Alfonso, a 33-year-old radio news host, was shot to death at 4:55 a.m. by two gunmen in the town of Arauca, near the Venezuelan border, while he tried to enter his office at Radio Meridiano-70. Two men were waiting for him there and fled on a motorcycle after the attack, said an Arauca Department police spokesperson.
The journalist, who had been threatened previously by members of a right-wing paramilitary army, was also a freelance reporter for Colombia’s most widely read daily, El Tiempo.
In June 2002, presumed paramilitary gunmen shot and killed the owner of Radio Meridiano-70, Efraín Varela Noriega. Varela had alerted listeners to the presence of paramilitary fighters in the region days before he was assassinated.
Alfonso co-hosted several news shows broadcast during the day. Since October, he had been covering armed conflict in Arauca Department as a freelance reporter for El Tiempo, said Álvaro Sierra, an editor at the daily. The conflict, which pits leftist rebels against rival paramilitary combatants and the government, is almost 40 years old.
Alfonso lambasted all sides of the conflict but was particularly critical of the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), said Miguel Ángel Rojas, who worked with Alfonso at Radio Meridiano-70. Rojas said Alfonso frequently reported in great detail on paramilitary activity in the region. “He didn’t hold back at all,” said Rojas. “I think that’s what compromised him.”
Fearing for his life, Alfonso fled for the capital, Bogotá, soon after Varela was killed, said Jorge Enrique Meléndez, an El Tiempo reporter and a friend of Alfonso’s who spoke to him hours before he was killed.
In Bogotá, Alfonso received about US$320 from a government protection program for journalists to help support him while he sought refuge. Alfonso returned to Arauca six weeks later.
In November 2002, Alfonso’s name was one of about 100 that appeared on a list distributed in the town of Arauca by paramilitary fighters, who threatened to kill the people on the list unless they “reformed,” said Meléndez. In the weeks before his death, however, Alfonso had told friends and colleagues that he no longer feared for his life.
In December 2009, Colombian prosecutors ordered the
preventative detention of a paramilitary commander, Jose Ruben Pena Tobon, in connection with the slaying. Pena was sentenced to an eight-year term in 2012 on an unrelated charges.