Report to the Midyear Meeting
March 28 - 30, 2008
Press freedom has suffered in the last six months as a result of threats and assaults on journalists at the newspapers El Meridiano of Córdoba, Vanguardia Liberal and La Tarde of Barrancabermeja; and executives at RCN Radio, Maravilla, and Radio Guatapurí in Cesar department and Acción Estéreo in Tolima department. Most of these threats came after reports were published or broadcast on illegal armed groups or on the conduct of government officials and candidates for October’s mayoral elections.
Thirty-five journalists reported receiving death threats. The Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) confirmed that the Interior Ministry’s Committee for the Protection of Journalists reviewed 29 such cases between October and January. Five of these journalists went into exile.
No journalist was killed in the past six months as a result of their work. Three journalists were killed for reasons apparently not related to their profession.
One journalist remains missing after being abducted on February 17. Mario Alfonso Puello, of the news program “En Línea con la Noticia” on Radio Delfín in Riohacha, Guajira department, was abducted by individuals not yet identified. The vehicle in which Puello was riding with people from a literacy program for indigenous adults was forced to stop on the highway from Riohacha to Santa Marta. In a call placed to Radio Caracol in Guajira department, a person identifying himself as a spokesman for a faction of the FARC said that they were not holding the journalist.
Meanwhile, the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court granted a petition for judicial protection for Ricardo Ávila, former editor of Cambio magazine. This overturned rulings by a lower-court judge and the Superior Court of Bogotá, which had ordered Ávila’s arrest and fined him for disobeying a court order that he publish a correction of a March 12, 2007, article reporting that Álvaro Fernández Bonilla had been found in possession of child pornography. The article stated that Fernández Bonilla worked as a “communications adviser” for the governor of Cundinamarca, Pablo Ardila Sierra.
Below are the most notable developments of the past six months:
In October, Ulilo Acevedo, editor of the newspaper Hoy Diario del Magdalena, reported that a group of University of Magdalena students protesting a court ruling against the former rector of the university attacked the newspaper’s headquarters, shouted chants against the newspaper, and painted graffiti on the walls of the building. Acevedo said that he and his family had received threatening phone calls and notes at their home.
Jazmín Romero, a correspondent for the newspaper Vanguardia Liberal in Socorro, in the department of Santander, informed FLIP that she received a threatening phone call on October 27 and a note purportedly from a group calling itself the Black Eagles, saying that they couldn’t guarantee his safety. The threat was apparently related to a news report that Camilo Reyes, a mayoral candidate for the municipality of Socorro, had been ruled ineligible.
On October 29, journalist Omar Orlando García identified someone in a police line-up as the man who killed his boss, José Duviel Vásquez, the station director at La Voz de la Selva in Florencia, Caquetá department, who was killed on July 6, 2001. García returned to Colombia after spending six years in exile as a result of death threats and an attempt on his life. He recognized Vásquez’s killer in a photograph posted on the Web site of the newspaper La Nación of Huila.
In November, a municipal court in Caloto, Cauca, ordered the local mayor’s office to turn over public records on the purchase of advertising space to a local journalist whose request for this information had been denied on the grounds that it was classified. The court ruled that no reason needs to be specified when requesting information.
On December 12, a letter signed by a paramilitary group called the New Self-Defense Forces-Cesar was sent to the Maravilla radio station in Valledupar, in Cesar department. The letter named Enrique Camargo Plata, news director of Radio Guatapurí, as a military target unless he “came to terms” with the paramilitary organization.
In January, journalist Alexander Guerrero was forced to leave the department of Cesar due to threats and an alleged plot against his life as a result of his reports critical of Mayor Jorge Luis Alfonso. Alfonso had been ordered held for money laundering and for siphoning health care funds through Enilse López, aka “La Gata,” the owner of a gambling operation who is being investigated for possible ties to paramilitary groups.
On February 12, a prosecutor in Cartagena, in the department of Bolívar, charged journalist Edinson Lucio Torres with aggravated injuria (insulting or offensive words and actions) against Senator Javier Cáceres Leal. This came after Lucio Torres claimed on October 18, 2007, that Cáceres and a number of merchants had ties to paramilitary groups.
The National Police confirmed to IAPA that it is looking into an e-mail circulating with the crossed-out face of journalist Vicky Dávila, and a recorded conversation in which members of the FARC speak of “collecting on the debt owed by the media” in relation to Dávila and her work as an anchorwoman for Noticias RCN and director of the radio station FM of RCN Radio.
Juan Gossain, news director for RCN Radio, said on the radio station’s website that ever since “the marches against abductors and terrorists were announced, RCN in general and I in particular have been targeted by threatening phone calls at our stations in various cities, including Medellín.”
William Salleg Tabeada, editor of the newspaper El Meridiano de Córdoba, reported receiving threats against him and several of his journalists after his paper ran articles on corruption in the public works administration of the Córdoba government.
José Joaquín Chávez, station director of Acción Estéreo and a correspondent for Voz de Tolima, was forced to leave Tolima due to persistent threats on his life in connection with an Army announcement on the demobilization of guerrilla forces, which was broadcast by the station.
Diro César González, editor of the Barrancabermeja weekly La Tarde, and his wife, Tatiana Sánchez, told FLIP that they were being followed on February 16 in Santander department and that suspicious individuals were hanging around the newspaper’s offices. The journalists began receiving threats in December 2005, ever since La Tarde ran a photograph of a person who may have killed someone in the oil port city of Barrancabermeja. After spending several months under protection in Bogotá, the couple returned to Santander amid security measures.
On March 6 several journalists covering the march against violence were assaulted by protestors. A team of journalists from RCN TV was subjected to insults and complaints about the channel’s news broadcasts in Medellín, in the department of Antioquia. This also happened to journalists in Bucaramanga, in Santander department. Meanwhile, photographers from El Heraldo covering the march in Barranquilla were harassed by groups of college students.
Journalists from the newspaper Nuestro Diario in Valledupar were threatened by the group that calls itself the Black Eagles. They received phone calls warning them to stop their reporting or else they would be killed one by one.
The individuals who carried out the killing of José Duviel Vásquez on July 6, 2001, in Florencia, Caquetá, and Carlos José Restrepo Rocha on September 7, 2000, in San Luis, Tolima, have been identified and arrested. Ricuarte Soria Ortiz confessed to killing Restrepo Rocha and sought a plea bargain.
In the cases of Francisco Castro Menco, killed on November 8, 1997, in Majagual, Sucre, and Jaime Garzón, killed on August 13, 1999, in Bogotá, the Human Rights Unit of the Office of the Attorney General requested that demobilized members of paramilitary groups be questioned by prosecutors from the Justice and Peace Unit regarding their roles in these homicides. Meanwhile, the Human Rights Unit reported that it was making progress in investigating the killings of Pablo Emilio Medina on December 3, 1999, in Garzón, Huila, and Jaime Rengifo Revero on April 29, 2003, in Maicao, Guajira, although it did not provide details.
Despite repeated urgings from the IAPA, investigations by the various regional divisions of the Office of the Attorney General throughout the country remain suspended or on hold. And no progress has been made in the cases of slain journalists Jairo Elías Márquez, Ernesto Acero Cadena, Gustavo Ruiz Cantillo, Gerardo Bedoya, Carlos Lajud Catalán, Hernando Rangel Moreno, Guillermo Bravo Vega, Amparo Leonor Jiménez, Guzmán Quintero Torres, Nelson Carvajal Carvajal, Efraín Varela Noriega and Francisco Castro Menco.