Colombia’s Right Suddenly Wants to Talk About Press Freedom
A welcome and surprising reversal from those who have persecuted journalists for decades
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Colombia ranks 139th in the world out of 180 countries in press freedom according to index rankings by Reporters Without Borders. Though currently not nearly as deadly as in Mexico, journalists here face considerable stigmatization and intimidation from armed groups, the government, and a legal system that has long allowed the powerful to squelch journalistic work they do not like.
In recent weeks, many of the politicians responsible for that abysmal ranking have taken a keen and surprising interest in changing that. Their motives are transparently cynical— an opportunity to attack the country’s first leftist president whose irresponsible comments have left him wide open to criticism— as well as shockingly hypocritical considering their actions in office.
But they also illustrate a grudging and realpolitik acknowledgment of a changing electorate.
Petro won office in last year's elections partly on promises to move away from decades of state oppression by security forces, which among other serious abuses have wiretapped, tortured, harassed, intimidated, illegally detained, and physically attacked journalists simply for doing their jobs.
Since taking office, he has pushed back against a traditional Colombian press, which has long been allied with right-wing politicians in the country. But he has also at times veered into dangerous Trumpian hyperbole, often disparaging journalists by name, and even comparing one Jewish journalist who wrote an unflattering column about his government to German Nazis.