Toronto. Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues: being selected the first Scotiabank/CJFE Journalism Fellow from Latin American to come to Massey College and the University of Toronto made me happy but I also felt a great responsibility rather than just joy.
The night I arrived in this city was September 7th and it was friendly, cool, starry, and the Canadian winter was far from showing its first snowflakes. I left behind my country, El Salvador, and the region to which I belong, Central America, with their vast differences, their strengths and weaknesses.
I come from a country, a region where nothing happens, or at least that is the perception when you have read the North American press. When I see the international pages of the Canadian press I know about the latest attack in the Middle East or the latest adventures of Tiger Woods, but little about the region where I come from because maybe it is not important.
Five days before my trip to Toronto, my colleague Christian Poveda was murdered in a poor neighborhood outside San Salvador. The murder of this journalist, who produced a documentary on violence in youth gangs, was a big blow for us working on in-depth journalism. Christian’s murder was one of the 14 killings that we have daily and which are now seen as normal to Salvadorans.
But his murder was not just one more. But that murder was something other than the anger of a gang. Behind this homicide is still the structure of power that doesn’t show its face, but returns to attack civil society as when we were at war. In a society marked by a civil war that killed 75,000 people in twelve years, violence has been installed.
For twelve years Salvadorans learned to distrust one another. Nobody knows if the neighbor is a leftist sympathizer or a former member of the death squads who used the radical right wing to eliminate their enemies. And that feeling is still present among those Salvadorans who are now living in Canada.
But in El Salvador, with 21,000 square kilometers, the smallest country in Central America, maybe nothing happens. Even in Central America maybe nothing happens. Although on June, 28 a group of soldiers kidnapped the former president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, and expelled him to Costa Rica. The international community protested, but the coup continued in power and even held elections to elect the next president.
In Honduras, life is surreal. While a president is locked in the Brazilian embassy, another president runs the country with the backing of Congress and the Supreme Court in Honduras because ‘there was no coup.’ Meanwhile, another president-elect hopes to be invested with the job after winning the election a few weeks earlier.
According to official figures, drug traffickers pass through Honduran territory about 100 tons of cocaine annually to the U.S. Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries to work as a journalist.
Violent crime is a major concern. Mexico has of the highest rates of kidnappings in the world.
So when CJFE and Massey College particularly chose somebody from Central America and a reporter from the smallest country in the isthmus for me it was a great hope for our region.
Perhaps we don’t pass unnoticed.
To the south of the Rio Grande there are serious risks and threats that we thought were things of the past. The violence continues and each day there is modernizing of the mechanisms of terror to gag the press, which mostly relies on self-censorship.
It is therefore necessary that the press in Canada squints past the Rio Grande not only because of what happens there but also how those events affect Canada. We are too close to Canada to be ignored. This is why I feel that the continuation of the Latin American fellowship is of utmost importance.
Finally, I would like to thank Scotiabank, CJFE, the Massey College and the University of Toronto for this unique opportunity.
*Speech of Eric Lemus, Salvadoran journalist, at Gala Night of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) on December 2009.