Colombia: Newpaper office bombed in Cali

New York, November 17, 1999 — In a letter sent to Colombian President Andrés Pastrana on November 17, CPJ protested the November 14 bomb attack on the Cali offices of the daily El Tiempo. [Click here to read the letter.] CPJ also expressed concern for the deteriorating press freedom climate and urged the president to place the safety of journalists on the agenda of the ongoing peace negotiations.

CPJ is investigating to determine who was behind the bombing. There are several theories, according to local journalists.

On the evening of the attack, a man identifying himself as a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), called the Todelar radio station and the Cali office of the Bogotá-based daily El Espectador, claiming responsibility for the attack. The caller said El Tiempo was bombed in retaliation for an article about FARC attacks on Colombia’s oil industry that had run in that day’s paper. Police are investigating both calls.

A previously unknown group identifying itself as the “Colombian Patriotic Resistance” (RPC) also claimed responsibility for the attack. In a communiqué distributed to Colombian media on Monday, the group said it had bombed El Tiempo to protest the recently-resumed government practice of extraditing suspected drug traffickers to the United States. Police speculate that the RPC might be an alliance between drug traffickers and dissident members of the left-wing M-19 guerrilla group. The M-19 signed a peace treaty in 1990 and agreed to disarm.

Finally, police are also investigating the possibility that the National Liberation Army (ELN) carried out the attack. One possible motive, according to the police, is that El Tiempo news editor Francisco Santos, in a radio broadcast on the day of the attack, denounced the May 30 ELN kidnapping of some 160 Cali churchgoers.

The murky nature of this latest attack further illustrates that many factions in Colombia’s civil war are capable of targeting journalists. Since August, three Colombian journalists have been assassinated in reprisal for their work. The recent bomb attack comes in the wake of FARC and ELN kidnappings of a total of 15 journalists, the last of whom was freed on the day of the bomb attack.

Colombian editors recently signed an agreement in which they promised responsible coverage of the armed conflict. According to the agreement, the media “want to contribute to the achievement of peace, the respect for life, and the search of the common good.” CPJ’s letter to Pastrana concluded by urging the president to help create a climate in which Colombian journalists are able to make this vital contribution.