While Latin America is obviously a huge region with noticeable differences across countries and even across regions within countries, you generally will find that free speech does exist in Latin America.
However, one could argue that, in practice, free speech isn’t as free in Latin America as one would hope.
Of course, no country is immune to people or institutions trying to prohibit freedom of speech.
And there are various ways in which freedom of speech can be prohibited, including but not limited to:
- Actual legislation passed or changes to the federal constitution prohibiting freedom of speech.
- Individuals trying to assassinate those who have said something or exposed a truth that they don’t want revealed.
- Using scare tactics to intimidate others into not speaking out.
- Applying cancel culture to bring about considerable consequences against those with view points you disagree with.
In the US, I would argue that the last tactic is much more common but you do have “social justice warriors” and cancel culture in Latin America as I wrote about here.
And in Latin America, as I hinted at before, you have certain countries like Cuba that you could argue are more restrictive than others like Uruguay.
But, broadly speaking, you don’t have really any legal challenges to freedom of speech from my understanding in almost every country down here.
So when it comes to issues surrounding freedom of speech, I’d argue that, at least from a foreigner’s perspective, the real challenges come from either the use of violence or threats of violence against those who speak out.
Often mixed with a judicial and police system that is less adequate in persecuting those who commit such crimes against those who exercise their freedom of speech.
So while freedom is speech is legally protected in Latin America in almost every country down here with some like Cuba having more restrictions…
You do have real world examples of efforts made against freedom of speech down here that we’ll get into now.
So let’s get to it!
The Brazilian Bitcoin Escape
Before we get into any of the juicy stuff involving violence, let’s cover at least a few examples of legal efforts made against freedom of speech.
The first one involving a Brazilian guy named Daniel Fraga.
This was a guy who basically made Youtube videos documenting brief issues with the Brazilian city he lived in.
Be it potholes and other infrastructure issues.
Anyway, the guy eventually got into trouble for making a Youtube video about a judge in which the judge tried prosecuting the guy.
Consequently, Daniel sold all of his stuff and put the money away into bitcoin before anything could be taken.
As far as I’m aware, the dude vanished and is now a millionaire in bitcoin.
Here’s an interesting video on him.
Going After Colombia Reports
Next, we have another legal case brought against a news source called Colombia Reports.
You can read the source here but I’ll summarize from my understanding.
Basically, a female reporter from Canal RCN sued Colombia Reports over reporting that Colombia Reports did claiming that Canal RCN has been promoting lies.
And the female reporter, whose name is apparently Diana Camacho, argued that the reporting done by Colombia Reports “violated her human rights.”
The reporting in question involved an illustration that had Camacho on it with the text balloon “your mother is a terrorist” edited into the photo.
At any rate, Colombia Reports claims that the illustration was only satire and not in violation of her human rights.
Similar to the last scenario from Brazil, I personally see both examples of being how influential or powerful people can use their tactics through the judicial system to try to silence opinions that they disagree with.
But let’s move forward.
Can a Foreigner Protest in Mexico or Colombia?
Is being able to protest a form of expressing yourself?
Of course, we can and will illustrate also examples of tactics used against local protesters also.
But these two examples that I’m going to mention here do touch on an interesting subject to me.
Which is the question of if a foreigner should be allowed to partake in protests in Latin America?
Of course, every country is different and I’m not familiar with how every single Latin country treats the issue legally.
But, in my personal opinion, I do believe a foreigner should be allowed to express themselves in a protest in whatever Latin country.
Of course, I can already hear the xenophobics crying out “but you ain’t from here! You don’t belong here! It ain’t your country!”
OK, so let me ask you this question – would you get angry if the US deported one of your countrymen after participating in a peaceful protest?
Say a Mexican who joins a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.
Worthy of deportation even if said Mexican is legally allowed to be in the US?
Of course, every country has its own laws and that’s just the way it is.
Still, we can disagree with those laws and call them out.
Especially with the understanding that Latin America has a countless amount of foreigners who LIVE down here.
Not just tourists on only a two week stay!
Many who LIVE here and are PART of the community despite how much you might hate that.
Yet it is my opinion that Latin America as a whole tends to be more closed minded to the idea of foreigners protesting down here.
Not to say of course that you don’t have idiots like that in the US or that more open minded folks in Latin America don’t exist.
Regardless, the first example that comes to mind is this one here of a man named Peter who has been an activist for decades supporting indigenous communities in rural Chiapas.
Because of his activism, he got deported way back in 1998.
More recently, a German woman named Rebecca got deported from Colombia this year in 2021 for her involvement in the Colombian protests that have sparked the nation recently as you can read here.
Now, to be fair, both individuals seemed to be on a tourist visa technically while in their respective countries.
For Rebecca, it’s not clear how long she was on the tourist visa so I can’t say.
For Peter, the article claims he has been in Mexico for at least 20 years up to that point on a tourist visa and I’ve known the guy personally and how he has been in Mexico since then to this day even.
In the last example, despite not having residency in 1998, I’d still argue he was part of the community given his length of time in the country.
Legally not so but practically yes.
But tourist or not, I’d argue that deporting either is a stab at freedom of expression.
Pseudo-Deported from Colombia for Writing
Next, we have a very interesting example that wasn’t technically deportation from my understanding but basically was a case of an American named Colin having to leave Colombia for his writings.
There’s a blog called Expat Chronicles in which the source for this story can be found here.
To summarize the basics of what I understand, Colin is an American who spent some time in Peru before moving to the Colombian capital of Bogota.
While in Bogota, he continued his writings on his blog but obviously focused on his life instead in Colombia.
In which some of his writings focused on aspects to Colombian society that the Colombian government didn’t want portrayed online.
Aspects like drugs for example (among many other topics).
At any rate, Colin was fired from a job he had because of his blog at one point about a decade ago.
Afterwards, Colin tried working for a Colombian businessman and sent him some of the crazier stories he had on his blog ahead of time.
That way there’d be no surprises if he hired him.
After reading those stories, the guy still wanted to hire Colin but some government employees seemingly pressured the guy against hiring Colin.
When Colin was notified of that by email, he was actually in Peru for a tiny bit.
So Colin wasn’t able to go back to Colombia for another two months after he got notified that he wouldn’t be employed by the guy.
And it came to Colin’s attention that some of the government employees in Colombian migration really don’t like him.
Above all, I think it’s a good example of a government trying to more indirectly suppress the writings and free speech of someone.
By keeping him out of Colombia or making it more difficult anyway to be in the country, that’d hopefully suppress any more writings that the Colombian government doesn’t like.
But let’s get into some more violent episodes now and away from how foreigners can be targeted since not everyone feels sympathetic anyway to foreigners being targeted on their freedom of speech.
Oppressing the Cuban Protests
This one is pretty obvious to bring up, isn’t it?
Fairly recent so we’ll keep it brief.
This year, there were major protests all across Cuba with the concerns seemingly being focused on the lack of common necessities like food and also how the Cuban government has handled the Covid Recession.
Especially with tourism way down in the country, that has likely caused economic pain to the country as well.
Others also try to blame the US embargo for much of this crisis while other folks blame more the inefficiencies of the Cuban government.
All of which you can read here.
At any rate, the Cuban government has done its part to suppress the protests by apparently shutting down the internet for brief periods of time and using the police to detain and beat people up.
Here’s a video of such protests.
Of course, Cuba isn’t the only country that has experienced political unrest with the government trying to suppress the opinions of its residents.
Political Issues in Nicaragua & Venezuela
In both Nicaragua and Venezuela, you could argue that we have seen a repression of freedom of expression and of political freedoms.
First, let’s discuss Nicaragua briefly.
You have had political oppression by the leader in Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega.
In which he has put a crackdown on farmer activists, student leaders and presidential rivals as you can read here.
With more than half a dozen people detained by Ortega under “treason” laws.
Similarly, you have had efforts by the Venezuelan government of Maduro over the last some few years to oppress any political opponents or those voicing concern against him.
For example, as you can read here, the Venezuelan government had basically any serious political opposition arrested in 2018.
Then you had a recent political opposition figure named Freddy Guevara that was arrested in 2021 over allegations of having ties to “extremist groups” and foreign governments as you can read here.
Freddy Guevara is also an ally of a more prominent activist known as Guaido (who has experienced threats himself as you can read about here).
All around, all three countries above (Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela) are pretty easy targets for this discussion on any limits to freedom of speech in Latin America.
But let’s move away from the national headlines and look at more interesting local stories.
Killing Journalists in Mexico
As you can read here, Mexico is one of the more dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist.
Basically, it’s possible you might get killed or threatened at least if you report on sensitive issues like gangs, drug cartels, corrupt politicians and more.
Many times, those groups work together anyhow!
Thankfully, there was at least justice for one particular journalist that was killed due to the involvement of a local mayor in Mexico of a town called Chinipas in Chihuahua state of Mexico.
The journalist was someone known as Miroslava Breach.
Since the year 2000 to the year 2020, about 100 journalists have been killed but 90% of the murders have been unresolved.
And, as it should be noted, this type of violence likely has some impact on the journalists who are not killed obviously.
With the examples that are made to show to other journalists that their lives could be at risk if they report on the wrong subject.
Here’s a video of the violence that journalists face in Mexico.
Silencing Environmental Activists in Peru
Outside of journalists, being an environmental activist in Latin America is also another way to get a target on your back.
In this article here, it elaborates on how environmental activists have consistently been targeted in places like Brazil, Colombia, Peru and other places around the world.
In Peru specifically, this article goes on to discuss various examples of such deadly incidents.
For example, a man named Roberto Carlos Pachecho Villanueva was killed in a place called Madre de Dios where had had been fighting against illegal gold mining.
Then you have another person named Arbildo Meléndez Grandes that was killed in a place called Puerto Inca after his time fighting for the title to tribe’s lands.
Though some charges have been brought up against various individuals, it is also my understanding that a lot of these murders against environmental activists are not usually prosecuted against in Latin America.
Where these environmental activists fight against things like illegal logging, mining and drug trafficking.
In fighting against this and using their freedom of speech, many get killed without any justice afterwards.
And that’s that!
I tried to cover a wide range of examples from individuals being fucked with (foreigners and locals) to the press and even governments or entities targeting specific types of people (activists).
There were countless other examples I could’ve brought up but these were the ones that came to mind first.
As I said, freedom of speech is largely protected in Latin America.
However, some countries are worse on the topic than others (like Venezuela or Cuba for example).
On top of that, I think it’s fair to say also that it’s easier for powerful people down here (even simple judges) to silence opinions that they don’t like without any justice against this type of abuse.
Of course, no country is perfect and you can find examples of abuses against human rights in countries like the US also.
But that’s where I stand anyhow – freedom is speech is broadly protected in Latin America (with some Latin countries better than others) until you speak up against the powerful and the powerful have an easier time fucking you over if necessary.
At least that’s how I see it.
At any rate, for those curious, there’s apparently some “freedom of expression index” that you can find here.
From my understanding, it seems to have simply polled people in 38 countries asking their opinions on free speech.
Not necessarily if the governments of said countries actually respect freedom of speech but only asking if the residents of those countries believe in freedom of speech basically.
In ranking from best to worst Latin countries that were polled on this topic
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Thanks for reading!