Attacks on the Press 2000: Colombia

IN A DEVASTATING YEAR FOR COLOMBIA, journalists were murdered, assaulted, threatened, and kidnapped. Many fled into exile. With the peace process that began in 1999 largely moribund, a nearly four-decade conflict that pits two major leftist guerrilla groups against the army and right-wing paramilitary forces continued to escalate throughout the year. All the warring factions targeted journalists.

Three journalists were killed in reprisal for their work in 2000, according to CPJ research. CPJ continues to investigate the cases of four more Colombian journalists whose violent deaths last year may have been related to their professional work.

On May 25, Jineth Bedoya Lima, a reporter with the Bogotá daily El Espectador, was kidnapped, beaten, and raped. The attack was apparently carried out in retaliation for El Espectador‘s coverage of a prison battle between common criminals and inmates belonging to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the leading right-wing paramilitary group. In its coverage, El Espectador suggested that AUC leaders may have ordered the execution-style killings of several inmates.

During the abduction, Bedoya’s assailants told her they planned to kill three other journalists, including the head of El Espectador‘s investigative unit, Ignacio Gómez, who at that time also served as director of the local press freedom organization Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP).

The day before Bedoya was attacked, a man whom Gómez recognized as a member of the paramilitary forces tried to force him into a waiting taxi. Gómez left the country less than a week later, after the police told him that they could not protect him.

CPJ protested the Bedoya attack in a May 31 letter to President Andrés Pastrana Arango. On September 14, we followed up with a letter expressing concern about the lack of progress in the investigation. By year’s end, however, no one had been detained and the prosecutor in charge of the investigation had not even contacted Bedoya, according to the journalist.

Initially, paramilitaries were the prime suspects in the Bedoya case, even though Carlos Castaño Gil, the feared leader of the AUC, publicly denied that his organization had anything to do with the abduction. While paramilitary members may have carried out the kidnapping, Bedoya herself now believes that police intelligence agents were behind it.

In May, Castaño was formally charged with the August 1999 murder of political satirist Jaime Garzón, although he denied the charge and avoided arrest. In December, five hooded, heavily armed men appeared on Colombian television. Saying they belonged to a hit squad called La Terraza, they claimed to have murdered Garzón and four others on Castaño’s orders. Paramilitary gunmen were also held responsible for the murder of three journalists in 2000, although not all seemed tied to the AUC.

In response to CPJ’s May 31 letter protesting the assault on Bedoya, President Pastrana wrote that his government would “strengthen the actions it has taken in defense of freedom of expression.” On August 18, the government established the Program for the Protection of Journalists and Social Communicators. A number of journalists, including Bedoya, have been supplied with bodyguards.

A special unit set up in 1999 to investigate the murders of journalists made some progress in a number of cases. But the acquittal at year’s end of three men charged with the 1998 murder of radio journalist Nelson Carvajal Carvajal was a reminder that impunity remains the rule.

All sides in the conflict are acutely sensitive to their media profile, and all have resorted to violence to ensure favorable coverage. The right-wing paramilitaries were the worst offenders, but journalists had plenty to fear from leftist guerrilla organizations as well.

On January 22, Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), abducted Guillermo Cortés, a veteran journalist with a stellar reputation who had earned the nickname of “La Chiva” (“The Scoop”). In a tactic designed to pressure the FARC to release Cortés, publishers and editors from Colombia’s largest news organizations wrote to FARC Commander Raúl Reyes and threatened not to attend the inauguration of peace negotiations in a guerrilla-controlled hamlet if Cortés was not released by January 29. With Cortés still in FARC custody on the date, the media directors stayed away from the inauguration but did send reporters.

FARC leader Manuel Marulanda told the reporters that their bosses had been unfair to the FARC and would be made to pay. He repeated the accusation in a letter sent to the media on February 2. The FARC later admitted to kidnapping Cortés (for strictly economic reasons, FARC officials stressed). The Colombian military claimed it freed Cortés during a raid in August, but some believe that a ransom was paid.

Another prominent television personality, Fernando González-Pacheco, fled the country in March after receiving kidnap threats. A week later, Francisco “Pacho” Santos Calderón, the editor of Colombia’s largest daily newspaper, El Tiempo, also went into exile following an apparent attempt on his life. According to one of Santos’ colleagues, the would-be assassins were hired by the FARC. Santos founded an anti-kidnapping organization after Medellín drug cartel leader Pablo Escobar held him for eight months in 1990.

While violent attacks against the Colombian press last year were perpetrated largely by warring political factions rather than the drug cartels that were responsible for so many deadly attacks against journalists in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it is important to note that all sides in the conflict are partially financed through the drug trade. Some Colombian journalists worry that the U.S. government’s US$1.3 billion military aid package aimed at fighting narcotics could lead to an intensification of the war and increase their own vulnerability. “The question my colleagues and I ask ourselves is, who will be left to report on how the money is spent?” noted Gómez in a June 23 opinion piece published in The New York Times.

Mireya Álvarez Ramírez, La Palma en Facetas

Some 10 armed men accosted Álvarez, owner and director of the bimonthly newspaper La Palma en Facetas, in her summer home in La Palma, a small provincial town outside Bogotá.

The gunmen identified themselves as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s largest guerrilla movement, and threatened to kill her unless she left the country within 30 days.

Álvarez fled Colombia on March 12, and was subsequently granted asylum in the United States.

Álvarez had worked with numerous news organizations in her nine years as a journalist. This was the second time she had been threatened by the FARC and forced to leave the country. In May 1999, she fled Colombia after receiving similar threats, and stayed away until November.

In her newspaper, she often reported on guerrilla tactics such as the forced recruitment of peasants, and denounced the general rebel tendency to rely on violence and abuse the environment.

María Elena Salinas, free-lancer

Salinas was found dead along with two members of the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN). All three were killed during a confrontation with army troops in the central department of Antioquia.

According to local sources, Salinas had studied journalism and was investigating armed conflicts in the Antioquia region at the time of her death. But she was apparently not employed by a media organization, and her family did not clarify whether or not she was working as a journalist when she died.

A local source told CPJ that Salinas had previously been accused of having links with the ELN, but that the charge was dismissed for lack of evidence.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding her case, CPJ has been unable to confirm whether Salinas was indeed killed for her work as a journalist.

Francisco Santos Calderón, El Tiempo

Santos, editor of Colombia’s largest daily newspaper, El Tiempo, fled the country after a suspected attempt on his life.

On March 8, Santos’ security guards noticed several vehicles that had been trailing the editor for the past month parked outside a restaurant that the editor frequented. Santos left the scene immediately, fearing an assassination attempt. He left Colombia on March 11 and now lives in Spain.

Less than a week before the incident, police arrested a suspect who said members of the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s largest guerrilla movement, had hired a number of sicarios (paid assassins) to kill the journalist. Santos himself noticed he was being followed about a month prior to the attack. He contacted authorities at that time, according to CPJ sources in Colombia.

Santos had publicly denounced the kidnapping of Colombian journalists for many years. In an October 31, 1999 El Tiempo editorial, he accused Colombian political organizations of using violence to stifle independent journalism. “Today the entire Colombian press is held hostage,” he wrote.

In addition to his work at El Tiempo, Santos is the founder and director of the Fundación País Libre (Free Country Foundation), an anti-kidnapping organization. He is also the co-director of ¡No Más! (“No More”), an organization composed of some 200 private, nonpartisan groups dedicated to ending the violence that has racked Colombia for the last forty years.

Santos was kidnapped in 1990 by Pablo Escobar, the leader of the Medellín drug cartel. Along with nine others, he was held for about eight months in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to extort a promise from then-president César Gaviria that he would not extradite drug traffickers to the United States.


A break-in at the offices of the Bogotá-based magazine Alternativa was apparently carried out in order to block publication of the magazine’s April issue.

At approximately 2:30 p.m. on April 13, two individuals entered Alternativa‘s offices and asked for Fabio Castillo, one of two top editors at the magazine. When Castillo’s assistant said that the editor was unavailable, one of the men brandished a large knife, holding it to her throat while the other intruder grabbed the arm of a reporter who was the only other person in the office at the time, Castillo told CPJ.

The intruders locked the two employees in a small bathroom adjoining the newsroom. After ransacking the entire office, they gathered documents and computer disks that contained back issues of the magazine and a list of subscribers.

Several other people were then heard entering the office and urging the two original intruders to hurry.

Alternativa, normally a bimonthly magazine, had been in financial difficulties since January. The issue scheduled for April 14 was the first in over a year. One feature article reported on an alleged plot through which Colombia’s ultra-right political forces planned to seize power. Despite the attack, the April 14 issue appeared on schedule.

CPJ protested the raid on Alternativa in an April 17 letter to President Andrés Pastrana Arango.

MAY 25
Jineth Bedoya Lima, El Espectador

Bedoya, a reporter with the Bogotá-based daily El Espectador, was kidnapped and tortured by alleged members of a paramilitary group. The attack apparently resulted from El Espectador‘s coverage of an April 27 prison battle between common criminals and inmates belonging to the right-wing paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Bedoya was seemingly kidnapped because of El Espectador‘s suggestion that AUC leaders may have ordered execution-style killings during the battle, which took place at La Modelo prison, near Bogotá.

Some days before the attack, other inmates at the same prison warned Bedoya that certain jailed AUC members had decided to murder her, along with a Colombian TV journalist and several of her colleagues from El Espectador. In order to verify this allegation, the journalist began trying to contact leaders of the AUC faction within La Modelo. On May 24, an unknown individual who claimed to speak for one of the AUC leaders called Bedoya on her cellular phone and gave her an appointment to meet him at the prison on the following day.

According to local press reports, Bedoya and her editor, Jorge Cardona Alzate, reached the prison gate at approximately 10 a.m. on May 25. Cardona went to look for a photographer while Bedoya tried to enter the prison. At that moment, unidentified individuals kidnapped Bedoya at gunpoint and forced her into a pickup truck.

At 8 p.m., the police reported that Bedoya had been admitted to a police medical clinic in the city of Villavicencio, where she was taken after a taxi driver found her lying, with her hands tied, on the outskirts of town. She had been drugged, brutally beaten, and raped. Bedoya was found in a state of nervous collapse, but she eventually recovered from the attack and returned to work at El Espectador.

This is not the first attack on Bedoya that CPJ has documented. On May 27, 1999, two unknown motorcyclists tried to run her over. Her mother was injured in the attack. Prior to this incident, Bedoya had published several articles in El Espectador about criminal gangs that kidnapped people for ransom.

CPJ expressed its grave concern about the latest assault in a May 31, 2000 letter to President Andrés Pastrana Arango. CPJ wrote again to President Pastrana on September 14 expressing concern about the lack of progress in the investigation.

El Tiempo

Guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), confiscated and burned copies of the Bogotá-based daily El Tiempo.

At around 4 a.m., according to an El Tiempo report confirmed by CPJ sources in Colombia, more than 50 guerrillas from FARC’s Front 19 stopped an El Tiempo delivery truck between the towns of Caracolicito and Alto del Bálsamo, near the border dividing the northern departments of Magdalena and Cesar. The guerrillas searched the vehicle and unloaded its contents. They then burned approximately 3000 copies of El Tiempo on the roadside.

Both the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN), the other major leftist guerrilla movement in Colombia, have targeted El Tiempo‘s delivery networks in the past. On April 4, FARC guerrillas stole around 3000 copies of the newspaper in the town of Aracataca, Magdalena Department. Later that day, the ELN stole several thousand replacement copies of El Tiempo near the town of Camperucho, Cesar Department.

Marisol Revelo Barón, former journalist

Revelo, a social worker and former journalist, was shot dead at her home on La Playa Avenue in Tumaco, a town in the southwestern department of Nariño.

Two men on a motorcycle arrived at Revelo’s house at around 7:30 p.m., according to local sources. One kept the motorcycle’s engine running, while the other knocked on the journalist’s door. When Revelo came to the door, the attacker fired five shots, hitting her three times and killing her instantly.

Revelo had been a journalist for most of her career, but a year and a half before her death she took a job at the Regional Autonomous Corporation of Nariño (Corponariño), a state-run environmental agency. Before joining Corponariño, she worked as a news director for Radio Mira, an affiliate of the Caracol Radio network in Tumaco, and as a local reporter for TV channels Teletumaco and Impacto Televisión.

At year’s end, the police continued to investigate Revelo’s murder but had made no statement about a possible motive.

Diógenes Cadena, Canal 2

Cadena, a staff reporter for the cable channel Canal 2 and a part-time cameraman for RCN Televisión and CM&, was wounded while covering the aftermath of a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) assault against the town of Vegalarga, in southern Huila Department.

At around 8:15 a.m., Cadena was hit in the left arm by a bullet fired from an army helicopter while he was interviewing victims of the FARC attack, which had ended some three hours earlier. At least six other civilians were wounded in the helicopter attack.

Red Cross representatives evacuated Cadena to Hernando Moncaleano Perdomo University Hospital in the departmental capital, Neiva. The journalist had suffered considerable loss of blood, but recovered quickly from his wounds.

Medios para la Paz

Intruders broke into the Bogotá offices of the nonprofit organization Medios para la Paz (“Media for Peace”) and stole the personal computer of its director, Gloria Moreno de Castro. The computer’s hard drive contained the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the 250 members of Medios para la Paz. The organization conducts workshops, seminars, and conferences for journalists, seeking to improve their understanding of Colombia’s problems and to promote the cause of peace.

In an August 17 press release, Medios para la Paz said that burglary seemed an unlikely motive, given that the intruders left behind two printers, a scanner, a fax machine, and two other computers. File cabinets containing Medios para la Paz’s internal documents were also opened and examined. The release added that Medios para la Paz does not hold classified information and that all its activities are public.

Colombian journalists were quick to point out similarities between this break-in and the April 13 assault on the offices of the Bogotá magazine Alternativa, in which two armed men stole documents, computer diskettes, and a list of subscribers, with the apparent intent of blocking publication of Alternativa‘s forthcoming issue.

Carlos José Restrepo Rocha, TanGente, El Día

Restrepo Rocha, 44, a community leader who also ran two small regional publications, was kidnapped and killed by alleged members of right-wing paramilitary forces in San Luis, a municipality in the central department of Tolima, according to CPJ sources and local press reports.

At around 4 p.m., at least 10 gunmen who identified themselves as members of the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) burst into a community meeting at the Cucuana dam and abducted Restrepo Rocha. His body was found a few hours later in a rural area of San Luis. He had been shot 11 times in the head and throat; flyers from the AUC were found next to his body, according to CPJ sources.

Restrepo Rocha was a former member of the M-19 guerrilla group. After reentering civilian life in 1990, he became publisher of the monthly TanGente and editor of the newspaper El Día. He was also one of the founders of the local TV channel Señal San Luis and was running as an independent for a seat on the San Luis municipal council. TanGente covered local issues, including development projects, sports, and culture. El Día was a specialized publication sponsored by the local water company, Usocoello. It ran stories on water rates, irrigation projects, and other issues.

CPJ sources said Restrepo Rocha had not requested protection from local police, and that the journalist’s relatives did not know of any threats against him. Police said the motive for Restrepo Rocha’s killing was unclear.

Ramón Eduardo Martínez, RCN Televisión
Dwarley Rafael Guerrero Peñaranda, RCN Televisión

Unidentified gunmen attacked Martínez, a correspondent for RCN Televisión, and Guerrero Peñaranda, an RCN cameraman, near the town of San Cayetano in the northern department of Norte de Santander, according to CPJ sources. At around noon on September 20, Martínez and Guerrero Peñaranda were heading to Cúcuta, the local capital, when four shots were fired at their red Toyota jeep. The bullets shattered the vehicle’s windshield and two windows, inflicting minor cuts on Guerrero Peñaranda’s hands and on Martínez’s neck and leg.

The journalists had just recorded footage for a report on the withdrawal of certain candidates, allegedly after right-wing paramilitary threats, from upcoming mayoral and municipal council elections in the town of San Cayetano.

Since their jeep was clearly identified as a press vehicle, it appeared that the journalists were targeted for their work.

Andrés Gil, RCN Televisión
Gustavo González, RCN Televisión
Pedro Pinto, RCN Televisión

National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas abducted reporter Gil, cameraman González, and driver/assistant Pinto of the national RCN Televisión network in the central department of Antioquia. The three journalists were held for 13 hours, and then released.

The RCN crew was stopped at an ELN roadblock on the highway between Bogotá and Medellín, the capital of Antioquia. Having ordered the three journalists to leave their vehicle, the rebels marched them to a mountainous area near the municipality of San Francisco, 60 miles (95 km) east of Medellín.

RCN representatives realized that their colleagues had been kidnapped at 7 a.m., when they found the abandoned vehicle. Two hours later, an ELN commander who identified himself as “Timoleón” called the RCN Medellín headquarters and claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

The RCN crew was freed in the mountains near San Francisco, having been treated well during their captivity, according to an October 6 RCN bulletin. Before releasing the journalists, the ELN handed Gil a communiqué whose contents he did not disclose.

The ELN’s apparent motive for the kidnapping was to protest against the Colombian media’s failure to cover alleged human rights abuses by the Colombian army against civilians in the area. Speaking to RCN on October 6, Commander Timoleón accused the army of imposing power cuts and restricting shipments of food supplies into the area.

In an October 11 news alert about the kidnapping, CPJ condemned the use or threat of violence to intimidate journalists.

Jaime Horacio Arango, El Colombiano
Jesús Abad Colorado, El Colombiano

Leftist guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) abducted reporter Arango and photographer Abad Colorado at a roadblock in the central department of Antioquia. Both journalists were released after two days in captivity.

Arango and Abad Colorado, who worked for the Medellín daily El Colombiano, were covering an ELN roadblock on the highway between Bogotá and Medellín, the capital of Antioquia Department. They were stopped by ELN guerrillas between the towns of El Santuario and Cocorná. The rebels burned their jeep but did not detain the journalists’ driver, Fabio Sánchez. He arrived in Medellín later that night.

The ELN’s apparent motive for the kidnapping was to protest the lack of Colombian media coverage of alleged human rights abuses committed by the Colombian army against civilians in eastern Antioquia.

The next day, the ELN announced a 24-hour ceasefire in the area. A delegation from the nongovernmental Comisión Facilitadora de Paz de Antioquia (Antioquia Commission to Facilitate Peace) then met with the guerrillas to negotiate the release of the journalists.

On October 8, the ELN turned Arango and Abad Colorado over to the delegation in the municipality of Granada. CPJ released a news alert about the case on October 11.

Juan Camilo Restrepo Guerra, Radio Galaxia Estéreo

Restrepo, a community radio station director, was shot dead in northwestern Colombia. Government investigators told CPJ that he was murdered by a suspected right-wing paramilitary gunman, apparently in retaliation for his sharp criticisms of the local administration. Restrepo, 26, had headed Radio Galaxia Estéreo in Sevilla, a village in the municipality of Ebejico, for the past year and a half. He was also chairman of the village council, which owns the radio station.

On October 31, the murderer summoned Restrepo to a meeting in the nearby village of Aragón. Restrepo’s brother drove him to the rendezvous on a motorbike and actually witnessed the killing. He has, however, declined to make a statement to the authorities and has gone into hiding, according to a relative.

Restrepo was shot at least five times, once through the head, according to a local source who did not wish to be identified. The source told CPJ that Restrepo presented a variety of music shows on Galaxia, but claimed he had not been involved in news gathering and had never had any problems with the paramilitary fighters as a result of his work at the radio station or on the village council.

The source declined to say who might have murdered Restrepo, saying: “Telling you that would be like signing my own death sentence.” But a government investigator based in the area said initial inquiries showed Restrepo had used his radio broadcasts to discuss several cases of alleged corruption by officials in Ebejico.

Both police and relatives said a right-wing paramilitary group maintains a permanent presence in the region, which lies about 38 miles (60 km) northwest of the provincial capital, Medellín. The investigator said a member of this group was responsible for the killing. No arrests have been made, and the investigator said the prospects of apprehending the gunman were slim to nil.

Restrepo completed two years of a five-year university degree program in communications studies in Medellín. He worked initially doing odd jobs and later as a presenter in the Medellín studios of the nationwide RCN Radio network before returning to his home village of Sevilla.

CPJ published a news alert about the murder on November 17.

Carlos Armando Uribe, Canal Uno
Jorge Otálora Mieles, Canal Uno

National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla fighters kidnapped television journalist Uribe and TV producer Jorge Otálora Mieles. Uribe was released after a week, while his colleague was held for 27 days.

The journalists were kidnapped in central Tolima Department. After his November 9 release, Uribe told CPJ that on the afternoon of November 2, he and Otálora were seized at gunpoint by seven plainclothes members of the so-called Bolshevik Front, a unit of the ELN, in the village of El Olimpo. A camera crew working with the men was not detained.

The pair had just completed an episode of “The Adventures of Professor Yarumo,” a weekly program that highlights the work of the National Coffee Growers’ Federation. The show is sponsored by the federation, produced by Otálora, and hosted by Uribe, who plays Professor Yarumo. It is broadcast every Friday on the national Canal Uno channel.

In exchange for releasing Otálora, the guerrilla group called on the government and the federation to pledge money for road improvements in northern Tolima, Uribe said.

Uribe is a qualified agronomist who has worked for the National Coffee Growers’ Federation for the last 15 years. He also writes a weekend opinion column for the regional newspaper La Tarde, and hosts a weekly show for the RCN Radio network.

During his kidnapping, Uribe said, he and Otálora were forced to march between three and five hours a day, clad in ELN camouflage uniforms. The men were guarded by as many as 30 guerrillas armed with assault rifles, and were locked in small wooden huts at night.

CPJ released a news alert about the kidnapping on November 16. Otálora was released on November 29, in northern Tolima.

Gustavo Rafael Ruiz Cantillo, Radio Galeón

Two gunmen killed Ruiz, a correspondent for the regional broadcasting station Radio Galeón, with two close-range shots to the head as he crossed the market square in the town of Pivijay at around dusk, police and colleagues said.

Police said they were still investigating the identity of the attackers. But senior colleagues at Radio Galeón, based in the port city of Santa Marta, alleged that Ruiz was killed by members of a right-wing paramilitary group that operates in and around Pivijay, in central Magdalena Department.

These sources told CPJ that the group was not linked to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a nationwide alliance of right-wing groups, but was rather a gang of hired gunmen financed by “the rich people in the area.”

“That whole area is virtually off limits for the press, the police, and the army. It’s an island where an illegal group is in charge,” one of Ruiz’s colleagues said of the area around Pivijay. One of the dead man’s relatives told local journalists that Ruiz had been threatened by the armed gang twice in the recent past. Gang members told him to stop reporting bad news about Pivijay and to “give up that big-mouth’s job.”

Ruiz had worked for Radio Galeón on a free-lance basis for the last three years, covering politics, crime, and general news in and around Pivijay. He was a self-taught journalist who began radio reporting about 15 years ago for Radio Libertad, another regional station headquartered in the port city of Barranquilla. Ruiz also worked with a community radio station in Pivijay and ran a small grocery store in the town. On November 17, CPJ published a news alert about his murder.

Guillermo León Agudelo, La Voz de la Selva

Radio journalist Agudelo was stabbed to death by two men who had broken into his home in Florencia, a city in the southern department of Caquetá, police said.

Police initially believed that Agudelo, 47, had been killed during a robbery attempt, but later concluded that he had been murdered after refusing an extortion demand. A police spokesman ruled out any connection between the murder and Agudelo’s work as a journalist for the local radio station La Voz de la Selva (“Voice of the Jungle”), an affiliate of the nationwide Caracol Radio network.

Florencia was formerly a stronghold of the Marxist guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). More recently, the town has become a power base for right-wing paramilitary groups. Both sides regularly resort to extortion, as do common criminals.

Agudelo, a self-taught journalist, had formerly headed operations at another local radio station in Florencia, Ondas del Orteguaza, which is linked to the national Todelar network. In addition to his journalistic work, he also ran a taxi in Florencia, police said.

Another Florencia-based journalist said Agudelo had once been the director of the town prison, and had also served a term as mayor of the town of La Montañita, just east of Florencia. The journalist claimed that Agudelo often promoted various political interests in his radio shows. (Agudelo was formerly a member of the Conservative Party but later developed close links with the local Liberal Party.)

CPJ circulated a news alert about the murder on December 14. No arrests had been made at year’s end.

Oscar Montoya, Caracol Televisión
Oscar Álvarez, Caracol Televisión
Alexander Cardona, Caracol Televisión
Fernando Tabares, RCN Televisión
Sergio Gómez, RCN Televisión
Pedro Pinto, RCN Televisión
Yolanda Bedoya, “CM&”
Luis Fernando Marín, “CM&”
Gildardo Álvarez, “CM&”
Diego Argáez, Canal A
Luis Benavides, El Espectador
Miguel Jaramillo, “Noticiero de las 7”

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels detained 12 Colombian journalists for 18 hours at an illegal roadblock during heavy fighting in the northwest of the country, police and local media said.

Those held were Montoya, Álvarez, and Cardona of Caracol Televisión; Tabares, Gómez, and Pinto of RCN Televisión; Bedoya, Marín, and Álvarez of the “CM&” TV news program; Argáez of Canal A television; Benavides of the newspaper El Espectador; and Jaramillo and his camera crew from the TV news program “Noticiero de las 7.”

The group was halted at a rebel roadblock near the town of Granada, in Antioquia Department. The group was ordered to stay in a schoolhouse and was not allowed to leave until after the fighting in Granada had ended and a larger rebel force, estimated at some 300 guerrillas, had withdrawn.

All the journalists subsequently entered the town and filmed the aftermath of the attack, which killed some 29 people, including civilians, police, and guerrillas.

The national newspaper El Tiempo reported that the group of journalists was detained in the schoolhouse from 2 p.m. on December 6 until 8 a.m. on December 7. The FARC raiding party is reported to have withdrawn from Granada at 6 a.m. on December 7.

During military operations, the FARC routinely establish security cordons, including roadblocks, around areas they are due to attack to prevent government forces from sending in reinforcements.

Alfredo Abad López, La Voz de la Selva

Early in the morning, two gunmen on a motorcycle killed radio journalist Abad as he was saying goodbye to his wife outside their home in the southern Colombian city of Florencia. Abad was the director of Voz de la Selva (“Voice of the Jungle”), a local affiliate of the national Caracol Radio network.

His murder came two weeks after a colleague, Guillermo León Agudelo, was stabbed to death by two men who had forced their way into his home.

Florencia police chief Col. Henry Calderón told CPJ that Abad, 36, was sitting in his car talking to his wife at 5:50 a.m. when two men drove up on a red motorcycle and fired a volley of bullets at point-blank range from a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and a .38 revolver. He was hit by at least four shots in the stomach, chest, and head.

Florencia, in southern Caquetá Department, is a former stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist guerrilla organization. More recently, the town has become a power base for an anti-Communist paramilitary group linked to Carlos Castaño’s United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

Abad had been director of Voz de la Selva for the past two years, according to a colleague. Previously, he worked as a reporter for RCN Radio, a rival network. Reliable local sources concurred that paramilitary gunmen had murdered Abad because of his work as a journalist although the suggested motives differed.

One trusted source told CPJ that Abad was probably killed for investigating the murder of his colleague Agudelo. But according to the local Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), various local sources attributed the killing to Abad’s most recent broadcast, which discussed the government’s decision to cede a Switzerland-sized chunk of territory to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The station had been threatened by the paramilitaries on two occasions a year earlier, FLIP reported.

Winston Viracachá, Caracol Televisión

National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas kidnapped TV reporter Viracachá in southern Nariño Department. He was released unharmed on Christmas Eve, nine days later. During his time in captivity, Viracachá was kept blindfolded and had a hood placed over his head. He was marched daily over rough mountain terrain and subjected to interrogation on two occasions, he told the national Caracol Radio network. He added, however, that he was never subjected to verbal or physical abuse.

During questioning, ELN guerrillas accused Viracachá of passing confidential information about their organization to right-wing paramilitary gangs in neighboring Putumayo Department and to army commanders in Pasto, the regional capital of Nariño Department.

In a series of interviews with Caracol Radio, Radionet, and the newspaper El Tiempo, Viracachá said a reporter from a competing TV news channel had started false rumors and denounced him to the ELN because of professional jealousy. Luis Carlos Burbano, a regional correspondent for the news program “Noticiero de las 7,” began the rumors after Viracachá interviewed paramilitary commanders in Putumayo in late September, Viracachá said.