Germán Ornes, Dominican Republic
By Global Journalist Staff Posted Jul 1 2000
Germán Ornes, editor and publisher of the daily El Caribe and an important figure in the development of the Inter American Press Association, was a staunch defender of press freedom in the Dominican Republic and the Americas for more than half a century.
Born on July 30, 1919, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republican, Germán Emilio Ornes Coiscou studied law at the University of Santo Domingo before beginning his career in journalism in 1940 as a reporter for El Caribe.
As a young man, Ornes was in the vanguard of the fight against the authoritarian rule of the dictator, General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, who dominated the West Indian country by ruling personally from 1930 to 1947 and indirectly thereafter until his assassination in May 1961.
Barely escaping to Puerto Rico in 1955 after he was jailed and El Caribe confiscated by the Trujillo regime, Ornes never stopped opposing the dictatorship in his country. After living in exile in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the United States, where he wrote for several publications, he returned to the Dominican Republic following Trujillo’s death in 1961 to become editor and publisher of El Caribe, quickly reestablishing the daily as the leading Dominican newspaper.
A champion of free speech and freedom of the press, Ornes was elected a member of the board of directors of the Inter American Press Association in 1962 and played an important role in the development of the hemispheric organization dedicated to defending press freedom throughout the Americas. He was IAPA’s president in 1978-1979, headed its Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information for several years, and also chaired other working committees within the Association.
Ornes was at the forefront of opposition to demands for a New World Information and Communication Order, which he identified as a serious threat to a free press. He was pivotal in drafting the Declaration of Chapultepec, which took its name from the IAPA Hemisphere Conference on Free Speech, held at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City, in March 1994. Bringing together political leaders, journalists, writers, academics, constitutional lawyers, and private citizens from the Americas, the conference forged a document containing 10 principles necessary for a free press to be able to perform its essential role in a democracy. The Chapultepec Declaration, based on the concept that “no law or act of government may limit freedom of expression or of the press, whatever the medium,” has been endorsed by many heads of state and thousands of private citizens throughout the Americas.
After a lengthy illness, Ornes died on April 14, 1998, the same day El Caribe, the newspaper to which he dedicated his life, celebrated its 50th anniversary. Less than one month before his death, a high-level IAPA delegation traveled to Santo Domingo to confer on Ornes the title of honorary chairman of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information in recognition of his unceasing advocacy of press freedom in the Western hemisphere over more than five decades. “We mourn the loss of a dear colleague, teacher and friend, but we rejoice in having learned from him and fought alongside him against major violations of freedom of the press perpetrated by dictators throughout the hemisphere,” said IAPA President Oliver Clarke. “Certainly, we have lost a friend, but we will always cherish this giant of press freedom.”