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Reporters Without Borders today released the report of a fact-finding visit to Guinea-Bissau to investigate the precarious situation of its journalists. They live under permanent threat from Colombian drug traffickers and their local accomplices, whose criminal activities have been eating away at the country for several years.
Several journalists have had scary experiences after getting too close to the drug traffickers and their civilian and military accomplices this year and, although the press is otherwise relatively free in Guinea-Bissau, two of them have fled the country.
Aside from the clear threat to their own safety, they knew from hearing it repeated many times that overly embarrassing revelations about the involvement of senior army officers in cocaine trafficking could reawaken old and cruel demons. What journalist would, for a miserable wage, risk being gunned down or exposing their loved-ones to a generalised outbreak of violence ? To avoid a vendetta or a coup, most of Bissau’s journalists have opted for omertà.
Despite the threat it poses to Guinea-Bissau, there is a national taboo about openly discussing the cocaine trade, and the press is ill-equipped to meet this challenge. The government fears head-on confrontation with the army because of the danger of plunging the country into another civil war or triggering a major inter-ethnic conflict. But at the same time, it is under pressure from the international community, which sees this small, West African country slowly falling into the grip of the Colombian cartels.
Destitute and fearful, the local news media shed no more than a feeble light on this embryonic narco-state.
“Everyone is against drug trafficking in this country of chameleons,” said one disillusioned local journalist. In the ministries and barracks of this abandoned city, foreign journalists are often hard put to know “who is who and who does what.” Asking direct questions is usually unproductive. Drug trafficking is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
The aim of the visit by a Reporters Without Borders representative to Bissau from 4 to 8 October was to support the local media, meet the political and judicial authorities and recommend ways to help journalists extricate themselves from a situation that is stifling their work. The report on the visit is available in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish.