Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 April 2014, 11:13 GMT

Attacks on the Press in 2001 - Colombia

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2002
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2001 - Colombia, February 2002, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c5661bc.html [accessed 23 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Colombian press remained in the cross fire of an escalating, decades-old civil conflict pitting two major leftist guerrilla groups against the Colombian army and right-wing paramilitary forces. While peace negotiations slowly moved forward at the beginning of 2002, the conflict continued to take a deadly toll on journalists and sent many into hiding. At least three journalists were killed for their work in 2001. CPJ continues to investigate the deaths of five others whose murders may have been professionally related.

Attacks against Colombian journalists came from many sources. The paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) was presumed to be behind the April 27 killing of Flavio Bedoya, a regional correspondent for the Bogotá-based Communist Party newspaper Voz. One of the weekly's senior correspondents linked the murder to a series of highly critical reports by Bedoya about collusion between security forces and the paramilitaries. Less than a month after Bedoya's death, the AUC tried unsuccessfully to bomb the Bogotá offices of Voz. AUC leader Carlos Castaño took responsibility for the attempt a few days later.

In May, CPJ named Castaño one of CPJ's Top Ten Enemies of the Press. "Even against the violent backdrop of Colombia's escalating civil war, in which all sides have targeted journalists," CPJ wrote, "Carlos Castaño stands out as a ruthless enemy of the press." A journalist from the Paris daily Le Monde asked the paramilitary leader how he felt about the dubious distinction. Castaño, who resigned in late spring of 2001 as the AUC's military commander to focus on the group's political affairs, responded, "I would like to assure you that I have always respected the freedom and subjectivity of the press." He added, "Over the course of its existence the AUC has executed two local journalists who were in fact guerrillas."

Meanwhile, Colombia's largest guerrilla movement, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was implicated in the July 6 murder of José Duviel Vásquez Arias, one of three journalists from radio station La Voz de la Selva (The Voice of the Jungle) who were assassinated during a seven-month period.

The station is based in Caquetá, a department that has seen heavy fighting and is home to part of the Switzerland-sized swath of land the government ceded to FARC in order to spur peace negotiations. Vásquez's colleague who witnessed the killing, Omar Orlando García Garzón, was threatened after he described the killer to authorities; he and his family went into exile. Earlier in the year, another La Voz de la Selva journalist, Alvaro Dussán, denounced FARC threats and then fled the country, according to the Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP), a local press freedom organization that became a member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange this year.

In the third murder, two unidentified attackers shot and killed radio journalist Jorge Enrique Urbano Sánchez on July 8 while he was celebrating his 55th birthday with friends in a park in the coastal city of Buenaventura. Urbano apparently devoted his final radio broadcast to denouncing a local criminal gang called "Tumba Puertas" (Knock Down Doors). Before his murder, he had received death threats that he attributed to his public campaign to relocate street vendors and remove drug addicts from the park.

The Interior Ministry's Program for the Protection of Journalists and Social Communicators, established in 2000, has helped a number of journalists escape threatening situations. Different institutions and organizations collaborate with the program, but its budget is apparently limited.

Journalists who need to leave the country typically do not have time to look for viable long-term solutions abroad and often only speak Spanish. To accommodate them, CPJ collaborated with FLIP and the Peruvian press freedom organization IPYS to create a safe house in Lima where journalists can stay while looking for long-term solutions. IPYS executive director Ricardo Uceda and CPJ Americas program coordinator Marylene Smeets made this agreement with Elizabeth Vargas of FLIP during an August visit to Bogotá.

In 2001, controversy erupted over government pressure on television networks to censor reporting on the civil war. The planned broadcast of an April 10 interview that TV anchor Claudia Gurisatti conducted with Castaño was suspended after government officials called RCN Televisión, the network that broadcasts her program. President Andrés Pastrana Arango's press secretary, Samuel Salazar, acknowledged the calls, saying that some government officials worried that the broadcast would jeopardize the safety of peace commissioner Camilo Gómez Alzate whom Castaño had, during the interview, threatened to kidnap. The government has reportedly met many times with the owners of Colombian media groups to request that they refrain from broadcasting or publishing developments about the peace process.

On October 23, the autonomous regulatory National Television Commission (CNTV) proposed banning television broadcasts of violent images and statements from the warring parties in the civil conflict or criminal organizations. Press reports quoted CNTV director Sergio Quiroz as saying, "the censorship . . . aims to make a contribution to the process to normalize and search for peace, security, and tranquility in the country." The proposal generated a controversy, and President Pastrana intervened, suggesting instead a system of "self-regulation."

Although many journalists continue to speak out in spite of the dangers, increasing violence combined with the impunity surrounding attacks has, understandably, induced some degree of self-censorship.

Worsening economic conditions led to a drop in advertising revenue in 2001, causing problems for various media outlets. Meanwhile, in September, El Espectador, a daily with a proud tradition of fearless reporting whose publisher, Guillermo Cano, was killed in 1986 by drug cartel hit men, succumbed to Colombia's economic crisis and became a weekly, though it still appears daily on the Internet at www.elespectador.com.

January 1
Jorge Enrique Botero, Caracol Televisión THREATENED

Botero, head of current affairs programming for the Caracol Televisión network, received multiple death threats that forced him to send his family abroad and move out of his apartment in Bogotá.

The threats began in November 2000, a month after the journalist produced a documentary on government troops and police being held in jungle camps by the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, Botero told CPJ.

Botero has had uneasy relations with the Colombian military since 1997, when FARC leader Alfonso Cano granted him a rare television interview. Since then, Botero says, senior army officers have publicly described him as a rebel sympathizer and "head of press for the FARC."

His film was due to open a new series of documentaries called "Grandes Reportajes" (Great Reports). But the series was scrapped and Botero was relieved of his duties, though not formally dismissed, after network directors told him "it was not convenient" to air the first show.

However, the network did air some of Botero's footage showing police and soldiers held captive behind barbed-wire fences. The complete documentary showed a variety of camp conditions, good and bad, and revealed that some 500 police and soldiers taken prisoner by rebels during the last four years had been virtually forgotten by their commanders and the government.

The guerrillas apparently believed that granting limited media access to the camps would pressure the government to swap captive troops for jailed guerrillas.

Botero told CPJ that he began receiving telephone threats at his home in downtown Bogotá a month after the program was scrapped. The caller said: "Shut your mouth motherfucker. We're coming to get you," and added that Botero had "five days to get lost." On other occasions, the caller phoned late at night, leaving the phone off the hook so Botero could hear background music from a bar or discotheque.

Sometimes, the caller played a recording of Botero's private phone conversations from a few minutes earlier, revealing that the reporter's phone was being tapped.

Botero reported the threats to Bogotá police and to the Human Rights Division of the Interior Ministry. He was not provided with personal security, but police asked the bodyguards of a number of senators living in the same apartment building to provide assistance to Botero if necessary.

In January 2001, two written death threats were delivered by hand to Botero's home. Both read, "We offer our condolences to the Botero family for the death of Jorge Enrique Botero."

Botero then sent his family to an undisclosed location abroad and moved out of his apartment. For about two months, he traveled on business in Europe. The threats resumed when he returned.

At year's end, Botero was working as a free-lance journalist in Colombia but was considering leaving the country again. He said that the Interior Ministry had offered to pay for his flight out of the country under its program to protect threatened journalists.

January 30
Claudia Gurisatti, RCN Televisión THREATENED

Top Colombian TV anchor Gurisatti was forced to flee the country for Miami after government officials said they had uncovered evidence of a plot to kill her.

Gurisatti, 28, hosts the midday and evening news broadcasts on RCN Televisión and anchors the nightly news show "La Noche" (The Night), where she has interviewed leaders of both guerrilla and paramilitary groups, as well as a number of individuals and officials involved in alleged corruption.

Gurisatti spent nearly six months in Miami, where she continued to anchor "La Noche" via satellite. She returned to Colombia in June.

On February 23, then-attorney general Alfonso Gómez Méndez claimed that the country's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was behind the failed plan to assassinate the journalist.

In a press conference, Gómez Méndez said that two men had confessed that the Teófilo Forero Column, a mobile combat unit of the FARC, had hired them to murder Gurisatti.

The attorney general's office identified the two men as Enod Romero Quiroz, alias "Flash," and Jailander Doncel Pedreros, alias "Panther." A third man, a Bogotá tailor, was allegedly in charge of the plan and conducted initial surveillance to determine Gurisatti's work and social routines, investigators said.

Doncel Pedreros was also accused of murdering Congressman Andrés Páez, who was killed in central Tolima Department on January 27. According to the confessions of Doncel Pedreros and Romero Quiroz, their next victim was to be Gurisatti, but they gave no motive for attacking her, Gómez Méndez said.

On the morning of July 16, Doncel Pedreros was found strangled to death in his cell at Bogotá's Modelo Prison, said Oscar Galvis, a spokesman for the nation's federal prison system. Romero Quiroz and the tailor were released in late 2001.

In comments to journalists on February 28, veteran FARC commander Manuel Marulanda rejected allegations that the FARC was behind the murder plot. "We have no people engaged in that type of work. This is not how we behave with the press," he said. "We have attempted no attack [on Gurisatti]."

Gurisatti said she doubts the FARC plotted to kill her. "If they really wanted to, they have people here in the capital who could have done it by now without much problem," she told CPJ.

April 27
Flavio Bedoya, Voz KILLED

Four unidentified gunmen on motorcycles shot and killed Bedoya, a regional correspondent for the Bogotá-based Communist Party newspaper Voz, as he stepped off a bus in the southwestern port city of Tumaco, police and colleagues said.

Bedoya, 52, had worked for Voz for about a year and a half, according to Álvaro Angarita, one of the weekly's senior correspondents.

Angarita linked the murder to a series of highly critical reports that Bedoya had published about collusion between security forces and right-wing paramilitary gangs in Nariño Department. Police confirmed the killing but gave no further details.

Southwestern Colombia, especially Nariño Department and neighboring Cauca Department, experienced a number of paramilitary attacks in the two months before the killing.

Colombia's small Communist Party has political links to the left-wing guerrilla organization Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), but has traditionally advocated social change through grassroots mobilization and the ballot box rather than armed revolution.

May 21
Voz ATTACKED

Police bomb-disposal experts defused a cluster bomb found in a pickup truck parked outside the offices of the Communist Party newspaper, Voz, in downtown Bogotá.

The 550-pound bomb was concealed in a load of oranges and bananas. This particular cluster bomb is commercially manufactured in the United States to American military specifications and sold worldwide. Bogotá Metropolitan Police spokesperson Sgt. Alberto Cantillo said the bomb contained TNT and was designed to be dropped from a plane. Bogotá police chief Col. Luis Contento told reporters that the device "would have caused huge devastation" and would likely have destroyed buildings within a two-block radius.

Carlos Lozano, editor of Voz, said the truck was parked at 4 a.m. local time. When a secretary at the newspaper arrived at work some four hours later, she became suspicious and alerted the police.

Lozano was not at the office when the bomb was defused. After his secretary warned him of the problem, he and his bodyguards immediately left for Communist Party headquarters elsewhere in the city.

"We have had a terrible shock. I believe the bombers were waiting for me to arrive before they detonated the device," Lozano told CPJ.

In April, Lozano was named to a four-person commission created to monitor official efforts to curb right-wing paramilitary attacks around the country. The commission, formed by government peace negotiators and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), is participating in talks aimed at ending the country's protracted civil war.

Voz has been a frequent target of censorship efforts and bomb attacks. On April 27, Voz correspondent Flavio Bedoya was murdered, in all likelihood because of a series of highly critical reports he had published about collusion between security forces and right-wing paramilitary gangs in Nariño Department (see April 27 case).

On May 21, CPJ circulated a news alert about the attempted bombing of Voz. A few days later, Carlos Castaño, leader of the paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), took responsibility for the bomb attempt.

May 25
Carlos Lajud, Citytv ATTACKED
Carlos Molina, Caracol Televisión ATTACKED

Lajud and Molina were injured during the second of two back-to-back bomb attacks in Bogotá that left four dead and 25 injured. Both journalists were hospitalized but released after treatment.

Lajud, 27, a reporter for the news show "CityNoticias" at local Bogotá TV channel Citytv (owned by the El Tiempo Publishing House), suffered shrapnel wounds to the arm and leg. Molina, 36, a reporter for national TV network Caracol Televisión, was also injured by shrapnel, as was a press officer for the Bogotá Metropolitan Police.

The two blasts occurred 10 minutes apart at around 8 a.m. The first bomb exploded under a footbridge that crosses a main highway in northwest Bogotá, killing three people. Police, official investigators, anti-explosives teams, and journalists were already on the scene when the second bomb detonated.

Lajud and Molina told El Tiempo that they were reporting on the scene when the second explosion occurred. Their cameramen suffered shock but were not injured.

It was not clear whether the two bombs were directed at a specific target. Public buildings nearest to the site of the blasts include the National University, the Augustín Codazzi Geographic Institute, and the Industrial Standards Office, known as Icontec.

Interior Minister Armando Estrada speculated that the right-wing paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) may have planned the bomb attacks in retaliation for a wave of government-instigated searches the previous day of properties owned by suspected paramilitary financiers. Estrada, however, produced no specific evidence to back those suspicions, and the AUC did not claim responsibility.

June 6
Citytv ATTACKED
Javier Santoyo, Caracol Televisión ATTACKED
Oscar Patiño, Caracol Televisión ATTACKED
Wilfredo Pinto, RCN Televisión ATTACKED

At least three journalists and a TV news studio were attacked during anti-government demonstrations across Colombia.

The demonstrators included teachers, health workers, other public-sector employees, and students. Thousands gathered to protest proposed legislation that would reduce the level of federal funding to regional and municipal authorities, a policy many feared would result in widespread cuts in provincial health care and education.

There were several attacks on the press during the demonstrations, at least one of them seemingly motivated by the perception that journalists covering the conflict were biased because they worked for media outlets owned by members of Colombia's political and economic elite.

The first attack took place on June 6 in the capital, Bogotá, when a small group of protesters threw homemade firecrackers at the downtown headquarters of the local TV station Citytv. Citytv is part of the El Tiempo Publishing House, owned by the wealthy Santos family.

Minutes before the attack, Finance Minister Juan Manuel Santos gave a televised speech in which he denounced the protests and pledged to push the federal funding legislation through Congress at all costs.

The Citytv building was targeted again during a protest on June 7. One firecracker broke the window of a TV studio on an upper floor during the live broadcast of a lunchtime chat show.

During protests held that same day in the northeastern city of Bucaramanga, Caracol Televisión regional correspondent Santoyo and his cameraman, Patiño, were beaten by a group of police officers who objected to their filming of the arrest of a student.

Santoyo told the newspaper El Tiempo that their camera was smashed in the incident and that RCN Televisión cameraman Pinto was also attacked. Santoyo added that he and his colleagues had lodged a formal complaint with the Bogotá police and had requested 15 million pesos (US$7,000) to cover damage to the camera. Bucaramanga police chief Gen. Fortunato Guañarita announced that he had launched an internal inquiry into the matter, but no further details were forthcoming.

June 27
Pablo Emilio Parra Castañeda, Planadas Cultural Estéreo KILLED (MOTIVE UNCONFIRMED)

Leftist guerrillas shot Parra, 50, twice in the head after abducting him from his home in the Tolima Department township of Planadas. The body of Parra, who founded and directed the community radio station Planadas Cultural Estéreo, was found later that day along a rural road.

Col. Norberto Torres of the Planadas police said that after killing Parra, rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) attached a note to his body that read: "For being a spy." FARC rebels control the area, according to local authorities.

The FARC, the nation's largest leftist rebel group, later claimed responsibility for the assassination in a communiqué that accused Parra of being an informant for the army, Torres said.

When contacted by CPJ, a spokesman for the army's 6th Brigade denied that Parra was an informant. The spokesman, who asked to remain unidentified, said no one at the brigade had heard of him. Parra's 30-year-old daughter, Liliana Parra, also denied that her father was an informant. She told CPJ that her father broadcast popular music and community news on his radio program but never discussed political subjects.

The radio station was based in Parra's house. The journalist also worked with the local office of the Red Cross and had never received death threats, Liliana Parra said.

The departmental prosecutor's office was investigating the murder but had made no arrests by year's end. Special Prosecutor Jairo Francisco Leal Alvarado said evidence found so far suggested that Parra was not killed because of his work as a journalist. He would not elaborate.

July 4
Arquímedes Arias Henao, Fresno Estéreo KILLED (MOTIVE UNCONFIRMED)

Arias, founder and director of the local radio station Fresno Estéreo, was killed during the evening when an assassin burst into his home in the Tolima Department township of Fresno and shot him three times in the head.

After shooting Arias, the gunman fled on a motorcycle driven by a man waiting outside, said José Parra, an investigator at the Tolima Department prosecutor's office.

Parra said no arrests have been made, and that the reasons for Arias' assassination remain unclear. Parra reported that the region is crawling with fighters from Colombia's two main leftist guerrilla groups and a rival right-wing paramilitary army.

Before moving to Fresno earlier in the year, Arias founded and directed several other radio stations that, along with Fresno Estéreo, broadcast popular music and nonpolitical community programs, said his brother, Eduardo Arias.

Eduardo Arias told CPJ that his brother operated the radio station from his home and had never received death threats.

There had been no progress in the investigation by year's end, Parra said.

July 6
José Duviel Vásquez Arias, La Voz de la Selva KILLED
Omar Orlando García Garzón, La Voz de la Selva THREATENED

An unidentified gunman shot and killed Vásquez, director of the local radio station La Voz de la Selva (The Voice of the Jungle), and tried to kill his colleague García, news coordinator of the station.

The two journalists, who had just finished the first broadcast of their twice-daily news program, were driving home from work in Florencia, a city in southern Caquetá Department that is a former stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's largest leftist guerrilla group. More recently, the town has become a power base for an anti-Communist paramilitary group linked to the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

García told CPJ that the gunman first shot Vásquez and then aimed at him. Vásquez's slumped body intercepted the second bullet, which merely brushed García, who was able to give the authorities a detailed description of the killer. The next day, García began receiving threatening phone calls. On July 9, an anonymous caller warned him to leave Florencia on pain of death.

In addition to witnessing the killing, García had assisted Vásquez in documenting corruption implicating local government officials and members of the FARC, the journalist told CPJ.

The journalists had investigated Caquetá governor Pablo Adriano Muñoz, who was reportedly elected with support from the FARC, for allegedly embezzling public funds. Muñoz accused Vásquez of "persecuting" him, whereupon Vásquez filed a defamation suit against the governor. Vásquez's lawyer, Carlos Alberto Beltrán, had to flee Florencia after a failed attempt on his life, according to García.

Vásquez stated during one of his broadcasts that if anything happened to him or his family, it would be the governor's fault.

García reported that Vásquez's last broadcasts dealt with an AUC communiqué in which the organization announced changes in its local leadership and promised to refrain from kidnapping and extortion.

The journalist's murder followed those of the station's former director, Alfredo Abad López, whom Vásquez had replaced, and another colleague, Guillermo Léon Agudelo. García, his wife, and their two young daughters have since left the country.

On July 11, CPJ issued an alert about Vásquez's murder.

July 8
Jorge Enrique Urbano Sánchez, Mar Estéreo KILLED

Two unidentified attackers shot Urbano four times at around 2 a.m. while he was celebrating his 55th birthday with friends in the coastal city of Buenaventura, family members and authorities said.

Urbano hosted a one-hour morning radio program broadcast on local station Mar Estéreo. He was also the administrator of the Néstor Urbano Tenorio Park.

Urbano apparently devoted his final radio broadcast to denouncing a local criminal gang called Tumba Puertas (Knock Down Doors). The gang was a frequent topic of discussion on Urbano's show; the broadcaster often blamed Tumba Puertas for rampant crime in the park and urged police to crack down on drug dealing there.

Urbano had also coordinated efforts to relocate street vendors and remove drug addicts from the park. Before his murder, he received death threats that he attributed to these public statements and actions.

July 16
Eduardo Estrada Gutiérrez, radio journalist KILLED (Motive unconfirmed)

Estrada, a community leader and local broadcaster, was killed in the early morning of July 16 in the municipality of San Pablo, located in Bolívar Department.

Unidentified attackers shot the journalist as he was returning home with his wife after attending a family reunion.

Estrada was the president of the Asociación para el Desarrollo de la Comunicación y la Cultura de San Pablo, a community organization affiliated to a network of community radio stations. At the time of his death, the journalist was working to launch a community station for San Pablo.

Investigations have not revealed the identity of the attackers or the possible motive.

September 28
Víctor Tobar, Reuters HARASSED
Hélver Viarraga, Reuters HARASSED
Angel González, Caracol Televisión HARASSED
Norvei Poloche, Caracol Televisión HARASSED
César Velandia, RCN Televisión HARASSED
Édinson Bautista, RCN Televisión HARASSED
Érica Manchola, TV Hoy HARASSED

Seven Colombian journalists were harassed by leftist guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) while traveling to cover a protest march sponsored by Liberal Party presidential candidate Horacio Serpa.

The group included: Reuters cameraman Tobar; Tobar's assistant, Viarraga; Caracol Televisión correspondent González; González's cameraman, Poloche; RCN Televisión correspondent Velandia; Velandia's assistant, Bautista; and TV Hoy correspondent Manchola.

Eight FARC fighters erected a roadblock and stopped the journalists around noon outside the southern village of Balsillas, 125 miles south of the capital, Bogotá.

The rebels told the journalists that filming was forbidden in the area, and that FARC commanders had ordered them detained for their own safety. Fighting between rebel and government forces had killed at least two guerrillas in recent days. The fighters also told the journalists that the road ahead was mined.

When Tobar tried to drive away, a FARC fighter pointed a gun to his head while rebels deflated the tires of the journalists' cars, Tobar told CPJ.

The journalists had traveled to the region after hearing of demonstrations related to Serpa's peaceful march into rebel-controlled territory located less than a mile from Balsillas. Riding in more than 50 buses, Serpa and some 3,000 supporters left Bogotá on September 28 and were expected to pass through the area by the following day.

The caravan arrived in the area late in the morning of September 29 but was turned back by the rebels along the same mountainous, dirt road outside Balsillas where the journalists had been harassed. Serpa never reached San Vicente del Caguán, the main town inside the enclave, where he had planned to give a speech denouncing human rights abuses in rebel territory.

The journalists spent the night of September 28 near the checkpoint. They were allowed to film the Serpa caravan the next day. At around 4 p.m., after finding an air pump, the journalists headed back to nearby Neiva, the capital of Huila Department, where most of them live and work.

"[The FARC] never mistreated us, but it caught us by surprise," said Velandia, who has worked for RCN for three years. On October 5, CPJ issued an alert deploring the harassment of the journalists.

November 9
Cristina Castro, RCN Televisión THREATENED
Oscar Torres, Diario del Sur THREATENED
Alfonso Pardo, Voz THREATENED
Germán Arcos, Caracol Televisión THREATENED

Four Colombian journalists fled their homes in the southern Colombian department of Nariño after receiving death threats from a right-wing paramilitary faction that accused them of collaborating with leftist guerrillas.

The letter, signed by the Southern Liberators Front of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), accused three reporters and a cameraman of giving government information to the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Several news organizations in Pasto, Nariño's capital, received the one-page letter on November 9.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by CPJ, the paramilitaries wrote that they recognized the "important role" of journalists and said they would never attack the "real and honest press."

But the letter described the four journalists as "a danger to society" and declared that they would be executed if they did not quit their jobs and leave the area within 48 hours.

The journalists, who fled from Nariño to the capital, Bogotá, called the accusations lies.

The journalists said they met with Interior Minister Armando Estrada to discuss the threats. Even though the government offered them limited assistance to leave the country, Torres said the aid was not enough to support him and his family while he searched for work in exile. Torres said he would return to Pasto but feared for his life.

November 14
Julio César Romero, El Caleño ATTACKED, HARASSED

Romero, a photographer for the Cali-based newspaper El Caleño, was assaulted by university students who were protesting the murders of two classmates who had been gunned down inside the public university the week before while playing chess.

Some 200 students marched from the university to the city center. Romero had taken several photos and was preparing to leave when about 20 protesters surrounded him and accused him of taking pictures for the local police.

The attackers pummeled Romero with their fists, ripped off his shirt, and bashed his head with rocks as several journalists tried to fight them off, said Héctor Molina, a reporter who was covering the event for local TV station Noti 5. The attackers left after taking the film from Romero's camera.

Romero, a 20-year veteran photojournalist, was taken to a local hospital and treated for minor injuries.

Heriberto Cárdenas Escudero, retired radio and newspaper reporter KILLED(Motive unconfirmed)

Four armed assailants wearing hoods burst into the home of Cárdenas, a retired journalist who lived in the western Colombian city of Buenaventura, killing him, his son, and his brother, police said.

Cárdenas was watching an evening soccer match on television when the attackers broke into the house and opened fire, said Col. Luis Alberto Ramírez of the Buenaventura Police.

Cárdenas, 51, died from gunshot wounds to his head and chest. His son and brother died two days later.

It was initially reported that Cárdenas' teenage nephew was killed in the attack. However, Colonel Ramírez said that the nephew was stabbed to death last year, and that the November 14 attack may have been related to his slaying.

Cárdenas had worked as a news announcer with radio Carcajal Stéreo in Buenaventura and as a local reporter for several newspapers, including El Tiempo and El Espectador, two of Colombia's most prominent national publications. In the past, journalists from both papers have been targeted by left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries, as have provincial broadcast journalists all over the country.

During the last year, Cárdenas worked as a press officer at the local fire department.

At year's end, Colonel Ramírez said the investigation had turned up nothing new. Though no one had been captured, he still believed that Cárdenas was killed for personal reasons. The prosecutor handling the case in Buenaventura, Balmer Restrepo, refused to discuss the case over the phone.

December 5
Héctor Mario Rodríguez, primerapagina.com HARASSED

Two National Police officers tried to detain Rodríguez, editor of the online and print publication primerapagina.com, the journalist told CPJ.

Rodríguez was covering an annual meeting of the troubled National Coffee Growers' Federation in the capital, Bogotá, when he was expelled from the press room and escorted out of the building by the federation's security chief and five private security guards.

Rodríguez said federation officials were angry with him because of several articles he had written about alleged corruption at the federation.

Immediately after Rodríguez left the building, two National Police officers stopped him and demanded that he turn over the printed copies of primerapagina.com that he was carrying.

The officers said they were responding to a complaint from the federation's security chief. When Rodríguez asked if he was being detained, the officers asked him to wait while they called a higher-ranking officer. Rodríguez then left in his car. The officers chased him on foot but quickly gave up.

Rodríguez said authorities had yet to respond to a complaint about the incident that his publication sent to National Police chief Gen. Luis Ernesto Gilibert Vargas.

Jenny Alvarado, a National Police press officer, said she did not know whether the complaint was being investigated. Gilibert did not return messages. Attempts to reach the National Coffee Growers' Federation for comment were unsuccessful.

December 23
Álvaro Alonso Escobar, La Región KILLED (Motive unconfirmed)

Escobar, the publisher of the monthly newspaper La Región, was shot and killed by a lone gunman after an argument, according to state police commander Luis Mesa. A visitor arrived at Escobar's home in the town of Fundación, Magdalena Department, at around 7 p.m. and shot the journalist three times in the head before fleeing on a motorcycle.

Magdalena Department is known as a violent area, with leftist guerillas and rightist paramilitary forces both active.

Mesa told CPJ that he believed Escobar had been murdered for personal reasons, but could provide no further details.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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