Authorities discover plot to kill Colombian journalist

Bogotá, May 15, 2013–Colombian authorities must bring to justice all those responsible for an alleged plot to assassinate a journalist and two political analysts who had been investigating links between local politicians and organized crime, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Andrés Villamizar, who heads the official National Protection Unit that oversees protection for Colombians who have been threatened, told reporters on Tuesday that an assassin had been hired and paid to kill Gonzalo Guillén, a freelance investigative journalist who has produced documentaries and reported for the Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald. Two political analysts, León Valencia and Ariel Ávila, who work for the think tank Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, were also targeted in the plot, the reports said. Valencia is also a widely read columnist for the Bogotá newsmagazine Semana.

News accounts reported that authorities on Tuesday identified the hit man, who is currently a fugitive. Villamizar told reporters that the suspect had traveled to Bogotá to commit the crime. He said that Guillén, Valencia, and Ávila were receiving government protection.

Valencia told CPJ that he believed the plot was likely linked to a 2011 investigation that he and Ávila had carried out for the Interior Ministry that linked about 130 gubernatorial and mayoral candidates in northern Colombia to left-wing rebels, drug traffickers, and other criminal groups. Valencia also said that Guillén was investigating the same issues for a documentary.

In the past, journalistic investigations into links between politicians and organized crime have often led to criminal charges, which likely provoke threats, according to Villamizar. “As accusations are made public, it generates more threats, but that is the price we Colombians must pay,” he told El Espectador.

“We strongly condemn the conspiracy to assassinate Gonzalo Guillén, León Valencia and Ariel Ávila, which comes against the backdrop of resurgent violence and threats against Colombian journalists in recent weeks,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, from New York. “Authorities must pursue this investigation until all those responsible are brought to justice.”

The threats come amid a difficult period for Colombian journalists. On May 5, eight provincial reporters covering land restitution efforts by the government were threatened by a group that said they had 24 hours to abandon the northern city of Valledupar. Ricardo Calderón, who heads Semana magazine’s investigative unit, barely escaped a May 1 assassination attempt, according to news reports.