Reporters Without Borders today released a report about the 30,000 paramilitaries who were once recruited as auxiliaries in the army’s war on far-left guerrillas and who were supposedly “demobilised” by President Alvaro Uribe in a three-year process ending in March 2006.
In fact, very few of these militiamen have been properly reintegrated into civil society and many of them, now involved in drug trafficking, continue to spread terror, especially in the local media. At the same time, a “Justice and Peace” law adopted in July 2005 that envisages five to eight years in prison for the most serious crimes, guarantees them almost total impunity.
The so-called “demobilised” paramilitaries were responsible for murdering two journalists last year, including Gustavo “El Gaba” Rojas Gabalo of Radio Panzenú on 4 February 2006 in the northwestern city of Montería. Re-formed groups such as the “Black Eagles” have a strong presence in the Caribbean coast departments and their operations designed to intimidate the media have forced 10 journalists into internal exile.
At a time when President Uribe’s government is embroiled in a scandal about its links with paramilitaries - in some cases confirmed by such paramilitary chiefs as Salvatore Mancuso - Reporters Without Borders wanted to assess the real impact of the demobilisation process on the work of the press. Taking advantage of World Press Freedom Day celebrations in Medellín, the organisation made a fact-finding trip to Colombia from 28 April to 5 May, spending much of it in Montería, in the region where the paramilitaries first emerged.
In its meeting with local and national journalists, both those who are still working and those who have had to flee, and with human rights and press freedom activists, Reporters Without Borders found that the paramilitary threat continues to weigh on journalists and encourages the local ones especially to censor themselves. The organisation was also disturbed by government-level pressure on some media and the unequal treatment of journalists who are exposed to danger.
This report about the paramilitaries in no way exonerates the guerrillas of their responsibility in attacks on the press in Colombia. While the National Liberation Army (ELN) has been removed from the Reporters Without Borders list of press freedom predators as it is now holding peace talks with the government, both the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the paramilitaries are still on the list.