Uribe urged to retract comments about reporters

New York, October 11, 2007

Mr. Álvaro Uribe Vélez
President of the Republic of Colombia
Casa de Nariño
Bogotá D.C., Colombia

Via facsimile: 011-571-337-5890

Dear Mr. President:

We strongly object to your recent accusations against two prominent journalists. Your strident and personal comments have resulted in multiple death threats against these journalists and have forced one into exile. The Committee to Protect Journalists believes your intolerance toward criticism in the media undermines your commitment to freedom of expression. 

On Tuesday morning, you requested the host of the morning show in radio station La FM to call well-known journalist Daniel Coronell, news director of TV network Canal Uno and columnist for the weekly magazine Semana. You said that you wanted to rebut the journalist’s latest column in Semana in which Coronell mentioned recent allegations by deceased drug lord Pablo Escobar’s lover, Virginia Vallejo,  in her new book Amando a Pablo, odiando a Escobar (Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar).

After strongly denying that you had ties with Escobar, you engaged in a harsh hour-long, on-the-air discussion with Coronell. You called Coronell a coward, a liar, a swine, and a professional slanderer. Although we recognize your right to disagree with your critics, we consider your reaction irresponsible and reckless. We are concerned about your aggressive rhetoric and your habit of discrediting reporters who offer critical views.

You are undoubtedly aware that in Colombia’s polarized environment, your comments would likely embolden those who use violence and the threat of violence to stifle the work of the press. Indeed, a few hours after your accusations against Coronell, Canal Uno received a death threat by e-mail. “We had warned you that the next time that you mess with the boss you would dig your grave,” the message said. “All of those who attack our president will sign their death sentence.”      

We would like to remind you that Coronell has recently returned to Colombia after more than a year in exile. After receiving death threats against himself and his family, Coronell accepted a one-year fellowship at Stanford University in the United States and left Colombia in August 2005. The journalist had tracked the threats to a computer in the mansion of former congressman Carlos Náder Simmonds, someone with whom you have a personal relationship and who has been convicted for drug trafficking in the United States. The investigation into the threats has yielded no evident progress. It is the Colombian government’s responsibility to ensure that people who break the law by making threats are brought to justice without delay.    
Another prominent Colombian reporter Gonzalo Guillén, correspondent for the Miami-based daily El Nuevo Herald, fled his home in Bogotá this week after receiving more than 20 death threats following comments you made on two national radio stations. You accused Guillén of collaborating with Vallejo in the writing of the book, and said the journalist is a slanderer. Guillén denied your accusations.

Colombia remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. During the last 16 years, 39 journalists have been murdered in the line of duty in Colombia–the third highest number for any country in that period. Your administration has failed to protect journalists who are being targeted by the various factions in your country’s 40-year-old civil war. That has perpetuated a climate of impunity, leaving Colombian journalists open to attacks and intimidation.

In a meeting with a CPJ delegation in March 2006, you expressed your support for journalists who report on corruption, saying that any government official who impedes the work of a journalist “is committing a crime against democracy.” We firmly believe that your intolerance towards criticism in the media undermines your pledge, contributes to the climate of fear facing the Colombia media, and represents a blow to democracy in your country.

Your baseless accusations have endangered the life of these two journalists. We call on you as president to publicly retract your recent comments about these two journalists, to respect dissent in the media, and to abstain from publicly attacking journalists who present critical views.  
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We look forward to your response.


Joel Simon
Executive Director