COLOMBIA Report to the Midyear Meeting Cancun, Mexico March 2000 Once again, Colombia’s long-running armed conflict has had a negative impact on the press in the past six months. The bulk of the assaults against journalists and the media were perpetrated by one of the parties in the domestic conflict. The ongoing hostilities have also created a threatening climate of intimidation. During this period, 14 journalists were kidnapped and five killed, although in some cases it has not been fully established that the deaths were related to their work as journalists. Four others left the country after receiving death threats. On the judicial front, there have been positive developments, such as the progress made by the Attorney General’s Office in various cases involving the killing of journalists. In addition, the Constitutional Court and State Council have issued rulings eliminating restrictions on radio and television broadcasts. The following are, in chronological order, the main developments regarding press freedom since the October 1999 General Assembly in Houston: October 21: Roberto Julio Torres, an editor at the daily Meridiano of Sincelejo and a reporter for a radio station in Cartagena, was killed by five assailants who dragged him from his home in San Onofre in the department of Sucre. One year earlier, Torres had been threatened via anonymous pamphlets linking him to the left-wing ELN guerrilla group. Some versions indicate that Torres’ death might be tied to the fact that he also covered cockfights in the region, where lofty sums of money are bet. The crime remains unresolved. October 26: Reuters news agency photographer Henry Romero was seized by ELN guerrillas in the mountains of the Cauca Valley region, where he had gone to cover the release of hostages kidnapped on May 30 from a church in Cali. The ELN threatened to try Romero for publishing a photograph of one of the guerrilla chiefs. Following national and international protests, Romero was freed on November 3. October 29: Seven journalists from different news organizations were held by a unit of the left-wing FARC guerrilla group near the oil port of Barrancabermeja. The journalists had been invited by the guerrillas to cover the displacement of peasants in the region by right-wing paramilitary groups. The journalists were freed November 2 after their abduction sparked protest marches in Colombian cities. November 4: Twenty-seven Colombian news organizations signed “an accord of discretion,” under which they pledged to act responsibly and moderately in covering news of violent incidents. The agreement includes guidelines about language and publication of shocking photos. November 6: Jorge Luís Utría, the chief press aide for a congressman from the department of Cesar, was kidnapped together with the legislator by ELN guerrillas in the municipality of Curumaní. Both were freed on November 12 with a communiqué accusing local politicians of “corruption and theft of public funds.” November 10: FARC guerrillas kidnapped five journalists bound for the Santa Marta Sierra Nevada mountain range to cover a reported massacre allegedly perpetrated by paramilitary commandos. The guerrillas ordered the journalists to report on paramilitary abuses and then released them after a few days of captivity. November 14: A bomb packed with several kilos of dynamite destroyed part of the installations and equipment of the Cali printing plant of the daily El Tiempo, injuring three workers. A group, presumably linked to drug traffickers and calling itself the Patriotic Resistance of Colombia, claimed responsibility for the assault. The assault came three days after a car bomb exploded in Bogotá, killing six people and wounding 46 others. That explosion followed President Andrés Pastrana’s announcement that he intended to extradite a few jailed drug traffickers. November 20: The Council of State, Colombia’s highest court in administrative matters, warned the National Television Commission (CNTV), not to adopt decisions contravening the constitutional principle of freedom of expression. The statement stemmed from an August 1999 CNTV resolution, which suspended the broadcast of a popular television program dealing with sexual matters and interpersonal relations. November 26: El Nuevo Siglo columnist and cartoonist Alvaro Montoya Gómez said he would stop publishing his weekly column due to threats made against him and his family. November 28: Reporter Luis Alberto Rincón and cameraman Alberto Sánchez Tovar were killed in the rural area of El Playón (department of Santander). They were preparing a report on the mayoral elections in that municipality, where the presence of paramilitary groups had been reported. The motives and perpetrators of the double killing remain unsolved. December 5: Pablo Emilio Medina Motta, a television cameraman, was killed during a guerrilla attack on the town of Gigante in the department of Huila. The guerrillas stopped a vehicle in which he was travelling with a police commander and shot the journalist several times in the head. The police officer escaped from the scene. December 9: Carlos Pulgarín, correspondent for El Tiempo in Montería, left the country after repeated threats against his life stemming from his reporting about military operations in that region of the country. The journalist said the area’s brigade military subcommander had accused him of being a guerrilla sympathizer. Pulgarín was transferred by the newspaper to Barranquilla and Bucaramanga, but the threats continued. The journalist then traveled to Lima, Peru, where he was received by the Institute of Press and Society of Peru. Nevertheless, the threatening phone calls, warning him that even if hiding he would be found and killed, continued. Although the source of the calls could not be established there is little doubt that they came from the same people who forced Pulgarín into self-exile. An editorial in El Tiempo severely questioned the behavior of the military commander in question. The journalist is currently in Spain where the newspaper is asking the authorities to grant him asylum. December 22: Eduardo Pizarro, a political scientist and columnist for El Espectador, was shot several times and wounded as he was bound for the university where he taught classes. It is presumed that the assault came from some armed group, because Pizarro’s writing equally criticized the guerrillas and paramilitary groups. After recovering from his wounds, Pizarro went abroad and continues writing his column. January 12: Juan Pablo Ortiz Agudelo, the suspected killer of journalist and comedian Jaime Garzón, was captured in Medellin by agents of the Attorney General’s office. The August 13, 1999 killing of Garzón prompted one of the largest protests seen in Colombia in recent years. January 15: The country’s Attorney General reported on progress made by a special unit responsible for investigating the killing of journalists. The team was set up after an IAPA mission visited the country. The Attorney General’s office said it reactivated 16 stalled cases and detained 18 people. Among those arrested was the mayor of El Banco (department of Magdalena), accused of masterminding the April 11, 1999 killing of journalist Hernando Rangel Moreno. January 20: The Constitutional Court declared inoperable various regulations of the Statute of Radio Broadcasting which had restricted content within norms of decency and good taste. The Court also ruled that comedians may mock the country’s reality and imitate public figures so long as they did not maliciously intend to confuse public opinion. It also ruled that psychics, fortunetellers and shamans could advertise over the radio. January 21: Guillermo Cortés, a businessman active in media operations and editorial board director of the “Hora Cero” television news program, was kidnapped by FARC guerrillas from his country home located 35 miles from Bogotá. Because of the abduction, the heads of the country’s news organizations boycotted the official opening of peace talks between the government and the FARC in Caguán, a zone of the country from which Colombian security forces have withdrawn to foster the dialogue. Cortés, 73, has not been released despite repeated calls for his freedom by the press. January 23: The Attorney General’s Office ordered Fernando Bermúdez Ardila to stand trial as the presumed mastermind of the April 1998 killing of Nelson Carvajal in Pitalito, department of Huila. Carvajal produced a radio news program which was noted for its reporting on government corruption and guerrilla attacks. January 26: RCN Televisión journalist Astrid Legarda was wounded in the stomach by grenade shrapnel during a battle between the army and FARC guerrillas in Guayabetal, Cundinamarca department. The journalist had to be hospitalized for 20 days. January 30: The FARC’s top leader, Manuel Marulanda a.k.a. Tirofijo, threatened the editors of the country’s news organizations, saying that they “have many debts with us and we have to charge them for that. His statement came several days after the heads of news organizations boycotted the inauguration of peace talks in Caguán. February 6: Fabio Leonardo Moreno Abello, a radio and television host in Barrancabermeja, was killed along with his cameraman brother John Jairo, by FARC guerrillas in Girón, Santander department. The two brothers were meeting with the head of the EPL, a guerrilla group at war with the FARC. February 10: The owner of the radio station Ecos de la Sierra, Antonio Gómez Gómez, was killed while watching television with his family at his home in Ciénaga, Magdalena department. The assailants were hooded and the crime remains unsolved. Apart from his journalistic activities, Gómez was also a community leader in a region plagued by frequent battles between guerrillas and paramilitary groups. Gómez also owned a lottery and raffle business and some sources suggested that his death could be tied to this. February 12: Two vehicles of the radio networks RCN and Caracol were set ablaze by ELN guerrillas in San Luis in the eastern part of Antioquia. The guerrillas told those traveling in the vehicles that their action was meant to show their rejection of press communiqués which the government and army had issued in previous days. March 6: Fernando González Pacheco, the most popular and longest-serving television host in Colombia, said he was leaving the country due to threats against his freedom. His statement dismayed the country since he had won the hearts of Colombians during his 40-year television career. March 11: El Tiempo Managing Editor Francisco Santos Calderón left Colombia after receiving repeated death threats. In additon to his work at the paper, Santos has been active in organizing rallies to protest the violence and kidnappings in the country. There are indications that the threats against him were made by FARC guerrillas.