swear in a new cabinet. Despite reform, there are frequent allegations of corruption at all levels of government.

Peru is a developing nation that only recently brokered a free trade agreement with the United States. The country’s economy is fairly stable, yet unemployment in the capital of Lima is 8.7 percent. More than half the people in the Republic of Peru (pop. 27.9 million) live below the poverty level. The major industries are mining and refining of minerals and metals, petroleum extraction and refining, natural gas, fishing and fish processing, textiles and clothing. Primary agricultural products include coffee, cotton, sugarcane, rice, potatoes, corn, plantains, grapes, oranges and coca.

Currently, there are several issues in the news in Peru. Some of the more interesting include:

* The presidents of Peru and Venezuela continue their war of words as Hugo Chavez told Toledo in a state-of-the-nation address on Jan. 10 that, “You are so like Bush, you can’t trick me.” The two leaders began criticizing one another when Chavez made favorable comments about a candidate running in Peru’s presidential election, scheduled for early April. Chavez’s remark came after Toledo recalled his country’s ambassador to Venezuela and accused the leader of “destabilizing Latin America.”

* Peru is threatening to sue Yale University to have several artifacts returned to the country. The remains of Machu Picchu, an ancient Inca settlement high in the Andes in southern Peru, were discovered by Yale professor Hiram Bingham in 1911. During the next five years, Bingham studied the area and removed thousands of artifacts. The university and the government have tried for three years to reach a settlement.

* In the weeks and months ahead, media outlets and governments throughout the world will be waiting to see what unfolds during the April 9 presidential elections.

In the meantime, President Bush notified Congress on Jan. 24 that he plans to sign the free trade accord with Peru. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who recently returned from a diplomatic visit to Lima, predicted the congressional vote “will be higher” than it was for the Central America Free Trade Agreement, which narrowly passed by two votes in the House of Representatives.


Bruce C. Swaffield is a professor of graduate studies in journalism at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. In addition to working as a professional journalist for many years in South Florida, Swaffield has been teaching journalism and writing since 1983. He is a member of the SPJ International Journalism Committee and may be contacted at brucswa@regent.edu

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