Reporters Without Borders deplores the fact that Giovanni Alvarez, a community radio journalist who had criticised political corruption in the northern department of Atlántico, was forced to flee the country on 19 October after getting death threats. His departure brings the number of Colombian journalists who have fled their region or the country since the start of the year to four.
“The forced departure of a journalist always represents a setback for press freedom and this year’s toll could match that of 2006, when a total of seven journalists were forced into hiding or exile,” the press freedom organisation said. “Alvarez’s departure comes just a few days after Gonzalo Guillén, the Colombia correspondent of the Miami-based El Nuevo Herald newspaper, had to take a similar decision.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “We will wait for the initial results of the local investigation into the threats against Alvarez but we think the forced exile of journalists is an important issue that needs to be addressed at the national level. President Alvaro Uribe’s government is sometimes accused of press freedom violations and it needs to show a readiness to act in its defence.”
Alvarez left the country on a flight from Barranquilla airport (700 km north of Bogotá) on 19 October, his son told the police. The family, which is getting police protection, does not know his current whereabouts. Aged 43 and employed by La Nueva community radio, Alvarez received death threats after talking on the air about cases of corruption involving regional politicians.
El Nuevo Herald quoted police Col. Carlos Rodríguez as saying: “We knew that an attack on Alvarez was due to take place by 28 October. We have not yet identified where the threats are coming from, but the investigation is continuing.”
Guillén left the country on 4 October because of death threats received after President Uribe accused him of helping to write a book referring to his alleged links with drug trafficker Pablo Escobar. Guillén suspected the threats came from contract killers in the pay of paramilitaries (see 4 October release).
Radio Caracol news director Darío Arizmendi Posada left Colombia on 8 March under threat from an unidentified group (see 19 March release). Germán Hernández Vera, the editor of the Diario del Huila, a daily based in the southwestern city of Neiva, did the same two weeks later because he had long been in the sights of the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) (see release of 27 March).
Reporters Without Borders has learned that Hollman Morris, producer and host of the investigative programme “Contravía” on the state-owned Canal Uno TV station, also left the country on 21 October after threats from a mysterious paramilitary offshoot calling itself the “Patriotic Front.” Morris has decided to move with his family temporarily to the United States, where he is to receive an award from Human Rights Watch.
“This prize gives Hollman the chance to remove himself from danger and rest for a while, but he is not planning to stay away for too long,” one of his friends told Reporters Without Borders.
A strong critic of President Alvaro Uribe, Morris is one of the leading specialists in Colombia’s civil war. He previously went into self-imposed exile in 2005 after being threatened by paramilitaries, who accused him of being in the pay of the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The paramilitaries even produced and circulated a video that portrayed as a FARC spokesman.