UO students get a 'very real' lesson in freedom of speech

Editorial Note: This article first appeared in the Register Guard on July 17, 2016.

The op-ed was written by Will Johnson and Peter Laufer.


They entered here, and they took our hard disks,” Javier Matías Borelli said as he showed us the ransacked offices of his newspaper, Tiempo Argentino, in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Palermo.

It’s been over a week since the paper’s offices were invaded, shortly after midnight on July 4. Armed thugs kicked and threatened staffers. Along with taking the disks containing the newspaper’s archives, the invaders severed Tiempo’s Internet and telephone connections with wire cutters and turned the business office files upside down.

Nothing else was stolen. “It is an attempt to stifle our freedom of speech,” says Borelli, president of the cooperative that publishes Tiempo. “They were aiming to destroy our ability to publish.”

Despite the assault on its infrastructure, Tiempo Argentino managed to publish an extra the next day, a special edition detailing the attack, documenting it with photos of the destruction, and informing readers of difficult-to-believe details: Police called to the scene by Tiempo staffers just stood by watching; they did not intervene. The authorities arrested no one while they offered safe passage from the scene to the perpetrators.

For the last several weeks, 22 University of Oregon students have been studying with us in Argentina, working on both journalism and human rights issues.

The focus of their reading and research has been the recent past: The plight of the “desaparecidos” — the thousands of people who were kidnaped, tortured, and discarded without mercy by the Argentine military dictatorship, with complicity from Washington, in the 1970s and ’80s during the country’s so-called Dirty War. Students are immersed in the iconic imagery of the Madres la Plaza de Mayo, walking with the fearless women who for nearly 40 years have marched every week in cities across the country to demand answers about the fate of their children and grandchildren.

Argentina is an ideal place to study human rights and journalism. This country’s recent past teaches us how quickly so-called national security threats, along with the suspensions of civil and political rights, can devolve into state-sanctioned terrorism. It reminds us that the violation of anyone’s human rights — especially the right to think and speak freely — is an assault on us all, one that wounds society in sometimes unimaginable ways.

To read the complete story on this amazing study abroad experience see attached PDF or visit the Register Guard.