Another fears for his life

Bogotá, Colombia, March 18, 2003—Gunmen shot and killed a radio news host early this morning in a volatile northeastern region of the country. The journalist, who had been threatened previously by members of a right-wing paramilitary army, was also a free-lance reporter for Colombia’s most widely read daily.

Luis Eduardo Alfonso Parada, 33, was shot to death at 4:55 a.m. by two gunmen in the town of Arauca, near the Venezuelan border, while he tried to enter his office at Radio Meridiano-70. Two men were waiting for him there and fled on a motorcycle after the attack, said an Arauca Department police spokesperson.

“We mourn the death of our colleague,” said Joel Simon, acting director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “The Colombian government must pursue the perpetrators of this terrible crime.”

Second journalist from station to be killed
In June 2002, presumed paramilitary gunmen shot and killed the owner of the station, Efraín Varela Noriega. Varela had alerted listeners to the presence of paramilitary fighters in the region days before he was assassinated.

Alfonso co-hosted several news shows broadcast during the day. Since October, he had been covering armed conflict in Arauca Department as a free-lance reporter for El Tiempo newspaper, said Álvaro Sierra, an editor at the daily. The conflict, which pits leftist rebels against rival paramilitary combatants and the government, has been going on for nearly 40 years.

Alfonso lambasted all sides of the conflict but was particularly critical of the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), said Miguel Ángel Rojas, who worked with Alfonso at Radio Meridiano-70. Rojas said Alfonso frequently reported in great detail on paramilitary activity in the region.

“He didn’t hold back at all,” said Rojas. “I think that’s what compromised him.”

Fearing for his life, Alfonso fled for the capital, Bogotá, soon after Varela was killed, said Jorge Enrique Meléndez, an El Tiempo reporter and a friend of Alfonso’s who spoke to him hours before he was killed.

In Bogotá, Alfonso received about US$320 from a government protection program for journalists to help support him while he sought refuge. Alfonso returned to Arauca six weeks later.

In November 2002, Alfonso’s name was one of about 100 that appeared on a list distributed in the town of Arauca by paramilitary fighters, who threatened to kill the people on the list unless they “reformed,” said Meléndez. In recent weeks, however, Alfonso had told friends and colleagues that he no longer feared for his life.

Journalist kidnapped
Meanwhile, last week, police freed Pedro Antonio Cárdenas, the host of a radio program in central Colombia, shortly after fighters from a right-wing paramilitary army had kidnapped him. The 48-year-old radio journalist said he fears for his life.

Cárdenas, who ran a two-hour local news program broadcast weekday mornings on the RCN radio network, was abducted from his house in Honda, in Tolima Department at 10 a.m. on March 12. He was taken to a motel where several armed men who were affiliated with the AUC, were waiting.

At the motel, the captors said they wanted to talk with Cárdenas further at a nearby village and forced him into a car. Police intercepted the car at 11:30 a.m., freeing Cárdenas and capturing two men in the vehicle. A short time later, police arrested five others at the motel. A bulletin from the Tolima Department police described the men as paramilitary members.

In recent weeks, Cárdenas had been denouncing Honda’s mayor and town council members, some of whom apparently have close ties to the AUC, on his radio program for alleged corruption and graft.

On March 2, paramilitary fighters threatened reprisals against Cárdenas unless he stopped criticizing municipal leaders and ended his radio show.

On March 3, Cárdenas announced to listeners that he was giving up the program because of the threats. But he returned to work several days later after residents, in a show of support for Cárdenas, gathered 2,000 signatures condemning the paramilitary threats. Cárdenas rents broadcast time from RCN and sells commercials to fund his work. He is not an official employee of RCN.

Even though police are guarding the house in Honda where Cárdenas lives with his wife and two children, he said he fears for his life and is considering fleeing to Bogotá. Following the kidnapping, RCN canceled Cárdenas’ contract.