Letter bomb sent to home of Colombian journalist

Bogotá, Colombia, March 11, 2013–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Colombian authorities to investigate an attack on a journalist who had denounced political corruption and the activities of leftist guerrilla groups in the region. Juan David Betancur received a letter bomb in the mail on Thursday that failed to explode and did not injure him, according to news reports.

Betancur, 34, told CPJ that he received a manila envelope at his house in the town of Dabeiba, in the state of Antioquia, which contained detonators and a small amount of explosive materials. Also enclosed was a letter warning Betancur not to delve into issues of government corruption or the activities of a former member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a guerrilla group known as the FARC, Betancur said.

“I called the police. They gave the letter to the anti-explosives unit of the army that detonated the materials in a controlled explosion,” the journalist told CPJ. He said the police later told him that he would have been blinded or severely injured had the letter exploded upon being opened.

Betancur is the director of a Dabeiba-based monthly called El Panamericano. He also reports for two Antioquia radio stations, Radio Litoral, based in the town of Turbo, and Radio La Ribereño, in the town of Puerto Berrío.

Betancur told CPJ that he believed the threat stemmed from his coverage over the past four years of allegations of wrongdoing by former Dabeiba mayor, Omar Anaya. Betancur had reported on links between Anaya and the demobilized FARC rebel Nicolás de Jesús Atehortúa. The letter warned Betancur not to mention Atehortúa in his future stories, he said. Calls to Anaya, whose term expired last year, were not returned.

More recently, Betancur said he had been covering a corruption investigation against Anaya, which was being carried out by the Controller General’s office of Antioquia. Betancur was also the target of a 2010 attack when a supporter of Anaya, who was then serving as Dabeiba’s mayor, hit him over the head with a metal rod in response to his critical reporting, according to news reports and the Bogota-based Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP). Anaya told FLIP at the time that he had nothing to do with the attack and that Betancur had launched a smear campaign against him.

“Juan David Betancur has been targeted for attack, now and in the past, by people who want to silence his reporting on corruption and guerrilla activities,” Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, said from New York. “Colombian authorities must guarantee his safety, investigate this act of intimidation thoroughly, and bring those responsible to justice.”

In February, two journalists fled the northern city of Montería after being threatened for their reporting on criminal groups. Colombian journalists faced resurgent violence from illegal armed groups in 2012, according to CPJ’s newly released book, Attacks on the Press.

  • For more data and analysis on Colombia, visit CPJ’s Attacks on the Press.