Director of TV news program kidnapped

New York, January 31, 2000 – CPJ is gravely concerned for the safety of Guillermo Cortés, director of “Hora Cero,” a nightly television news program broadcast on Canal A in Bogotá. Cortés was kidnapped on January 22 and has not been heard from since.

Local journalists informed CPJ that six armed men kidnapped Cortés, known to colleagues as “La Chiva” (Scoop), from his weekend home in Choachi, in the mountains southeast of Bogotá. Although over a week has passed since the kidnapping, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack. The region where it occurred is a known stronghold of Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and local journalists have informed CPJ that they believe a faction of FARC carried out the kidnapping. A neighbor and the caretaker of Cortés’ property, who were both present at the time of the kidnapping, reported that the armed individuals identified themselves as members of FARC and said they were abducting Cortés in order to send a message to the government.

In a letter written to FARC Commander Raúl Reyes on January 28, publishers and editors of Colombia’s largest news organizations wrote that they viewed the kidnapping as a threat to press freedom. They also informed the commander that if Cortés was not released they would refuse to cover the January 29 inauguration of the peace negotiations in Los Pozos, a hamlet in guerrilla-controlled territory.

Commander Reyes denied any knowledge of the kidnapping. On January 29, Manuel Marulanda, the FARC leader who founded the group in 1964, held a series of interviews with journalists. In an interview with a correspondent for the Bogotá-based daily El Tiempo, Marulanda said that the media had been unfair to the FARC and would have to pay. Yet he denied any knowledge of Cortés’ kidnapping.

Cortés is a seasoned journalist with a stellar reputation. Colleagues told CPJ that they feared for the health of the 73-year-old journalist because of the harsh conditions and low temperatures in the mountainous region outside Choachi.