Saber Mas: New Report on Access to Information in Latin America

7 October 2009

Open government advocates offer first-hand accounts of FOI promotion in Latin America

Latin America’s leading open government advocates recently released a report, bringing together data from 17 countries and offering new findings on the status of freedom of information in the region. The Regional Alliance for Freedom of Expression and Information (Alianza Regional para la Libertad de Expresión e Información), composed of 24 NGOs, released its report “Saber Mas,” (To Know More) on September 28, in celebration of International Right to Know Day 2009. The report moves beyond the traditional evaluations of whether countries do or do not have a federal law and attempts to address the following questions: how has FOI advocacy affected countries with traditional cultures of secrecy? How has the state reacted to citizens’ demand for access to public information? What are the obstacles facing public interest groups confronting government secrecy?

“Saber Mas,” (To Know More) came together as a result of an initiative undertaken by the Uruguayan group Centro de Archivos y Acceso a la Información (CAinfo) and Pro Acceso in Chile, which compiled data based on questionnaires collected from member organizations about the status of government openness in their respective countries. The first section of the report conveys the perceptions, experiences, and the results of the questionnaires. The report offers a unique look at, not only the status of FOI in these countries, but the important role of watchdog groups in open government promotion. From raising public awareness, proposing FOI legislation, helping produce legal texts, to seeing through the passage and implementation of the laws, and facilitating widespread public use of the laws, watchdog groups are crucial elements in the struggle to pierce the culture of secrecy.

The case studies provided by the report’s authors also give a unique look at the various approaches to FOI promotion throughout the region, taking into account cultural variants, while finding common ground on similar challenges. The country-by-country comparison shows that mechanisms do exist for everyday citizens trying to access public information. The countries differ, however, in how this right is implemented and how NGO groups approach their advocacy work. Some of the countries in the report exercise their right to know without an official federal law, such as in Argentina, where citizens use alternative legal measures to access public information. Argentina’s Civil Rights Association (ADC) describes how the public uses government decrees and provincial and municipal information laws to push for official files. In other countries such as Bolivia and El Salvador, where proposed legislation is still awaiting congressional and presidential approval, watchdog groups in these countries focus their attention on getting these measures passed. The case studies also demonstrate that challenges to FOI advocacy do not end with the passage of a federal transparency law. The Guatemalan group Citizen Action describes the challenges that have impeded government openness in their country since Guatemala’s information law took effect in April of this year. These challenges include a lack of political will, the reluctance to create information offices, and the lack of an independent oversight bodyoriginally assigned to the Human Rights Prosecutor (PDH) but never realized.

The second part of the report includes two analytical papers, the first produced by Edison Lanza, Executive Director of Uruguay’s CAInfo, and Moises Sanchez, Executive Director of Pro Acceso in Chile. The paper, entitled “Access to Public Information in Latin America: Reality, Opportunities and Challenges,” offers an assessment of FOI in the region based on the case studies presented in the first section. The paper gives an overview of transparency developments and places them into context of groundbreaking events such as the 2006 Inter-American Human Rights Court case Chile vs. Reyes. This decision was the first by an international legal body to recognize freedom of expression as an inherent human right. Chile subsequently passed its transparency law in August 2008, and it went into effect in April of this year.

The second paper in this section, “The right of access to information also requires the Judiciary,” produced by Katya Salazar, and Mirte Postema of the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF) highlights the importance of transparency laws that cover the Judiciary as well as Executive bodies in FOI legislation. DPLF and The Trust for the Americas presented this analytical assessment and the entire “Saber Mas” report on Right to Know Day before the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, (part of the Organization of American States – OAS) and distributed it to NGOs working on information issues in the Americas.

These are the Regional Alliance groups involved in the creation of this report, along with the activities carried out to promote and distribute the “Saber Mas” report:

Argentina
Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC)

 

Bolivia
Asociación Nacional de la Prensa (ANP)
ANP organized a press conference on the document and sent it the Ministry for the Transparency and Fight against Corruption, the Ombudsman and the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights.

 

Chile
Fundación Pro Acceso
Presented the report to Chile’s Council for Transparency, and disseminated through the media and related organizations.

 

Colombia
Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP)

Transparencia Colombia

 

Costa Rica
Instituto de Prensa y Libertad de Expresión (IPLEX)

 

Dominican Republic
Participación Ciudadana
Participación Ciudadana hosted a Panel on the Access to Information from the Human Rights Perspective.

Finjus (Fundación Institucionalidad y Justicia)

 

El Salvador
Asociación de Periodistas de El Salvador (APES)

Fundación Salvadoreña para el Desarrollo Económico y Social (FUSADES)

The report is being presented in El Salvador as part of the week’s events celebrating access to information and disseminated through the media.

 

Ecuador
Fundamedios

 

Guatemala
Acción Ciudadana

 

Honduras
Fundación Democracia sin Fronteras (FDSF)

C-Libre

 

Mexico
Fundación Prensa y Democracia (PRENDE)

 

Nicaragua
Fundación Violeta Barrios de Chamorro (FVBCH)

Instituto nicaraguense de Estudios Humanisticos (INEH)

 

Panama
Consejo Nacional de Periodismo (CNP)
Disseminating the report through CNP (media-radio, TV and newspapers, journalistic associations and faculties of social communication / journalism). The report was presented to the Secretary of the National Council of Transparency, Ombudsman, Chair of the Assembly and other government agencies and NGOs.

 

Paraguay
Instituto de Derecho y Economía Ambiental (IDEA)

 

Peru
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS)

 

Uruguay
Centro de Archivos y Acceso a la Información (CAInfo)
The report was presented before the government’s Access to Information body, distributed to legislators in the national parliament, and disseminated through a network of media and NGO contacts.

 

Venezuela
TRANSPARENTE Venezuela
Disseminated the report on September 28th and will continue to promote its findings during Venezuela’s entire Access to Information month (October), including the planned October 7th International Seminar in Caracas.


United States
Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF)

Trust for the Americas
Presented the report to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR, Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs Department of State Modernization of the Organization of American States (OAS). Dissemination via the contact network of the Regional Alliance and other civil society organizations.

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