Photo: Fred Alvarado, winner of the inaugural Escribir Sin Miedo competition, with his award.
On Tuesday, May 25, 2015 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, PEN Canada and PEN Honduras presented Fred Alvarado with the inaugural Escribir sin Miedo Prize for investigative/public interest journalism. PEN Canada Writers in Prison Committee Chair, Jim Creskey, reflects on his October 2014 trip to investigate solidarity-building initiatives in Honduras. This piece was originally published in Embassy, May 27, 2015.
All too often when a journalist writes a courageous news story in Honduras, the reward for his or her work is a bullet in the back. Watch out, they say, for two men approaching on a motorcycle. One is the driver, the other the shooter.
But this week in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, the reward handed out to one journalist for an investigative feature was a cheque and a scroll celebrating his work.
Journalist and documentary filmmaker Fred Alvarado was the recipient of a cash prize for a piece he authored titled “Honduras: the Process of American Remilitarization and the Failure of the War on Drugs.”
Canadian journalists complain about federal, provincial and municipal governments that have become opaque, severely limiting Canada’s democratic need for public information. In Honduras, journalists complain of being murdered because of their work. Large numbers of writers and broadcasters are shot and killed with virtual impunity.
The numbers are staggering: more than 51 were killed in the past several years in a country with a population about the size of Quebec.
The prize given to Fred Alvarado was a modest one. The cash award was $1,500 US or 33,000 Honduran lempiras. Typical salaries in Honduras can range from $150 to $400 a month.
The prize is part of a program, called Escribir sin Miedo or To Write without Fear. It was presented to Alvarado by Honduran PEN Centre President Dina Meza and Brendan de Caires who is PEN Canada’s Programs Coordinator. The prize was paid for in part by the British Foreign Office and its embassy in Guatemala.
A thousand dollar prize and a pat on the back doesn’t sound like much for an award-winning work of journalism. But in Honduras, the country with the highest murder rate in the world, even a small step forward is something to celebrate. Will it mean that more Honduran journalists will write without fear? I don’t think so. But it is a step.
Last fall I travelled to Tegucigalpa along with de Caires, as a PEN Canada volunteer and chair of the group’s Writers in Prison Committee. We spent one day of our visit as guests at a workshop that we understood would be about digital security for journalists.
Assuming we might hear tips about how to keep snoopers out of email and ways to protect files that include the names of sources and other data, we took a seat in the corner of a small conference room in Tegucigalpa’s San Martin Hotel with about 25 journalists.
There was a lively dialogue between the audience and the workshop leaders who had come from El Salvador. Putting my basic Spanish to the test I deciphered some talk of online security and other problems in gathering information and keeping it secure. But an entire afternoon session of the workshop dealt with a different kind of security—one to which Canadian journalists don’t give much thought.
The group was taught how to deal with gunshot wounds, with knifings and with broken bones from beatings with pipes or bats. Reporters and editors, broadcasters and bloggers took learned methods for stemming the flow of blood, and immobilizing crushed bones. Kits of rubber gloves and useful bandages for different kinds of wounds were recommended. Some of the participants acted in the role of victims while others practiced applying bandages and splints.
It was a lesson that, as far as I know, doesn’t get taught in Canadian and American journalism schools.