World Press Freedom Day 2023: María Stella Cáceres shares insights on the history and current state of press freedom in Paraguay
In honour of the 30-year anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, we sat down with María Stella Cáceres, Argentine journalist and representative for 2002 Laureate Martin Almada. Cáceres gives us an inside look at the turbulent history of the freedom of the press in Paraguay and her hopes for the future.
Right Livelihood: In 1992 Paraguay adopted a new Constitution which enshrined the right to free expression. How did this change affect the media?
María Stella Cáceres: This Constitution left behind a black period of 35 years of dictatorship under the Condor Plan. There were numerous journalists among the victims who faced a range of crimes against humanity ranging from harassment, repression, and media closures, to enforced disappearances of people.
Subsequently, the beginning of the democratic transition was a luminous stage. Media returned, and journalists had wide freedom in fundamental moments, such as the discovery of the Condor Plan Archives, made possible by Martin Almada’s campaign against impunity, which I had the opportunity to accompany as a journalist and researcher.
At that time, all the documents that proved state terrorism in Paraguay and in the region were widely disseminated. Later, major cases were also brought to light, such as the negotiations for the large dams of Itaipú and Yaciretá, and the ill-gotten lands – or the appropriation of lands – by members of the dictatorial regime and foreigners. These were public lands that should have been subject to agrarian reform law, which, to this day, has not been fulfilled.
RL: Why, despite all these achievements, has press freedom been deteriorating in Paraguay?
MC: The justice system’s slowness and pettiness have been central to the downfall of the press. It has allowed the media and its owners to exercise a monopoly that today is linked to corruption and narco-politics.
As a result, the courageous journalists’ union and other organisations have suffered greatly. In this transition period, 20 journalists have been murdered. There have also been massive layoffs, harassment, gender discrimination and ignorance towards the most vulnerable sectors.
For this reason, alternative networks and community radio stations play a fundamental role in the freedom of expression. A network of indigenous radio stations has been set up, speaking in native languages. Indigenous languages are gaining space – little, but still – and this should be highlighted.
RL: What is the current situation with press freedom in Paraguay?
MC: The situation in Paraguay is serious to the point that a coordinating committee for the safety of journalists has been set up. We hope with great interest for a change to take place. We have a lot of faith and a lot of work to do.
Recent developments curbing the freedom of expression include a law that prevents knowledge of the sworn statements of legislators, judges, other high-ranking state officials and businessmen who bid for work with the state. This was a source of great importance for journalistic work, communications, and the public’s awareness of the people’s ethics with whom the state maintains relationships.
That is why we want change. We need the excluded sectors to be able to speak out, the affirmation of human rights, and no denialism. I say this as the founding director of the Museum of Memories of Asunción. We need everything necessary for free expression and thought to be fulfilled in universities, in the press, in professorships, and in schools. We need a new attitude towards diverse thought, so that we may all be tolerant and supportive, and a new ethically solidary democracy to be consolidated.
#AskALaureate – with María Stella Cáceres
— Right Livelihood (@rightlivelihood) May 3, 2023