Reporters Without Borders voiced alarm today about a wave of threats and violence against the Colombian media this month, despite promises by President Alvaro Uribe and other members of the government to protect journalists. Local politicians are being blamed for some of these cases.
“The guerrillas and paramilitaries are unfortunately not the only ones implicated in this surge in press freedom violations since the start of the month,” the organisation said. “The government, judicial authorities and police cannot blame this hostility towards the media on the civil war belligerents alone. They must punish the local politicians who sometimes abuse their authority to instigate these attacks.”
Carlos Humberto Patiño, a reporter and photographer with La Opinión was physically attacked on 8 March in the northeastern city of Cúcuta when he began to take photos of an international women’s day activity at the commerce club while a political meeting attended by about 100 people was taking place in an adjoining room.
Cúcuta transport secretary Cesar Rojas Ayala insulted him and tried to hit him. Many other participants in the meeting then also tried to attack him and take his camera. They prevented from leaving and destroyed his film. He was finally able to leave when the manager of the club, Gloria Rodríguez, intervened. Patiño immediately informed his newspaper and a complaint was filed.
Meanwhile, some 20 to 30 men - some armed - entered the store where Antonio Vargas Valbuena, the editor of the monthly Primera Plana, was stockpiling copies of his latest issue at 11 a.m. on 8 March in Pereira, the capital of the west-central department of Risaralda. They said former Risaralda governor Elsa Gladys Cifuentes Aranzazu (who is currently running for senate for the Cambio Radical party) had ordered them to seize the latest issue.
After Vargas alerted the police and current governor Carlos Alberto Botero López, four police officers went to the store and succeeded in persuading the group of men to leave. But a few hours later, while Vargas was away having lunch, around 20 men arrived in four vehicles and took away all the copies of the latest issue from the store, after roughing up the caretaker when he tried to stop them.
Primera Plana’s latest issue had an article entitled “Has corruption arrived at the senate?” that raised questions about Cifuentes’ record while governor. The current governor told the Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP), a local organisation, that threats against Vargas were not new and that there were serious grounds for suspected that Cifuentes and some of her associates were involved. Criminal proceedings are under way in connection with the incident.
Edison Núñez, a journalist with local TV station Enlace 10 in the eastern city of Barrancabermeja, received a letter on 7 March containing death threats prompted by his reporting on the demobilisation of paramilitaries in the region. It said he would henceforth be kept under watch. Enlace 10 director Mónica Arcella said all the station had done was interview civil society experts about the demobilisation process. She also pointed out that Núñez was not in charge of the station’s coverage of civil war issues.
He was not the only Barrancabermeja journalist to be threatened. Marco Perales, the editor of the weekly La Portada, received e-mail threats during the week of 6 to 12 March.
And on 3 March, the young sister of the Gladys Villamizar Rodríguez, the cartoonist of the daily La Tarde de Barrancadermeja, was taken hostage as she left her school. The newspaper’s editor, Diro César González, said the message was clear, that the cartoonist should stop working. Thanks to momentary carelessness on the part of her kidnappers, the sister was able to escape and she and Villamizar have fled the region.