Five journalists and the representatives of several NGOs including the Federation of Colombian Journalists (Fecolper) are directly threatened in a particularly disturbing email that began circulating yesterday. Sent from the Gmail account of “Aguilas Fénix,” it is signed by the central division of the “Aguilas Negras” (Black Eagles), a feared paramilitary group responsible for terror campaigns against the media in the past.
“The time has come to exterminate and eliminate all the persons and organizations that pose as human rights defenders and especially infiltrate as international NGOs and journalists (…) and who in reality are demobilized members of the FARC and M19,” the email said, referring to two left-wing guerrilla groups. “We issue a threat of death and elimination against civil society groups that continue to attack the people’s policies and state of consciousness. We declare death and persecution.”
The message names some 60 peasant, feminist and human rights organizations. It also names five journalists as “military objectives”: Fecolper president Eduardo Márquez González; Hollman Morris, the producer of the TV current affairs programme "Contravía"; Daniel Coronell, the head of "Noticias Uno" (and vice-president of the US TV station Univisión since January); Marcos Perales Mendoza, the editor of the Bucaramanga-based newspaper Periódico Portada; and Radio Nizkor journalist Claudia Julieta Duque.
“This is the first time that I have been threatened and it is strange that they use both of my surnames as I only use one,” Reporters Without Borders was told by Márquez, whose organization represents more than 1,000 journalists nationwide. He suggested two reasons why he had been targeted: “Fecolper’s efforts to combat impunity in the murder of Montería journalist Clodomiro Castilla” or “our recent report blaming the government for the situation of the press in Colombia.”
Duque said she thought it was strange that the Bogotá-based central division of the Black Eagles was focusing on journalists covering national issues.
This declaration of war on civil society must be taken seriously. It is targeted at journalists who are prominent critics of the so-called “democratic security” policies which Alvaro Uribe pursued during his two terms as president (2002-2010) and which are still in force. The same journalists were also leading targets of the dirty tricks practiced by the intelligence agency DAS which, when exposed, shed light on the dangerous links between paramilitaries, intelligence services and politicians.
The threats also serve as a reminder of the fact that the paramilitaries were not disarmed by the “demobilization” carried out from 2003 to 2006 and continue to represent a major and permanent danger to democracy and civil liberties. The paramilitaries enjoy an outrageous degree of impunity under the 2005 “Justice and Peace” law.
The police have promised to investigate yesterday’s email message but this is not enough. President Juan Manuel Santos’ government must give a firm political commitment to combat the paramilitaries.
Three other journalists in the western department of Valle del Cauca were declared “military objectives” in a message at the start of February that was signed by the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC). They are Luis Fernando Gil of “Hora 13,” a TV programme broadcast by CNC; Raúl Parra, the editor of the magazine Hoja de Parra; and Héctor Fabio García.
The leading paramilitary coalition, the AUC used to help the armed forces combat Colombia’s guerrilla groups and, prior to “demobilization,” had around 30,000 members. Since 2006, most of them are believed to have turned to criminal activity, including contract killing and drug trafficking, but an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 have gone back to paramilitary activity. Currently there are about 20 paramilitary groups, including the Black Eagles, operating in 12 departments.