COLOMBIA Report to the 57th General Assembly Washington, DC October 2001 This has been one of the most violent periods for the Colombian press in recent years. Since the Fortaleza meeting, seven journalists have been killed because of their duties. Most were journalists for community radio stations in areas of armed conflict. There also have been many threats and attacks. The Interior Ministry’s Committee to Protect Journalists reported that there were 28 threats against journalists and media outlets between March and October. The committee received 56 requests for help and provided economic and humanitarian assistance to 34 journalists. Six left the country with official help. Following are the most important developments affecting press freedom. In March, the Human Rights Unit of the Prosecutor’s Office did not find sufficient evidence to issue an arrest warrant for the former mayor of Barranquilla, Roman Catholic priest Bernardo Hoyos, in the trial for the murder of journalist Carlos Lajud Catalán. Hoyas had been called for questioning in December of 2000 because of the statements by two witnesses. The priest, the suspected mastermind, is still under investigation. On March 17 a guerrilla group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) kidnapped Guillermo Angula Peláez, a journalist and international news analyst of the Radionet chain, at his country home an hour from Bogota. Angula was released six months later on August 31. The national attorney general’s office asked the public prosecutor to open an investigation of journalist Raúl Benoit, correspondent of Univisión, with respect to an alleged attack on him February 15 in Cali for which a police officer was wrongly identified as the alleged assailant. The prosecutor’s office asked to investigate Benoit for false testimony and misdirecting the investigation. Last month he was called to the prosecutor’s office to answer the charges. In April, a court in Paris refused to ban the book “Rage in the Heart” in which Congresswoman Ingrid Betancourt accused former president Ernesto Samper of complicity in drug traffic and murder. The judge who heard the case brought by Samper ruled that his protest be inserted in the book. Criminals attacked a truck belonging to El Tiempo on the outskirts of Bogota. The assailants hit the driver and stole 20,000 copies of the paper which were being delivered to towns near the capital. The director of La Picota jail in Bogotá ordered the forcible removal of the legal correspondent of channel RCN, Juan Carlos Giraldo, when he insisted on interviewing a prisoner. The interview had been approved by the national prosecutor’s office. After a call from the IAPA at its meeting in Fortaleza, Brazil, the Fourth Special Prosecutor’s Office in Bogotá appealed a lower court ruling that acquitted those accused of killing journalist Nelson Carvajal, who died April 16, 1998, in Pitalito, Huila. Channel RCN said the government had made an “express request” that it not broadcast an interview with the leader of the “self-defense forces,” Carlos Castaño, on the program “La Noche,” directed by Claudia Gurisatti. The government argued that the interview would “seriously endanger the peace process in Colombia.” The Colombian ambassador to Spain, Carlos Ardila, who owns the channel, resigned his post. El Otro, a weekly in Nariño, was attacked with explosives on April 19 in the city of Pasto. The editor, Ricardo Romero, a former M-19 guerrilla, said the terrorist act was a response to reports about corruption in his publication. Journalist Fernando Sabogal made a formal report to the IAPA’s Rapid Response Unit of paramilitary threats against his life. He said his name was on a list of 100 people threatened with death that circulated in the city of Popayán. On April 27, Flavio Bedoya Tovar, the correspondent of the Communist Party weekly Voz, was killed in the center of the port Tumaco by four men who shot him as he got out of his vehicle. His last work was an interview with a commander of the FARC guerrillas. The crime has been blamed on paramilitary forces. In May, presidential candidates Alvaro Uribe Vélez, Noemí Sanín and Horacio Serpa spoke about press freedom at a forum in Sergio Arboleda University. They agreed that the government should guarantee the free exercise of the profession in the midst of the armed conflict. Radio personality Edgar Artunduaga, resigned from the popular humor program “La Luciérnaga” on Canal Caracol, blaming pressures from the government of President Andrés Pastrana whom he satirized constantly on his program. Sports writer Yesid Marulanda of “Noticiero Notipacífico” was murdered after he left his law class at Universidad Santiago in Cali. Men in a pickup truck with tinted windows shot at him five times and finished him off as he lay on the ground. Marulanda had led a campaign against a housing project for the poor that had stolen money from the home buyers. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in New York released a list of the 10 worst enemies of press freedom in the world that included Carlos Castaño, leader of the United Self-Defense of Colombia. Castaño is linked to several investigations of murders of journalists. The self-defense forces responded saying they are not the only one responsible for killing journalists. But they warned that those they consider “guerrilla mouthpieces” would be military targets. Three telephone calls to El Tiempo threatened journalists Marta Elvira Soto, Sergio Ocampo, Orlando Gamboa and Carlos Pulgarín. All have investigated paramilitary forces and guerrillas or published reports about them. A car bomb in front of the offices of the weekly Voz in Bogota was disarmed by police anti-explosive units. The vehicle was loaded with 250 kilos of dynamite. The editor of the publication, Carlos Lozano, blamed paramilitary forces of the United Self-Defense of Colombia. A reporter, a photographer and a driver for El Colombiano of Medellín were intercepted by guerrillas of the FARC as they drove toward San Francisco de Antioquia. The vehicle was stolen. Urban militias that are dissident groups of the ELN guerrillas put out a communiqué criticizing the work of journalists in Colombia and accusing them of not being neutral in their coverage. Journalist Carlos Lajud of the local channel City-TV and Sgt. Alberto Cantillo, press chief of the Metropolitan Police, were wounded by shrapnel when the FARC exploded a bomb in Bogotá. Five journalists in Cali made a formal report of threats in a communiqué from the United Self-Defense of Colombia (AUC). They are: Hugo Mario Palomari, Jaime Gallego and Eduardo Esquivel of Canal Caracol, Eduardo Manzano of “Notipacífico”and Gildardo Arango of “Noticinco.” The AUC denied the accusation. In June, demonstrators threw two explosive devices at the headquarters of City-TV in the center of Bogota during a national strike called by workers’ confederations. The explosive damaged the first floor while programs were being transmitted. In Bucaramanga, a group of police officers attacked the cameraman of RCN TV, Wilfrido Pinto, correspondent of Caracol TV, Javier Mauricio Santoyo and cameraman Oscar Patiño Pereira. One of the policemen hit Patiño in the face and broke his camera. Santoyo and Patiño reported the attack to the police commissioner’s office and asked for compensation for the destroyed camera. The Free Press Foundation said it was suspending its work because of threats from the extreme left. Journalist Carlos Reina was kidnapped in the town of Yopal, Casanare. He worked as a distributor of El Espectador and had worked for El Tiempo and the RCN chain. Journalist Claudi Gurisatti, who had to leave the country because of an attempt to kill her organized by the FARC, returned and is presenting the news on Canal RCN. She is also directing the opinion program “La Noche” on the same channel. On June 27, Pablo Emilio Parra Castañeda was kidnapped in Planadas in Tolima province. He was a journalist and manager of radio station Planadas Stereo and president of the local Red Cross. He was murdered by men who identified themselves as members of the FARC and left on his body a sign saying “snitch.” In July the journalist of Telecaribe, Ramon Campo González was kidnapped in Santa Marta, apparently by common criminals. He was released a few days later. On July 4, Arquímedes Arias Henao, owner of radio station Armonía FM Stereo, was murdered in Tolima province. A man entered the station and shot him three times. Arias had been a journalist since he was 18. He avoided political subjects, and the reasons for his murder are not known. The next day, July 5, journalist José Dubiel Vásquez, news director of the radio station Voz de la Selva, in Florencia in the province of Caquetá, was murdered. Two men on a motorcycle waited for him to leave the station and fired two shots at him. Dubiel Vásquez had just done the morning news show. His wife said he was “killed by the dirty war Colombia is living through.” Last year two other journalists from the same station were murdered. On July 8, the journalists Jorge Enrique Urbano, news director of the radio station Mar Stereo was murdered. He did a news program that was known for its strong criticism of the lack of safety in the port of Buenaventura and had been threatened two months earlier. On July 16,the community leader and journalist Eduardo Estrada Gutiérrez was murdered in San Pablo, south of Bolívar. He was the president of the town’s Association for the Development of Communication and Culture and had started a community radio station in an area of open fighting between guerrillas and paramilitary forces. The European Parliament asked the member countries of the European Union to help Colombian media companies guarantee the safety of their journalists. The parliament asked them to present proposals to set up centers to help the press in Colombia and East Timor. In August, a bomb destroyed the rear part of the offices of Caracol Radio in Medellín. The blast damaged buildings within a five-block radius. It was placed by guerrillas of the ELN during a wave of terrorist attacks this group committed after talks with the Pastrana government were suspended. El Espectador, the oldest newspaper in Colombia with 115 years of publication, said it would stop daily circulation and become a Sunday paper because its owners, Valores Bavaria, could not invest more money in it. In 1997, El Espectador was taken over by banks and later that year it was purchased by the largest economic group in the country which has been supporting it since. By 2000, the paper’s circulation was restricted to Bogota. The disappearance of El Espectador as a daily reflects the country’s economic crisis. The amount of advertising has dropped 51 percent in the past year. This has put all media outlets in a very difficult situation. Some regional newspapers are in critical condition and seven producers of national television channels have had to suspend operations. In September, one of the suspected killers of humorist and journalist Jaime Garzón, whose death devastated the country in August 1999, was captured by prosecutors’ units. He uses the name Antonio Sierra and reportedly drove the motorcycle the murderers rode on. Sierra denied any participation, but the prosecutor’s office detained him and has linked him to the investigation. A debate has begun about the growing concentration of advertising. Some media companies say this threatens the news balance and pluralism in the country. The RCN and Caracol chains, which belong to the two biggest economic groups of Colombia, control 82% of television advertising and 52% of all advertising. The debate involves whether this is a dominant position that damages press freedom. Caracol and RCN deny that they have abused this position. The debate is just beginning and promises to be a hot issue in the coming months.