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The victim of an armed conflict that has dragged on for more than half a century, Colombia continues to be the theatre of incredible human rights abuses that still go unpunished. The so-called “democratic security” policy established during Alvaro Uribe’s two-term presidency from 2002 to 2010 is continuing under his successor, Juan Manuel Santos, albeit in a milder form.
Four journalists have been killed since the start of 2010, three of them in connection with their work: Rodolfo Maya Aricape of community Radio Payumat in the southwestern department of Cauca, Clodomiro Castilla Ospina of radio La Voz de Montería and the magazine El Pulso del Tiempo in the northern department of Córdoba, and Luis Eduardo Gómez of the Urabá al Día and El Heraldo de Urabá newspapers in the northwestern department of Antioquia. Both of the last two were witnesses in judicial investigations into links between politicians and paramilitary groups.
Far from handing in their weapons during the “demobilization” process from 2003 to 2006, some of the paramilitary bands have regrouped. One of the most feared of these groups, the “Black Eagles,” has been on the Reporters Without Borders list of Predators of Press Freedom for years. The danger posed by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has not disappeared either. The ordeal of the indigenous radio stations in Cauca is due not only to the paramilitaries, who regard them as “military objectives,” but also to the guerrillas and the armed forces.
The “Black Eagles” were thought to have been behind the disturbing emails circulating in February and March 2011 that promised the death of five journalists: Hollman Morris, producer of the current affairs TV programme Contravía; Daniel Coronell, a vice-president of the US TV station Univisión; Marcos Perales Mendoza, the editor of the Bucaramanga-based newspaper Periódico Portada; Claudia Julieta Duque of Radio Nizkor and Eduardo Márquez González, the president of the Colombian Federation of Journalists (FECOLPER).
Some of these journalists were among the 16 victims of a campaign of dirty tricks by Colombia’s leading intelligence agency, the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), which ranged from phone taps (“chuzadas”) and armed attacks to smears repeated by the president himself. Uribe was summoned before a special congressional committee in connection with his presumed role in this scandal.
After being threatened, journalists often censor themselves or flee abroad or to another part of the country. Mary Luz Avendaño, the newspaper El Espectador’s correspondent in Medellín, fled abroad in August 2011 after writing about collusion between the local police and organized crime.
Updated in August 2011
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