Reporters Without Borders condemns the accusation of “liar” and other charges made by President Alvaro Uribe against leading journalist Daniel Coronell in an argument on the air on radio La FM on 9 October. Coronell afterwards received death threats in an email signed by the paramilitary group called the Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles), a predatory group still active in the north of the country.
The president’s public accusations against Coronell, the news director of state-owned Canal Uno television and a columnist for the magazine Semana, came just five days after Gonzalo Guillén, the correspondent of the Miami-based El Nuevo Herald newspaper, had to flee the country after similar public accusations by the president led to his getting 24 threatening phone calls.
President Uribe accused Guillén on 2 October of helping notorious drug baron Pablo Escobar’s former mistress, Virginia Vallejo, write her newly-published memoir “Amando a Pablo, odiando a Escobar,” in which she described Uribe’s alleged links with Escobar (see 4 October release).
“Following our open letter of 4 October to President Uribe, we appeal again to him to take more care with what he says,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We recognise his right to defend himself against the accusations made against him, but there is no justification for these vehement attacks that endanger journalists, as demonstrated by the threats received by Coronell, who was already forced to leave the country with his family in 2005, and by Guillén, who has had to go abroad now.”
The press freedom organisation added: “President Uribe’s person attacks are one thing, and death threats from paramilitaries who claim to support him are another. The government should have every reason to demonstrate its goodwill by being more active in its pursuit of those who threaten the lives of journalists, especially the sinister Aguilas Negras.”
During a live interview with a radio La FM presenter on 9 October, Uribe asked her to telephone Coronell about a column he had just written about Vallejo’s allegations. When she got through to Coronell, he and Uribe had a one-hour argument on the air in which Uribe accused him of being a “coward,” a “liar,” a “bastard” and a “professional slanderer.”
Uribe also challenged Coronell about his reasons for going into exile in 2005 (see release of 16 August 2005), expressing doubt about the threats he received at the time. Coronell said the threats came from the computer of former parliamentarian Carlos Náder Simmonds, a onetime Uribe ally who has been convicted in the United States of drug trafficking.
A few hours after the argument, Canal Uno received an email for Coronell containing death threats. “You were warned that the next time you meddle in the chief’s business, you will be digging your own grave,” the message said. “Anyone who attacks our president is signing his own death warrant.”
Reporters Without Borders is also shocked by the release on 10 October of Fernando Soto Zapata, who spent five years and eight months in detention for the 2002 murder of Orlando Sierra Hernández, a journalist with the daily La Patria. The contract killer was given a 19-year sentence, but was allowed an astonishing amount of time off for good behaviour.
Soto was filmed as he shot Sierra twice on 30 January 2002. His accomplices, Luis Miguel “Tilín” and Luis “Pereque” Arley Ortiz, received 28-year sentences in May 2005. Ferney Tapasco González, a former parliamentarian and Liberal Party chief in the central department of Caldas, was never prosecuted although he was suspected of putting out the contract. Sierra had often written about Tapasco’s alleged crimes.