Death threats force Colombian reporter to relocate

I was on assignment in a slum in the town of Aguachica, Cesar Province, on February 24 when gunmen cut me off and threatened to kill me. “Journalist, shut up or die,” said one of the men, who identified themselves as members of “Los Urabeños,” a criminal gang that operates in Cesar and neighboring provinces. They didn’t mention any specific story I had covered. They just said, “Be careful; if you open your mouth or sniff into things that are none of your business, your family will be punished.”

But shortly before the threats I had aired a report on the failure by a local foundation to develop a housing project that would affect thousands of low-income families in Aguachica. I had also reported on the plans by local criminal gangs–including “Los Urabeños”–to commit fraud in the upcoming October municipal elections in Aguachica and other Colombian districts. The gangs’ plans were reported by national media too, including the Bogotá-based newspaper El Tiempo.

A day after the threats, I decided to relocate to Bogota, and reported my case to the attorney general and the Colombian press freedom group La Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP).

In March, local police arrested six alleged members of “Los Urabeños”; one of them was reportedly among the gunmen who threatened me with death in February. No further developments have been reported in the investigation of the threats.

However fondly I miss my hometown, my family and the possibility to keep working for my audience in Aguachica, I’ve decided to look for a job in Bogota, and thus, try to resume my career in the big city. But relocating is not easy in a city of 9 million inhabitants that receives dozens of Colombians on daily basis who have been forced to leave the country’s rural areas because of nationwide criminal violence. Another journalist, Edgar Astudillo, was forced too to move from the northern city of Montería to Bogotá in May 2010, soon after a criminal gang known as “Los Paisas” threatened him with death. Despite all the obstacles, I am committed to fighting against the main intention of the worst people in my country: the good people’s silence.