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During its second year, the Actors for Change program (funded by SIDA and implemented by Hivos) held three unique regional forums throughout Central America to promote freedom of expression, denounce the reduced space for independent media and propose strategies to tackle the challenges in the region.
Hivos’ partners Colectivo Hormiga in Honduras, Centro Civitas in Guatemala and CENIDH in Nicaragua organized the encounters in their countries. The forums aimed to be a space for debate and reflection for the three main Actors for Change: journalists and independent media, artists and cultural activists, and human right defenders.
“Esto también es libertad de expresión” (This is also Freedom of Expression)
Hivos’ local partner Colectivo Hormiga joined efforts with freeDimensional and co-organized the Regional Forum on Arts, Culture & Human Rights in Honduras. More than fifty organizations participated. The event aimed to foster collaboration, uphold freedom of expression as a basic human right and focused on the security measures for artists in danger.
“It was an excellent opportunity to strengthen our organizational capacities and a unique opportunity for networking. It’s clear we need to recover lost historical memory in the cultural field because lack of awareness has erased the struggle of artists who came before us invisible. We also developed the ‘Advo Kit’, a document that cultural organizations can adapt to their context to provide safety measures for artists and culture workers,” concluded Caridad Carmona, representative of Colectivo Hormiga.
“Centroamérica: Voces Libres” (Central America: Free Voices)
Who Owns the Media in Central America?, The Criminalization of Journalists and The Internet we Want were some of the leading topics of the roundtables at the forum in Guatemala. “Central America: Free Voices” was organized by Hivos’ partner Civitas in alliance with local civil society organizations such as Asociación Payaso, Plaza Pública, Ciudad de la Imaginación, Studio 3, Prensa Comunitaria, Udefegua and Red Nacional por la integridad.
“In a region where freedom of expression is threatened by a number of factors, from self-censorship and the concentration of media ownership in fewer hands to the criminalization of journalists, an event of this nature was necessary,” said Susana Rochna, Hivos Program Officer, during the opening ceremony.
Prominent attendees were present at the event, such as the Ambassador of the Netherlands for Central America, Mette Gonggrijp, the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Frank La Rue and Guillermo Mastrini, researcher and professor of the University of Buenos Aires.
Actuar en lugar de callar (Action instead of Silence)
“Action instead of silence” was the last event held in the framework of the Actors for Change Programme. The event addressed the challenges and risks faced by human rights defenders (including artists, journalists and media workers).
“The participation of well-known human rights defender organizations gave participants a complete picture of the situation, the obstacles, threats and risks faced by human rights defenders in the region. It also helped to identify common patterns such as the criminalization of social protest, militarization to protect vested political and economic interests; the prosecution of those who defend the right to land, territory and natural resources,” said Marlin Sierra, representative of the organizer, the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) – a Hivos partner.
Hivos believes it is necessary to expand the space for free expression and freedom of speech throughout Central America. The three forums were important for partners to claim, demand and exercise their right to free speech as the only way to strengthen citizen participation, democracy and security.