Colombian radio host dies of injuries from shooting

New York, March 21, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalist mourns the death of Colombian radio commentator Gustavo Rojas Gabalo, who died Monday of injuries he suffered in a February 4 shooting outside a local supermarket in the northwestern city of Montería, Córdoba province.

Rojas, known as “El Gaba,” died in the Salucoop Clinic in Medellín, the local press reported. His daughter, Erly Rojas, told CPJ that the journalist had been moved to Medellín over the weekend to get specialized medical attention. He had undergone surgery several times in Montería, according to the local press freedom group Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP).

On February 4, two men aboard a motorcycle approached Rojas as he opened his car in front of the market. An assailant got off the motorcycle, removed his helmet, and shot the journalist twice at close range. One bullet shattered Rojas’ collarbone, while the other caused head injuries, the local press said.

Rojas had been on the air for almost 30 years. His popular “El show de El Gaba,” aired daily on Radio Panzenú, featuring music, news, and commentary that often focused on government corruption.

Erly Rojas told CPJ that investigators have not established a motive for the shooting. Investigators did determine that it was not related to a traffic accident and argument in which Rojas was involved earlier on the day of the shooting, CPJ sources said. Some initial speculation had centered on that incident as a possible motive. CPJ continues to investigate.

Another journalist in Montería was forced to flee his home in February after being threatened. Antonio Rafael Sánchez, who contributes to the leading Bogotá-based daily El Tiempo, fled after reporting on illegal appropriation of land in Córdoba.

CPJ has documented three other cases in 2006 of provincial Colombian journalists forced to flee their homes because of threats and intimidation. President Alvaro Uribe, who met with a CPJ delegation last week, expressed support for the work of provincial journalists who report under threat of violence. Uribe also conveyed his backing for journalists who report on corruption, saying that any government official who impedes the work of provincial journalists “is committing a crime against democracy.”

The meeting with Uribe followed a CPJ investigative report released in October titled “Untold Stories.” The report, written by Bogotá journalist Chip Mitchell, was based on interviews with more than 30 reporters in several strife-ridden provinces, including Arauca, Córdoba, and Caquetá. Journalists said they routinely muzzle themselves because they fear physical retribution from leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries, along with harassment from government troops and officials.

“We’re saddened by the death of our colleague Gustavo Rojas Gabalo,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “While we are pleased by President Uribe’s public announcements, the most effective way to support the work of provincial journalists is to carry out effective investigations into attacks like this one.”