COLOMBIA Report to the Midyear Meeting Fortaleza, Brazil March 2001 The civil war is still the cause of the worst violations of press freedom. The paramilitary and guerrilla groups have created a climate of intimidation and violence that interferes with the free practice of journalism. In the last six months, three journalists have been killed because of their work; 13 have been threatened and three of them have left the country; 17 were kidnapped by guerrilla groups and later released. On the legal front there has been movement both forward and backward. While the national prosecutor’s office has made notable progress in investigating the murders of journalists, there have been worrisome pardons by judges of people accused of this crime. The following are the most important events that affected press freedom in Colombia: In October, journalist Jorge Enrique Botero accused Canal Caracol Televisión of refusing to broadcast his report on soldiers and police officers kidnapped by the FARC. The Interior Ministry’s Committee to Protect Journalists, created by decree in August 2000 at the IAPA's initiative, began to function. This committee comprises the Free Press Foundation, the National Newspaper Association, the police Directorate of Human Rights, the vice president’s office and the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. On October 13, more than 50 people from the neighborhood Usme on the outskirts of Bogota violently took over Canal de RCN Televisión. They were protesting a report on the alleged corruption of their mayor. The takeover lasted one day and the channel’s security guard was injured. A journalistic team from Gama Visión of Ecuador was attacked on the Colombian-Ecuadorean border. Journalist Carlos Bravo and cameraman César Paredes were intercepted by members of an unidentified armed group who insulted them, reviewed their taped material and then shot at them. Their driver was wounded. Journalists Guillermo Aguilar and Carlos Aristizábal of a radio station in Cali said they were threatened repeatedly the ELN because of the service they provided to this group’s hostages with their program “Voices in Freedom.” The two journalists were moved to Bogota under the protection of the Interior Ministry’s Journalists Protection Committee. On November 15, journalist Gustavo Ruiz Cantillo, who directed a radio news show on Radio Galeón, was murdered in Pivijai, Magadalena. His death caused great consternation because he was very popular. It is thought that he may have been killed by a paramilitary force because they have great influence in the region, but the guerrilla group FARC is also active there. The murder was clearly because of his profession. Carlos Armando Uribe, a respected journalist known as “Professor Yarumo,” who had a popular environmental show on television, was kidnapped by an ELN group in Palocabildo in Tolima. He was released after five days. A judge in Bogota gave sentences of 45 to 60 years to three men accused of murdering the investigative journalists Elsa Alvarado and Mario Calderón on May 19, 1997. The prosecutor’s office has accused paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño of ordering these murders. On November 30, Guillermo León Agudelo, a journalist of radio station Voz de la Selva was murdered. Edilberto Torres Monsalve, the former president of the powerful oil workers’ union, Unión Sindical Obrera, was arrested for allegedly ordering the attack on Eduardo Pilonieta, columnist of the daily Vanguardia Liberal on June 14, 2000. Pilonieta wrote about labor issues in his column. December. Fifteen journalists from various media outlets were kidnapped by the FARC when they were traveling to cover the guerrilla group’s attack on Granada, Antioquia. The journalists were released three days later without an explanation of why they were held. The national prosecutor’s office confirmed the hypothesis that Carlos Castaño, leader of the so-called United Self-Defense of Colombia, had ordered the murder of journalist and well-known humorist Jaime Garzón in Bogota in August of 1999. The paramilitary leader insists that he had nothing to do with the crime. On December 13 Alfredo Abad, director of the radio station La Voz de la Selva, was shot to death in front of his wife by two hit men on a motorcycle in Florencia, Caquetá. Abad had opened the microphones of his station to the people so they could comment about the demilitarized zone of Caguán where the government is negotiating with the FARC. Winston Viracachá, correspondent of Caracol Televisión in Nariño province, was kidnapped by the ELN, which said it would put him on trial for his coverage of the armed conflict in that region. Following strong protests by the journalists’ union, Viracachá was freed after nine days in captivity. Journalist Eduardo Luque of Radio Caracol in Florencia, Caquetá, said paramilitaries had threatened to kill him. The Human Rights Unit of the prosecutor’s office formally linked Bernardo Hoyos, a priest and two-time mayor of Barranquilla, to the death of journalist Carlos Lajud Catalan who was murdered in March of 1993. Although the prosecutor’s office found reason to conduct a criminal investigation of Hoyos, it did not issue a warrant for his arrest because of insufficient evidence. Hoyos is still tied to the investigation. A court in Neiva, Huila, acquitted three people who were accused of the murder of journalist Nelson Carvajal in April of 1998. The prosecutor’s office, which had asked for a conviction, questioned the decision. Carvajal had been reporting about political corruption in the region. January 2000. The prominent television anchor woman Claudia Gurisatti; Martha Patricia Mora, a journalist who worked for Chamber of Representatives; and Alvaro Dussán of Caracol all left the country after receiving death threats. Dussán had reported threats from the FARC and joined the prosecutor’s office’s witness program. The prosecutor’s office said the FARC had a plan to murder Claudia Gurisatti. February. Blanca Marina Toro, a columnist of Diario El Nuevo Día of Ibargué, said she had received death threats. After a confusing incident in Cali, during which a police officer was shot and wounded, the correspondent of Univisión, Raúl Benoit, said there had been an attempt on his life. The prosecutor’s office investigated and concluded that it was a traffic accident. Journalist Jorge Enrique Botero, who had prepared a program that was not broadcast about soldiers and police officers kidnapped by the FARC, received protection from the Interior Ministry‘s Journalists Protection Committee. Botero reported to the authorities that he had been threatened by the military. A communique from the United Self-Defense of Colombia threatened six journalists from various media outlets in Cauca province for allegedly being guerrilla sympathizers. The residence of Soraida Ariza Mateus, correspondent of Caracol Radio in Arauca province, was attacked with dynamite. On February 22, Ariza had broadcast a report about disturbances caused in the region by the ELN. In its annual human rights report, the U.S. State Department said that Colombian journalists work in an atmosphere of threats and intimidation created mainly by paramilitary and guerrilla groups. According to the report, many Colombian journalists censor themselves for fear of reprisals. March. The Administrative Court ordered the government to pay 2,000 grams of gold to the family of journalist Manuel José Martínez, who was murdered in Popayán in September of 1993. The verdict said the Defense Ministry and the army were responsible because the crime was committed by two informers of the Military Battalion of Popayán and the weapons used belonged to this battalion. The perpetrators were subsequently murdered, and the mastermind has not been identified.