Colombia Elections
Members of the Colombian media surround former candidate Oscar Iván Zuluaga, an Uribe ally, during June's presidential elections. Photo: AP Photo/Santiago Cortéz

“The work of a journalist is always to counter power. The power that the president wields now, that others wielded before, and to all those in power. We must approach them with a critical eye, because this is what allows society to make better decisions.”

These were the words of journalist Daniel Coronell, just minutes after he was named Colombia’s journalist-of-the-year in October of 2013.

Coronell’s approach to journalism is one based firmly on principle — but in a hostile environment like Colombia, where reporters can be killed just for doing their jobs, that approach is not always easy.

Perhaps Coronell has less to fear as one of the country’s most high-profile journalists. He was the director of a Colombian news channel before becoming vice president of major television network Univision. He is also a columnist for Colombia’s most respected weekly newsmagazine, Semana.

Despite the advantage his fame has given him, even he was forced to spend time outside the country between 2005 and 2007 because of threats to his family. Many other Colombian journalists, particularly those who live in the countryside where illegal armed groups operate, haven’t been so lucky.

Colombia: a harsh environment for journalists 

Within Latin America, Colombia is the second most dangerous place to work as reporter, after Mexico. According to Reporters Without Borders, some 56 journalists have been killed in the South American nation in the last 14 years.

Impunity for those who murder journalists is staggeringly high. A report just released by the Committee to Protect Journalists found that just two convictions have taken place in the last ten years.

Read more: Latin America’s deadliest countries for journalists

Colombia has registered some minor improvements, moving it from 5th to 8th on the CPJ’s list of countries with the highest rates of impunity for journalist murders. While Colombian authorities have taken some positive steps, including creating protection programs for journalists and increasing the number of arrests, the overall decline in violence directed toward media workers has been largely due to the “waning” of the conflict with the FARC guerrillas, according to the report.

In addition to the direct violence against journalists, which has produced much self-censorship over the years, there are other institutional constraints. Many major news outlets are fiercely partisan. Until very recently, El Tiempo, Colombia’s biggest daily newspaper, was owned by members of the current president’s family. Other outlets have similar ties to dynastic families with large business interests, directly affecting their independence.

The biggest thorn in Uribe’s side

Yet even in this environment, Coronell has maintained his adversarial stance toward power, doing true investigative journalism and exposing corruption and hypocrisy at the highest levels of the Colombian government.

No one knows the potency of Coronell’s investigative work quite like former President and current Senator Álvaro Uribe, whose hard-line administration governed Colombia from 2002-2010.

It was Coronell’s investigation back in 2002 that uncovered new evidence of links between the Uribe family and drug trafficking. He discovered that a helicopter belonging to Uribe’s father — given a license while Uribe headed the Civil Aeronautics agency — was found at a cocaine processing plant in southern Colombia in 1984 (reportedly the biggest such plant in Latin America at the time).

The threats that followed the publication of this information finally caused Coronell to take his family abroad for more than a year in 2005.

In 2009, Coronell reported that Uribe’s sons had benefited unfairly from private business deals by means of government decisions made by officials who worked for their father. They represented the third generation of Uribes directly exposed in his published work.

Over the last month, the Semana columnist has released a string of revelations that have infuriated the ex-president. In deeply reported articles, Coronell has shown that Uribe — the current president’s biggest critic when it comes to peace talks with the FARC — offered the guerrillas many of the same concessions that Santos has, just to bring them to the negotiating table.

See also: Colombia’s great debate: Cepeda vs. Uribe

Uribe’s claims that the country is being “handed over to narco-terrorists” have been proven to be nothing more than a political sideshow. In his mediation attempts, the former president offered the rebel group a demilitarized zone for talks, public funds for “social projects” to appease the guerrillas into talking and even Congressional seats.

Coronell released the three stories over three consecutive weeks. He allowed Uribe to deny the allegations and attempt to clarify what his government did or did not offer the FARC. The journalist then exposed those denials — that Uribe didn’t give public funds to rebels, nor offer to change the country’s constitution to allow FARC members to run for office — as lies with yet another article, “The indelible traces.”

It was a wonderful display of exactly what journalists should be doing — holding powerful people and institutions accountable and exposing their hypocrisy. While Uribe has yet to be prosecuted for any of the alleged crimes he committed while in power, Coronell’s exposés may at least shift public opinion, perhaps paving the way for an eventual day in court.

Hopefully Coronell’s work inspires more Colombian journalists to take an adversarial approach the political and economic power centers — both domestic and international — that have so damaged their country.

Paraguay International Womens Day
A woman holds a sign that reads "Enough with violence against women" during a march for International Women's Day in Paraguay. Photo: AP Photo/Jorge Saenz

Electing a female president isn’t enough to balance out systemic gender inequality in politics and the workplace across Latin America, according to a new study on global gender inequality.

The World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Report, released Tuesday, ranked 142 countries around the world based on their achievements toward gender parity. Unsurprisingly, at least for most people who pay attention to women’s rights in the region, Latin America did little to distinguish itself — with one notable exception.

Nicaragua not only led Latin American nations, but made it up into the top 10 of the overall list, beating countries like Germany, New Zealand and Canada.

The report’s conclusions were based on four major categories: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment. These broad sectors included more specific indicators like the percentage of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) graduates, percentage of women employed in formal and informal sectors, businesses with women as top managers, access to contraception, access to land ownership, length of maternity leave and even legal parental authority within marriage and after divorce.

The top countries in the world, as might be expected, were mostly concentrated in Europe, with Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark taking the top five spots. Below that, things were a bit more interesting, with Nicaragua, Rwanda, Ireland, the Philippines and Belgium rounding out the top 10.

Also unsurprising were the countries with the poorest scores on the index. The bottom five — Mali, Syria, Chad, Pakistan and Yemen — were all countries with deeply restrictive laws and norms regulating gender relations, and included several nations that are experiencing severe internal conflicts.

Latin American report card: The good and the average

Nicaragua’s high ranking may come as a surprise to many women’s rights activists , as the country suffers from rising rates of femicide and violence against women. However, the country earned top marks for women’s political empowerment, with more women than men holding ministerial-level positions in the government.

The next Latin American country to make the list was Ecuador, coming in at 21st, just after the United States. Ecuador had near-equality on educational and health indicators, and its .71 ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions was one of the best in the region (though, of course, still well below equal). When it came to labor force participation, though, the small Andean country didn’t fare so well — only 58 percent of women are connected to the country’s workforce, compared to 85 percent of men.

Cuba (30), Argentina (31) and Peru (45) rounded out the regional top five.

Even having a female head of state — a key indicator on the survey —  wasn’t enough to counterbalance other problems, as Chile (ranked 66th) and Brazil (71) were close to the middle on both the global ranking and within the region overall. Chile suffered from poor wage equality and little representation of women in managerial and senior official positions, while Brazil had one of the region’s lowest rates of women in parliament, with an abysmal .09 ratio of women to men.

Latin America’s failing grades

The lowest country in the Americas was Belize, with a lowly ranking of 100. Latin America’s worst marks went to Guatemala, at 89, which fell just below #86 Venezuela and neighboring El Salvador at 84.

One of the biggest surprises was the dismal score for Uruguay, often held up as a model country for development, equality and progressive policy in Latin America. The small South American nation, which has led the world on legalizing marijuana and social programs, nonetheless lags far behind when it comes to gender equality, coming in at 82nd on the ranking, just after Paraguay (81) and Mexico (80).

Read more: Which Latin American country is most socially inclusive?

The low score for Uruguay seemed to be based on the low rates of women’s participation in the political arena and labor force. Uruguay has nearly achieved or even passed equality in all of the educational and health indicators, with significantly more women than men enrolled in secondary and tertiary-level education, and there are many more female professional and technical workers than male in the country. Yet women’s participation in the labor force is far below that of men, and the wage gap for equal work is almost 50 percent. The outlook is even worse when it comes to political participation, with tiny numbers of women in parliament and ministerial positions.

With upcoming Senate and presidential elections at the end of November, Uruguay may have a change to change this, but such radical change seems unlikely to come from just one round of voting.

Other Latin American countries included in the index were Panama (46), Costa Rica (48), Colombia (53), Bolivia (58) and the Dominican Republic (78).

Safety first

These results are particularly interesting coming on the heels of a study that found major Latin American cities have some of the world’s least safe public transportation systems for women.

A Thomson Reuters Foundation survey of 15 of the world’s largest cities — including Paris, Tokyo and Moscow — found that Latin American capitals had among the worst marks for women’s perceived safety on transportation. The Colombian capital of Bogotá earned the dubious honor of being the city where women felt least safe on public transportation, followed by Lima and Mexico City. Women in Bogotá said they were afraid to travel after dark, while Mexico City was where women felt most at risk of verbal or physical abuse on public transportation.

Read more: Bogotá deploys “decoy” female officers to combat harassment on public transportation 

As the survey pointed out, many studies show a link between safe transportation and women’s economic empowerment, as well as their ability to safely get to work or school, making transportation a key factor for nations that want to improve gender equality, particularly in the economic and educational realms.