|Six journalists were killed in Colombia in 1999. Media professionals agree that the main threat against them is not so much drug traffickers as armed groups, whether they are guerrillas, such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC - a Marxist outfit), the National Liberation Army (ELN - Guevarists) or paramilitary groups, chiefly the extreme-right Colombian Self-Defence Units (AUC).
Peace talks started by the government with the various guerrilla groups caused a counter-reaction from the far right, who are opposed to the process. Six journalists who had been threatened by paramilitaries after they defended the negotiations were forced to go into exile. It is not clear whether paramilitaries or hardliners in the army were behind the murder of Jaime Garzón. The guerrillas have done their share too: they were responsible for the death of another journalist and do not hesitate to kidnap others as a way of condemning atrocities committed by the paramilitaries. Journalists suspected of supporting the «other camp» become «military targets» for these armed groups.
Jaime Garzón, a journalist and humorist with the station Radionet and the TV channel Caracol Televisión, was shot dead in Bogotá by two men on a motorbike on 13 August. The journalist had on several occasions taken part in negotiations to secure the release of people kidnapped by guerrilla movements and to persuade the authorities to start talks with the ELN. Some observers suspect hardliners in the army who are opposed to the peace process, particularly in the intelligence service, of being behind the murder.
Guzman Quintero Torres, editor of the local daily El Pilón and correspondent of the regional television channel Telecaribe in Valledupar, in the north-eastern department of César, was shot dead in a bar on 16 September, in front of two of his colleagues. He had often condemned human rights violations committed by the army in his newspaper. A former correspondent of the regional daily El Heraldo, he had received death threats from paramilitary groups fighting against guerrillas in the region in 1996. On 30 September Jorge Eliecer Espinal Velásquez and Rodolfo Nelson Rosado Martínez, who are believed to belong to a gang of hired killers, were arrested and charged with the murder.
The body of Rodolfo Julio Torres, Sincelejo correspondent of the radio station Fuentes, was found by the police on 21 October. He had been shot three times in the head a few hours after being kidnapped from his home by a group of armed men. In 1998 pamphlets believed to originate from the AUC, accusing him of being close to the ELN, had been circulating in the region.
Freelance cameraman Luis Alberto Rincan and Alberto Sánchez Tovar, who ran their own production company, Producciones Colombiana Ltda, were found dead not far from El Playón, in the departement of Santander, on 28 November. They had apparently been shoot in the head at point-blank range. They had been on their way to El Playón to cover municipal elections. The two men are thought to have been killed by one of the paramilitary groups rampant in the region and which are believed to have murdered a former mayor of the town two months earlier. But police have not discounted robbery as a motive because the killers made off with the journalists equipment.
On 3 December Pablo Emilio Medina, a cameraman with the television channel TV Garzón in Huila department, was shot dead as he was on his way to cover a FARC offensive in Gigante, 160 miles south of Bogotá. Police said he was riding a motorbike to the town, accompanied by a police officer who managed to get away, when they were attacked by FARC guerrillas.
New information about journalists killed before 1999
Libardo Humberto Prada Bayona was charged with the murder of Luz Amparo Jimenez Payares on 16 April. The hired killer, who was arrested by police a few days after the journalists death, admitted that he had been paid 35,000 dollars (35,000 euros) to carry out the crime. Amparo Jimenez, Valledupar correspondent for the «In Vivo» news programme on the television channel Cadena A, was shot dead on 11 August 1998, apparently by paramilitaries upset about a report broadcast in August 1996 which accused them of forcing villagers to leave their homes.
On 26 April Julio Cesar Ospina Chavarro and Carlos Arturo Morales Osorio were charged with the murder of Bernabé Cortés of the television channel Telepacífico. The journalist, who was investigating drug trafficking, was shot dead in Calí on 19 May 1998 by three hired killers. Julio Cesar Ospina Chavarro was arrested, but Carlos Arturo Morales Osorio is still on the run.
A warrant for the arrest of José Edgar García González, who was suspected of murdering Jairo Elías Marqués, was issued in the spring of 1999. The journalist, editor of the satirical magazine El Marqués in Armenia, Quindío department, was shot dead on 20 November 1997. He had made allegations against congressman Carlos Alberto Oviedo over missing public funds.
Juan Carlos Henao Mosquera was charged with the murder of Ernesto Acero Candena, editor of the weekly Informador Socioeconly er, on 23 July. The journalist was shot dead in the centre of Armenia on 12 December 1995. Juan Carlos Henao Mosquera was remanded in custody.
Henry Romero, a photographer with the news agency Reuters, was kidnapped by ELN guerrillas on 26 October as he was covering a meeting between ELN leaders and the families of people taken hostage by the rebels. The ELN complained that the photographer had published pictures in which they were shown with their faces uncovered. Romero was released on 3 November. A few weeks later, he decided to leave Colombia.
On 29 October Blanca Herrera and John Jairo LeaR of the television channel CM1, Wilson Lozano of Caracol Television, Hidamys Acero and Reynaldo Patisi of RCN TV, Aldemir Luna of the daily Vanguardia Liberal, and Frank Chagual, a cameraman with the TV news programme «Noticiero de las siete», were kidnapped by the FARCs «Front 24» group. The guerrillas said the aim of the kidnapping was to draw journalists attention to atrocities committed by paramilitaries in the northern department of Bolivar. The seven journalists were released on 2 November.
Jose Urbano Cespedes and Aldemar Cárdenas of Caracol Televisión, Gregorio Maestre of the TV news programme «CM1», Isabel Ballesteros and David Sierra of the television channel RCN, and Edgar de la Hoz and Pablo Camargo of the daily El Pilón in Valledupar were kidnapped by FARC guerrillas on 10 November. Five of the journalists were exchanged two days later for an International Red Cross representative, who was asked to explain why the organisation had given first aid to paramilitaries. The five journalists were given a FARC statement in which the group condemned exactions committed by the AUC in César department. The remaining two journalists were freed on 14 November.
Carlo Pizatti, a contributor to the Italian daily La Repubblica, was arrested by security forces on 7 October after reporting in the demilitarised zone of San Vincente del Caguán, south of Bogotá, which is occupied by the FARC. The journalist, whose tape recorder, portable computer and camera were confiscated, was questioned about an interview he had done with FARC spokesman Raúl Reyes. He was released the next day.
Wilson Lozano and cameraman Henry Durán, of the TV news programme NTC broadcast on the state-run Canal A, were slightly injured aboard a police helicopter that was fired at by FARC and ELN fighters on 11 April. The two men were reporting on the struggle against drug trafficking in the Barrancabermeja region, which had been the scene of violent clashes between guerrillas and paramilitary groups.
On 10 June Hans Sarmiento and his crew from the channel RCNs news programme were fired at by FARC guerrillas in the El Espino region of Boyacá department. They were trying to cover the storming of a village by the guerrillas. None of them were hurt.
A bomb exploded near the offices of the daily El Tiempo in Cali on 14 November. That evening, in phone calls to the radio station Todelar and the daily El Espectador, a man said the blast was a FARC reprisal for the dailys revelations about the guerrillas military targets. The ELN and a previously unheard-of «Colombian patriotic resistance» commando also claimed responsibility for the attack.
Jose Laureano Restrepo Cole, correspondent in Sucre, Bolivar department, for Radio Caracol and a reporter with the local daily El Meridiano de Sucre, was forced to go into hiding for a few days on 3 March after being followed and threatened by strangers. The journalist is known for his investigations of corruption in political circles.
Yinet Bedoya, a crime reporter with the daily El Espectador, had a narrow escape on 27 May when she was fired at by two men on a motorbike. She had often been threatened because of her reporting on prison conditions. In August 1998 she received threats after revealing an escape plot by several drug traffickers jailed in Bogotá.
On 23 June Juan Carlos Aguiar and John Jader Jaramillo, a reporter and cameraman with RCN Televisión, were forced to leave their home towns, Manizales and Pereira. They had been receiving threats since 8 June, and had been followed and assaulted. In one of their reports, they had criticised the police for failing to intervene as a man was murdered by a crowd of demonstrators. Dario Augusto Cardona, a photographer with the daily La Pátria, said he too had received threats since his pictures of the incident were published.
A communiqué issued by the Rebel Army of Colombia (Ejército Rebelde de Colombia ERC) on 23 August threatened to kill 21 people involved in the peace process. The ERC accused them of «sustaining the war between Colombians». Those threatened included Alfredo Molano and Arturo Alape, contributors to the daily El Espectador, and Patricia Lara of the daily El Tiempo. Some observers suspect hardliners in the army who are opposed to peace talks of using the ERC, a previously unheard-of armed group, as a front.
Alvaro Montoya Gómez, a columnist and cartoonist for the daily El Nuevo Siglo, said on 25 November that he had to stop writing his weekly column because he and his family had received death threats. He had condemned human rights violations committed by the army. The journalist was also close to Álvaro Gómez Hurtado, an editorial writer and majority shareholder in El Nuevo Siglo, who was murdered by paramilitaries in 1995.
Pressure and obstruction
Former communications minister Saulo Arboleda and former mines and energy minister Rodrigo Villamizar were convicted on 14 January over irregularities in the way radio broadcasting wavelengths were allocated in July 1997. They were fined 16 million and 12 millon pesos (8,000 and 6,000 euros) respectively, and their civil rights were temporarily suspended. The two men resigned after the weekly Semana published a transcription of a telephone conversation in which they discussed how they could help «Sampers friends».
Alfredo Molano, a columnist with El Espectador, left Colombia on 19 January. He had condemned the massacre of 130 people at the start of the month by Carlos Castaños AUC. Since then, Castaño has described the journalist as a «paraguerrilla».
In a communique issued on 30 March, ELN guerrillas said that journalists and media who helped to publicise the policies of extreme-right paramilitary groups would be regarded as «permanent military targets».
Víctor Sánchez Rincones of the daily El Meridiano de Córdoba published in Montería, Córdoba departement, left Colombia on 24 April. He had been receiving threats since September 1998, when he accused the AUC of kidnapping several lecturers from Córdoba university and of an attack that killed a policemen.
María Cristina Caballero of the weekly Semana left Colombia for the United States in May. She had received several death threats because she had talked both to drug traffickers and to representatives of guerrillas and paramilitary groups.
On 15 September Jorge Rivera Sena, correspondent of the regional daily El Universal in Bolivar department, left Colombia. He was kidnapped on 22 May, apparently by the AUC, and held for nine days - and continued to receive threats after his release. He had reported on massacres committed by paramilitaries. In March he had been described as a guerrilla by an army colonel.
Antonio Morales of the daily El Espectador left Colombia on 16 September. He had been receiving death threats from paramilitary groups since he took a stand in favour of peace talks between the government and guerrillas.
Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, who works for the daily El Espectador and the radio station RCN, went into exile on 18 September. On 23 March he had narrowly escaped being killed in an attack by the ELN, which accused him of being «an ideologist and a propagandist for para-institutional and paramilitary violence».
On 7 October the FARC asked the «liar press» to stop going to the demilitarised zone of San Vincente del Caguán which the group had been allocated as a result of peace talks with the government. In September, a series of articles published by the FARCs news agency, Anncol, referred to Edgar Torres of the daily El Tiempo as «the armed forces correspondent» and questioned the independence from the army and paramilitary groups of Ana Mercedes Gómez, editor of the daily El Colombiano, and Gabriel García Marquez, managing editor of the weeklies Cambio and Semana.
Hernando Corral Garzón, deputy editor of the TV news programme «Telenoticiero de las 7», went into exile in Germany on 14 October. A member of the Peace Commission set up by the government to prepare for negotiations with the ELN, he had received threats from paramilitary groups. He said that journalists, like intellectuals and academics who supported the peace process, had become the targets in a «dirty war» conducted by paramilitaries who were opposed to the talks. Journalist Jaime Garzón received threats from paramilitary groupso a member of the Peace Commission.
Carlos Pulgarín, correspondent of the daily El Tiempo in Bucaramanga, Santander department, left Colombia on 7 December. He had been receiving phone calls for ten days warning him that he would «pay» for reporting threats made against him to the authorities five months earlier. On 30 June Carlos Pulgarín, who was then working as a correspondent in Montería, Córdoba departement, had been accused of being «the guerillas spokesman». He had reported that the army and paramilitaries had suffered a defeat at the hands of the guerillas, and accused the AUC of being behind the murder of an ethnic leader. El Tiempo had decided to move him to another town.
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