In Colombia, Uribe’s accusations raise alarm

New York, October 3, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about comments made Tuesday by President Álvaro Uribe Vélez that could endanger Colombian journalist Gonzalo Guillén.

Uribe called national Caracol Radio and RCN Radio to deny recent allegations that he had close to ties to the deceased drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. The accusations were made by Escobar’s lover, Virginia Vallejo, in her new book Amando a Pablo, odiando a Escobar (Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar). Uribe said he believed Guillén, correspondent for the Miami-based daily El Nuevo Herald, collaborated with Vallejo in the writing of the book, which was published in September.

During his interview with Caracol, Uribe also accused Guillén of “being a person who has persisted in trying to harm me, and when he can’t do it in this country, he does it abroad.”

Guillén told CPJ that he did not have anything to do with the book. He said the only time he met with Vallejo was last year during an interview in which he asked her about Escobar’s involvement in the 1989 murder of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán.

“We are concerned that the president’s comments could endanger our colleague Gonzalo Guillén,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on President Uribe to abstain from making such accusations.”

Guillén has already received several recent threats; his recent reporting involves paramilitary activities and the purported links between illegal armed groups and members of the Uribe administration. The government’s journalist protection program recently provided him with a security detail and armored car as a result of the threats.

On May 25, an anonymous e-mail message was sent to the Miami offices of El Nuevo Herald, saying that there was an order to kill Guillén as part of a plan organized by a paramilitary group and members of the local police, Metrobog. Four days later, several individuals on motorcycles marked Metrobog arrived at the building where the journalist was staying, and commented loudly that there was no security outside the premises. Guillén told CPJ that he immediately called Metrobog and was told that no units had been dispatched to that address.

Guillén told CPJ that he believed Uribe’s comments could incite further acts of intimidation. The journalist said he would send a letter to the president’s office asking for a public withdrawal of the allegations made against him.

Humberto Castelló, El Nuevo Herald’s director, called Uribe’s comments irresponsible. In a statement published in today’s edition, Castelló said: “I regret the indiscretion, injustice, and irresponsibility of the comments made by the person with the highest standing in a country where we have seen the president’s armed defenders—on the fringes of legality—correct journalists not with letters but with bullets.”

Castelló said that Uribe has never sought to correct or clarify any of Guillén’s stories. In today’s edition, El Nuevo Herald notedthat one of the articles Uribe cited as defamatory was not written by Guillén but another El Nuevo Herald correspondent.