Body of radio journalist found in river

Bogotá, April 9, 2002 — The body of Juan Carlos Gómez, an intern at a radio station in northern Colombia, was found floating in the Magdalena River on April 3, CPJ has learned. Authorities said he had been beaten to death.

Gómez, 23, began working as an intern at La Voz de Aguachica (The Voice of Aguachica) six weeks before he was killed. He helped operate equipment on an evening music program called “Romantic Nights,” said station director Freddy Alfonso Carvajalino.

Two unidentified men abducted Gómez and a friend, Óscar Guerrero, from Guerrero’s home on the night of April 1. They were then forced into a car, said Aguachica police captain Freddy Piñeros.

The following day, Gómez’s father, Luis Alejandro Gómez, received an anonymous call saying that his son had been killed and thrown into a nearby river. Luis Alejandro Gómez, who helped secure the internship for his son, has worked as a journalist and announcer at the station for about 25 years.

Juan Carlos Gómez’s body was found the following day less than 30 minutes from Aguachica, about 248 miles (400 kilometers) north of the capital, Bogotá. He had been stripped and his hands were tied. Guerrero’s body, which had also been badly beaten, was found in the river nearby on April 5, said Piñeros.

“We are shocked by these senseless murders,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “CPJ calls on Colombian authorities to investigate fully and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Paramilitary group suspected
On April 6, Colombia’s leading newspaper, El Tiempo, reported that Juan Carlos Gómez might have been killed for reading a message on the air from Liberal Party presidential candidate and former interior minister Horacio Serpa.

According to the article, a right-wing paramilitary group in Cesar Department has threatened to kill anyone who campaigns for candidates other than independent front-runner Álvaro Uribe Vélez. (The first round of voting for presidential elections is scheduled for May 26.)

However, both Carvajalino and Luis Alejandro Gómez rejected the El Tiempo article and denied that Juan Carlos Gómez—who rarely if ever spoke on air—read a note from Serpa.

“He was neither a journalist nor an announcer,” said Carvajalino. “His death had nothing to do with journalism.”

Luis Alejandro Gómez said he was not sure why his son was killed, but he blamed the paramilitaries, who are said to control much of the region.

Authorities are still investigating the murder, according to Piñeros, who said that four other young men have been killed in Aguachica in the previous three months, apparently by the paramilitaries.

The outlawed paramilitary armies, known collectively as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), are currently waging a vicious war against leftist rebels and those suspected of sympathizing with them.