HE Alvaro Uribe Vélez
President of Colombia
Casa de Nariño, Bogotá
Dear Mr. President,
Reporters Without Borders has learned with concern of your comments to the news media on 2 October about Gonzalo Guillén, the Colombia correspondent of the Miami-based, Spanish-language daily El Nuevo Herald.
Since May, Guillén has been the target of threats apparently coming from paramilitary groups, and the serious accusations you made against him are liable to expose him to grave danger. We remind you that you denounced Carlos Lozano, the editor of the weekly Voz, in a similar manner on Caracol Radio on 23 February. You called him the “spokesman” of a guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), although he, too, was being threatened by paramilitaries and rightly feared for his life. Such comments are dangerous.
TV personality Virginia Vallejo, a former mistress of Pablo Escobar, the Medellín cartel chief killed in 1993, wrote in her newly-published memoir “Amando a Pablo, odiando a Escobar” (Loving Pablo, hating Escobar), of your “friendship” with him when you were Medellín mayor and governor of Antioquia department. As civil aviation chief from 1981 to 1983, you allegedly granted Medellín drug traffickers licences to build landing strips and operate small carriers. A US Defence Intelligence Agency document from 1991 that was published by Newsweek in 2004 supported this claims although it said “without final verification.”
You have of course the right to defend yourself. Passages from the book were quoted during the public TV station Canal Uno’s news programme “Noticias Uno” on 30 September. The Casa de Nariño, the presidential palace, posted a denial on its website the next day. After that was done, what need did you have to smear Guillén and accuse him of helping Vallejo to write the book in an interview on 2 October for the two leading privately-owned radio stations Caracol Radio and RCN?
Guillén did write a story in July 2006 headlined “Pablo Escobar’s secrets” that was based on what Vallejo told him. He also raised questions about your past in a 2002 article about the Ochoa clan, a branch of the Medellín cartel. Are your accusations against him motivated by a desire for revenge? As president you should have responded on the substance of the allegations made against you.
Guillén told W Radio on 2 October that he had nothing to do with Vallejo’s book and had not even read it. He plans to sue you for slander. In the meantime, he has had no choice but to leave the country.
A journalist’s forced departure is a setback for press freedom and this is why your comments have done great harm.
I thank you in advance for giving this letter your careful attention.