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Latin America Blog

Press freedom falls in Latin America, French journalist missing in Colombia

Freedom of the press is under threat in much of the Americas, according to a Freedom House report.

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Freedom House says she is one of 76 journalists killed in Mexico since 2000.

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This is the kind of environment that Colombian journalists once faced. But as security has improved, journalists have been increasingly shielded. And the FARC, in a landmark move in February, said it would stop kidnappings of civilians for ransom.

Now the world is wondering whether the apparent abduction of Ms. Langlois is a backtrack from that pledge.

One blogger, Hannah Stone at Insight Crime, says that it is not a reversal, as so far the group has not asked for ransom, but that the situation could mean that peace talks with Colombia's government might now be further out of reach:

Following the announcement, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon accused the rebels of failing to keep to their promise of ending kidnapping. In February, the group released a statement (no longer available on their website) saying that they would end the practice of kidnapping for ransom, as well as freeing their 10 remaining military and police hostages:

'Much has been said about the retention of people, men or women of the civilian population, for financial ends for the FARC to sustain our fight. With the same will expressed before, we announce that from this date we forbid this practice in our revolutionary conduct.'

Holding Langlois prisoner, then, would not seem to contradict this statement, as the rebels apparently have not demanded a ransom for his release. As InSight Crime pointed out in February, the motivation behind the promise to cease kidnapping civilians for ransom could simply be that this is no longer a big earner for the rebels. They may have decided that kidnapping Colombians and demanding money from their families was not worth the loss in political capital. Holding a French journalist prisoner in order to get international attention and show their power is a different proposition, and may still be attractive for the group.

However, continuing to hold Langlois does clash with the spirit of the February statement, and suggests that peace talks may not be an immediate prospect. The Colombian government has repeatedly said that ending kidnapping is a prerequisite for talks. Many onlookers have pointed out that Langlois cannot be considered a prisoner of war, as he was not armed, and clearly identified himself as a journalist rather than a combatant.

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