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Colombia - World Report 2009

127 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index

-  Area: 1,141,748 sq. km
-  Population: 45,000,000
-  Language: Spanish
-  Head of state: Alvaro Uribe Vélez, since August 2002

If the number of murders of journalists has been reduced under his presidency, Alvaro Uribe has no hesitation in lambasting some journalists, a number of whom have been forced into exile because of threats from paramilitaries. In the provinces, the local press is still vulnerable to reprisals from these armed groups as well as drug-traffickers and the remnants of guerrilla forces.

Murders of journalists, traditionally high in a country at war for nearly half a century, have come down since President Alvaro Uribe took power in 2002. The occupant of the presidential palace, la Casa de Narino, who was elected and then re-elected on a security agenda and a bid to defeat the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which he has done much to weaken, has little patience with criticism and makes it known to the press. He has no hesitation in lambasting journalists, sometimes publicly, as “accomplices of terrorism” or accusing them of “being in the pay of the FARC” without apparent fear of putting their lives in danger. After each presidential outburst of anger against them, top journalists like Hollman Morris, a leading armed conflict specialist, Daniel Coronell, head of news at public Canal Uno television and Carlos Lozano, editor of communist weekly Voz, have received death threats from paramilitary groups. Officially demobilised between 2003 and 2006, the 30,000 members of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), responsible for countless human rights violations, have not handed in their weapons. It is even estimated that some 5,000 to 8,000 of them have reformed into around 20 groups in 12 administrative departments. The best known of them, the “Black Eagles” have launched intimidation campaigns chiefly against local journalists, forcing them to flee the region or even the country. These new armed groups, who benefit from some political support within the army and the police, also see the Latin-American TV channel Telesur, launched in 2005 by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his Colombian representatives as a “military objective”. An illegal phone-tapping scandal involving mostly opposition figures has created fears that the executive has partially lost control of its intelligence services. Here too, the most critical and best known journalists are on the list of those being spied on. In the provinces, the local press is still vulnerable to reprisals from drug-traffickers and the remnants of guerrilla forces.

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