20 April 1998



Miami (May 20) - In the wake of a new killing, the Inter American Press Association, through its Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, has expressed profound concern over the absence of security and the climate of uncertainty facing journalists trying to do their jobs in Colombia. This latest murder is the seventh since October 1997. Bernabé Cortés, a reporter for Noticias CVN, an evening news program of the Telepacífico network, was gunned down Tuesday while riding in a taxi in a south neighborhood of Cali, a city in Colombias southwest. The taxi driver was also killed. Several unidentified persons reportedly fled the scene after the crime. Cortés, 42, was married and father to two children. He was on vacation at the time of his death, but sources assured the IAPA that his murder was in retaliation for his reporting work. Cortés covered news of the military, police and the courts. According to colleagues, Cortés recent reports focused on efforts of the local government and guerrilla forces operating in the area to hold peace talks. Danilo Arbilla, chairman of the IAPAs Freedom of the Press and Information Committee, termed Cortés murder "a mockery of press freedom because it happened as a national pro-peace demonstration was underway in Colombia." Arbilla, publisher of the Uruguayan weekly Búsqueda, urged Colombian authorities to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of the crime. He asserted that "while this and other crimes against journalists are not cleared up, a culture of violence and death will continue to rule in Colombia." The IAPAs concern over Cortés murder was deepened further because in recent days a team of journalists visited Cali as part of the organizations ongoing Unpunished Crimes Against Journalists project. The team specifically was investigating the March 1997 slaying of Gerardo Bedoya, editorial page editor of the Cali daily, El País. Arbilla also expressed concern about threats received by Pablo Hiriart, editor of the Mexico City daily, La Crónica de Hoy. Hiriart reported to the IAPA being warned against continuing to publish stories of human rights violations allegedly occurring in Mexico Citys police force. Arbilla said "the authorities must thoroughly investigated these actions, otherwise impunity will encourage these threats to become more serious matters." Cortés was the 15th journalist to be murdered in the Americas since last October. Seven were killed in Colombia, four in Brazil, two in Mexico, one in Perú and one in Guatemala. The number of such murders in the past 10 years now stands at 194.