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- As Delivered -

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks in the United States House of Representatives supporting freedom of press in Latin America and the Caribbean and condemning violations of press freedom and violence against journalists, bloggers, and individuals exercising their right to the freedom of speech (H.Res.536):

“Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of House Resolution 536 and I yield myself as much time as I may consume.

“Thank you.  First of all, I want to congratulate my friend from New Jersey, Mr. Sires, who is the driving force behind this bill.  And my friend from Florida as well, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who has cosponsored it.  The two of them have really worked very, very hard through the years to raise this issue.  And it’s good that we are taking up this measure now.

“Here in the United States, we know that a free and open press is the cornerstone of a strong democracy.  We count on the press to hold leaders accountable and shine a light on the challenges facing our country.  The work of a free press goes hand in hand with the representative government we practice in this chamber, and as government officials, we have tremendous respect for our friends in the so-called fourth estate.  So it’s especially troubling when we see governments right here in our hemisphere try to silence this critical institution.

“On May 1st, World Press Freedom Day, President Obama said, ‘In too many places around the world, a free press is under attack by governments that want to avoid the truth or mistrust the ability of citizens to make their own decisions.’  Unfortunately, that threat to press freedom is particularly acute right here in our own hemisphere.

“That’s why I’m so glad, as I mentioned before, that my friends Mr. Sires, Ranking Member of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, and Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, the Subcommittee’s former chair, introduced this measure condemning violations of press freedom and violence against journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Mr. Sires and Ms. Ros-Lehtinen are leaders on the Western Hemisphere in our Congress and are never shy to speak up when individuals’ rights are in danger.

“I used to be the Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee.  So I’ve seen this problem firsthand.  Here in the Americas, leaders often speak out when electoral democracy is at risk.  That’s great.  But unfortunately, those leaders fall silent when it comes to the more subtle challenges to democracy, particularly violations of press freedom.

“We saw it earlier this year, when the Ecuadorian government threatened to close down a press-freedom-monitoring organization known as Fundamedios.  Chairman Royce and I joined many in the international community in condemning this effort.  Fortunately, President Correa relented in the face of international condemnation.

“Still, attacks on press freedom in Ecuador are a daily problem, creating a hostile environment for journalists trying to do their jobs.  A 2013 communications law put in place fines and sanctions for the press. So it’s no surprise that Freedom House rated Ecuador’s press as ‘not free’ this year. 

The list goes on and on. 

“In Venezuela, journalists have been targeted by politically motivated lawsuits.  That’s why it’s such a miracle what we saw this past week or so, with the Venezuelan elections.  Despite the harassment, despite the lack of press freedom, despite going after people who would raise the truth, the Venezuelan people weren’t fooled and voted overwhelmingly against the current oppressive regime. 

“That’s good.  That’s good to see.  But we need to make sure that free press really exists not only in places like Venezuela, but in Cuba. The government has rounded up and detained independent journalists just for reporting the reality on the ground.  Just for reporting the truth in Cuba, you get rounded up and detained.

“In Mexico, drug trafficking organizations have brutally murdered many of those who report on their violent activities.  Just last week, the editor of a Mexican newspaper called El Mañana explained to the Washington Post that submitting to drug traffickers’ demands is the only way to stay alive. He said, ‘You do it or you die, and nobody wants to die.  Self-censorship—that’s our shield.’

“And in Colombia and Honduras, journalism remains a dangerous profession.  This resolution underscores these abuses and the scourge of violence against journalists.  It reaffirms the important role a free press plays in open societies.  And it urges these governments in the region to do much more to provide protection to those journalists under threat.

“I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this resolution.  I again compliment Mr. Sires and Ms. Ros-Lehtenen.  And I yield back the balance of my time.  I reserve.”