PEN Pregunta: Corruption, Violence, Impunity: What Can Writers Do?

PEN International and its Latin American and North American PEN Centers gathered this past week in Central America and in Mexico City for  the  third PEN Americas Summit to address the challenges to freedom of expression and the crimes against writers. The region, in particular Mexico, is one of the most dangerous in the world for writers and journalists who are killed, disappeared, attacked and threatened with virtual impunity.

In Mexico over 100 journalists have been murdered since 2000; 25 have been forcibly disappeared and hundreds are attacked and threatened each year while their attackers remain free.

During the Summit PEN identified the structural issues impeding freedom of expression, including the weakness within the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression, the use of criminal defamation laws, the barriers to entry and lack of diversification within the Mexican news media, the close relationship between much of the media and the Mexican government and the manipulation of advertising payments from the government to media as a reward for positive coverage.

Developing recommendations, PEN officials followed up by meeting with government ministers. Most important the writers in the region will follow up with each other advancing the narrative in their countries which included Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Canada, and the U.S

The Summit ended in Mexico City with a public Pregunta,—a brief statement and question from each of the participants to generate discussion.

Question: What can a gathering  of writers do in the face of killings, disappearances and attacks on journalists in Mexico?

Writers’ tools are words and narrative. The narrative in Mexico has deteriorated  with journalists and writers attacked at a rate of almost one a day and many killed while their attackers live with  impunity. What can a room of writers do? We can begin by helping change the narrative.

PEN was founded by writers in Europe after World War I who wanted to charge the narrative of nationalism that had led to that war.

In my years working in PEN, I have witnessed societies change and freedoms expand, in part because writers and journalists advanced the narrative of the individual’s right to free expression, the right to imagine different societies and to live without fear.

When I began in PEN, South Korea had prisons filled with writers. That is no longer the case. Czechoslovakia had major writers in prison as did most of Eastern Europe. Societies can change. Writers can help lead the way inspiring and re-imagining the narrative until it becomes reality.

Today much discussion is about the brutality of ISIS. The brutality—the beheadings, murders, disappearances—that are happening in Mexico are not a global focus. Today we can witness and bring focus and help re-imagine the outcome.


Question: What can writers do in the face of killings, disappearances and attacks on journalists?  Please share your ideas below.


  1. Fawzia Assaad on February 24, 2015 at 7:44 am

    Keep on with hope. Reverse of situations is a law of nature.

  2. Joanne on February 24, 2015 at 8:24 am

    Thank you, Fawzia. Yes, hope is one of the essential change agents.

  3. Eugene Schoulgin on February 24, 2015 at 9:47 am

    To your question to what writers can do about the outrageous situation in Latin America, and as you say, specially in Mexico, my answer is this: It depends which country you come from of course, but I think the most important we can do is to address the government in our own countries and put as much pressure on them as possible to act more persistently through the international bodies. Then of course use all possibilities you get to address the situation in media and through personal meetings with diplomats etc. from the Latin American countries. Is this all not rather obvious steps to take? Passivity confronting the horrendous events going on around us these days I believe is our main enemy.

  4. Christopher on February 26, 2015 at 10:16 am

    Mexico is our neighbor. It could be a thriving country rich in resources and hard working people, but the crime and general corruption holds it back. You have to be very brave to be a journalist in a country like that.

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