Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay today at Radio Caracol producer and host Herbin Hoyos Medina’s announcement on 6 July that he is being forced to leave Colombia as a result of threats from a mysterious “Action and Justice Front for Freedom and Democracy,” which is a probably a group of former right-wing paramilitaries.
“Although officially disarmed, many paramilitaries are turning into criminal gangs disguised as humanitarian groups,” the press freedom organisation said. “This situation is having a terrible impact on the press, which is in danger of extinction in many regions as more and more journalists are forced to leave.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “Herbin Hoyos’ case recalls that of Hollman Morris of the Canal Uno TV station, who was recently forced to flee abroad after being threatened by the mysterious “Social Front for Peace,” another paramilitary creation. It is not enough to dismantle the armed groups of the far-right. The government, intelligence services and judicial authorities must ensure that the former paramilitaries really do give up their weapons.”
Hoyos, who hosts a programme for Radio Caracol, “Las voces del secuestro” (The Voices of Captivity), produces another, “Amanecer en América, and covers Colombia’s civil war,” went to Cómbita prison in the central department of Boyacá in June to do a report on the prison conditions of people convicted of drug trafficking who are awaiting extradition to the United States.
He interviewed several detainees in their cells who told him their extraditions were being organised by the judicial police, the intelligence agency known as the Administrative Department for Security (DAS), and informants working for the US Drug Enforcement Administration who seemed to think they were drug king-pins “or even Al-Qaeda collaborators.”
Hoyos began receiving death threats by e-mail a few days after this visit. On 2 July he got an ultimatum from the “Action and Justice Front for Freedom and Democracy” saying: “There is no point defending delinquents who have done harm to Colombia. He who hangs out with losers is a loser too.” Threatening both Hoyos and those close to him, the message ended: “You have 72 hours to leave the country.” Hoyos announced his departure four days later.
Hoyos was kidnapped from Radio Caracol’s studios on 13 March 1994 by left-wing guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and was freed two weeks later by the army. Ever since then he has dedicated a lot of his work to covering the cases of people who are taken hostage - currently about 3,000 - in the course of a civil war that has gone on for 46 years. He has had a permanent police bodyguard since 2002.
Four journalists had to flee Colombia in the first half of this year and a fifth was kidnapped. Another journalist, Gustavo Rojas Gabalo of Radio Panzemu in the northwestern town of Montería, was murdered by former members of the United Self-Defence Groups of Colombia (AUC), the main paramilitary alliance.