Colombia: Journalist remains in captivity

New York, Feb. 15, 2000—CPJ is deeply concerned about the safety of Guillermo Cortés, editorial director of “Hora Cero,” a nightly television news program broadcast on Canal A in Bogotá, who was kidnapped on January 22 and remains missing. While no one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, new evidence points to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia¹s largest guerrilla group.

Cortés, a highly respected journalist known to his colleagues as “La Chiva” (Scoop), was kidnapped by six armed men from his weekend home in Choachí, in the mountains southeast of Bogotá. The region is a known FARC stronghold. According to the caretaker of Cortés’ property and a neighbor, who were both present at the time of the kidnapping, the kidnappers identified themselves as members of FARC and said they were abducting Cortés in order to send a message to the government.

On January 29, at the start of a weekend-long ceremony inaugurating the headquarters for the peace negotiations in the hamlet of Los Pozos in the rebel-held San Vicente del Caguán Municipality, FARC leader Manuel Marulanda told the press they had been unfair to his group and would have to pay. But he denied responsibility for Cortés’ kidnapping. During a subsequent press conference held on February 9 in Stockholm (where government and rebel peace negotiators had traveled to study Sweden’s economic and social structure), FARC commander Raúl Reyes denied that his group had played any role in the kidnapping.

On February 2, the local press reported that Colombia’s military intelligence service had intercepted a telephone conversation believed to be between FARC leader Henry Castellanos Garzón, alias “Romaña,” and another FARC member, identified only as “Karina 15.” In the conversation, Karina 15 apparently gave the kidnapped journalist’s address and detailed his financial assets, including a Jeep Cherokee, an apartment, and shares in a company.

This report bolsters the theory that one of the two FARC fronts active in the Choachí area (fronts 53 and 54) was responsible for the kidnapping. Many local journalists speculate that Cortés was kidnapped for economic rather than political motives.

On February 6, some 2,000 protesters gathered in Choachí to protest Cortés’ kidnapping. Cortés’ colleagues told CPJ that they feared for the health of the 73-year-old journalist because of the harsh conditions and cold temperatures prevailing near Choachí, where he is believed to be held.

CPJ urges whoever is holding the reporter to release him immediately and without conditions of any kind.