Miami (February 12, 2024) – More than 37 years after the assassination of the director of the daily El Espectador, Guillermo Cano, the State of Colombia offered apologies for the murder, acknowledged its responsibility for failing to protect the journalist's right to life, and committed to reopening the judicial investigation into the unsolved crime, which occurred in 1986, in a tribute attended by the widow, Ana María Busquets de Cano, and other family members.
During the ceremony recognizing the State's responsibility in Cano's murder, held on February 9 at the Center for Memory, Peace, and Reconciliation in Bogotá, Roberto Rock, president of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), one of the organizations representing the case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), highlighted that, while the act is driven "by noble purposes, it does not succeed in removing the cloak of impunity that has shrouded the Cano case for 37 years."
Rock, director of the Mexican news portal La Silla Rota, added: "We are confident that if Guillermo Cano's case had been resolved appropriately and public measures of non-repetition had been adopted, many lives of journalists who fell after him, both within and outside of Colombia, could have been saved. This act should help us reflect on the vice of impunity and its antagonistic virtue, justice, the only formula we know to protect fundamental rights to life, liberty, and equality before the law."
In recalling the day of Cano's assassination on December 17, 1986, Jonathan Bock, executive director of the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP, in Spanish), which along with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights (RFK Human Rights) and the IAPA represents the case before the IACHR, emphasized that "if we imagine what these events meant for Colombia's democratic life, we can say without any exaggeration that this lack of protection occurred not only against an individual, a family, a media company but against a Colombian society that was left orphaned. Orphaned because it lost a group of people who dedicated their lives to investigating, seeking, probing, and publishing the most impactful link of corruption between politics and drug trafficking in Colombian history."
Representing the family, Fernando Cano Busquets, son of the murdered journalist, expressed that El Espectador and the Cano family continued "the struggle of its martyred director, not against drug cartels, but in favor and in defense of democracy." Cano Busquets recalled the murders of newspaper workers, judges, prosecutors, and the attorney for the case, as well as threats and acts of violence against El Espectador.
He added that he and his family accept the State's recognition after 37 years, but said that "with the same love and optimism for the country that we learned from Guillermo Cano Isaza, we hope that this act is not the closure of a process, but rather the initial step to restore to the families of so many journalists, so many magistrates, so many judges, so many soldiers, so many Colombians, in short, the deserved memory of their loved ones. We continue to dream, like Don Guillermo Cano Isaza, of a Colombia with a capital 'C'."
The IACHR commissioner for Colombia, José Luis Caballero, acknowledged the "high level of impunity" and violence around the case. Caballero addressed the widow and the Cano family directly, asking them to accept "a sincere apology from the Inter-American Commission for the odd handling that the case had after the 2001 merits report, which was not timely notified to the parties."
He added, "The Commission regrets that this situation caused unnecessary delays that affected the victims in their reparations process" and hopes that "the implementation of the recommendations achieves the effect of somehow redressing the damage caused to the family and the victims."
In his intervention representing the Colombian State, the Minister of Justice and Law, Néstor Iván Osuna, acknowledged that "we failed Cano, his family... We are not facing an isolated homicide; we are facing the deliberate decision of a power structure to erase El Espectador, its owners, its journalists."
Osuna added that faced with this violence, "the Colombian state looked the other way" and acknowledged that this is "inexcusable and unacceptable." He emphasized the importance of preserving memory and recognizing Cano as "a symbol of decency, commitment to democracy, to freedom, and rights." The Minister of Justice expressed his "unavoidable commitment to reactivate the investigations" because "only then will we find the truth."
In the final part of the event, Cano's widow and the petitioners signed the Agreement for the Compliance with the Recommendations issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2001, which includes clauses for the material and moral reparation of the family and seeking justice among others. With the signing of the agreement, endorsed by the director of the National Agency for Legal Defense of the State, Paula Robledo Silva, Ana María Busquets de Cano on behalf of the family, and by Rock, Bock, and Angelita Baeyens of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, social reconciliation, satisfaction of victims' rights, and the non-repetition of what happened are sought.
During the ceremony, a documentary highlighting Cano's journalistic career and legacy in Colombian journalism was also presented. After Cano's assassination, the IAPA investigated and presented it before the IACHR on February 20, 1997. However, the process at the IACHR was marked by delays and other irregularities.
Rock thanked the valuable collaboration, leadership, and experience of FLIP and RFK Human Rights, organizations that along with the IAPA, drove the case at the IACHR.
IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It comprises more than 1,300 publications from the western hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.