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Meeting of PEN International in Central America

Granada and Managua, 18th-20th February 2015  

PEN promotes the unity of Central American writers against the impunity of crimes against journalists and official secrecy

The voice of PEN is strengthening in Latin America. This week we celebrate a PEN Summit in the Americas, with three stages: a PEN Mission to Honduras to celebrate the founding of a new PEN Centre in the country; a PEN Meeting for Central America in Granada and Managua; and a meeting of the PEN centres of the whole of America from 21st to 23rd February in Mexico City.

In this context, the three centres of Central America – PEN centres from Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua – as well as the PEN centre of the United States and Canada, have participated in the 11th Poetry Festival of Granada and, following this, met in Managua for two days of reflection in order to define a strategy to promote freedom of expression in Central America. This balance between poetry and commitment to freedom, creativity and resistance forms part of the soul of PEN, whose centres are home to authors from all genres, from poets and novelists to essayists, editors, journalists and bloggers.

The Corruption-Violence-Impunity Cycle

The establishment of PEN in Honduras is a writers response to the unprecedented record of crimes against journalists and impunity in the country. The PEN centres of Central America have confirmed the existence of an infernal corruption-violence-impunity cycle for crimes against writers. This cycle is structured with a direct use of violence against journalists. However, a more administrative perspective also exists, when the governments transform this cycle with laws controlling the media, in terms of regulation and ownership, which imply an indirect but effective control of the work of communication professionals.

There is a direct link between the loss of democratic freedoms and high levels of corruption caused by organised crime. Media denouncing intolerance and corruption are repressed in ways ranging from disqualification of the journalism profession by public authorities, threats of job losses or violence against professionals or their families, to the extreme cases of murders of journalists. These forms of repression are the cause of high levels of self-censorship among professionals.

For the unity of professionals of the written word

Corruption and the consequent repression of freedom of expression has caused division within the writing community. The lack of unity is revealed in Honduras by the difficulty of having a common voice against repression, division is also an obstacle when it comes to challenging corruption, arbitrariness and abuse at the different levels of government in Nicaragua and Guatemala, including the government security forces and the military. PEN is an opportunity to work in a united manner against the repression of freedom of expression and strengthen the solidarity networks amongst writers.

Abolish criminal defamation

One of the legal forms of repression of freedom of expression in Honduras is criminal defamation. PEN calls on all governments to promote the abolition of the criminal defamation consideration, since one of the characteristics of modern democracies is the abolition of criminal libel in favour of civil consideration.

Fight secrecy, access to information

Governments should not be intolerant of, but welcoming to critical voices, and support

independent journalism. Transparency is a core value of a democratic society. Governments must give an account of their actions and financing used, and the media should be able to investigate any suspicion of corruption.

The Official Secrets Act in Honduras, and control of the media by the blackmailing use of institutional advertising in Guatemala, cause secrecy and lack of transparency. In Nicaragua, the policy of granting broadcasting frequencies causes a media concentration in the hands of an official duopoly, which leaves no room for other voices and limits the pluralism of public debate.

The right of access to information is a right of all citizens. The repression of freedom of expression reduces the public space. The work of journalists, communicators and writers opens an environment of dialogue which is essential for all voices in society. PEN calls on the people to reclaim freedom of expression as a collective right which is essential to good democratic health.

Education

Decreasing the space for public debate also has implications in the field of education. Poor conditions in the educational system and high levels of school failure have a direct relationship with the criminalisation of the youth, which in Honduras causes the murder of a young person each day. PEN envisages the need to engage with the educational environment in order to open a space for pluralism so that students, through writing and debate, can have their own voice.

Mass surveillance on the Internet

The mass surveillance exercised by the Governments of United States and Canada has caused a wave of self-censorship by the writers of these countries, blurring the line dividing countries which repress freedom of expression and advanced democracies.

Central American Coordination

The centres of Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua value the need for PEN to have a Central American regional vision. The three centres of Central America are responsible, along with PEN International, for the extension of PEN in the region, extending to meet fellow writers from El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panamato wanting to share the name of PEN in order to organise centres in their own countries.

PEN urges the centres of PEN America and PEN Canada to consolidate partnerships with the PEN centres of Central America and Haiti, following the example of the recent award for investigative journalism Write Without Fear in Honduras with the support of PEN Canada.

(Translated by Laura Hargreaves)

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