Murder with Impunity in Colombia

Wednesday, October 30, 1996


(Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists, 30 October 1996)

The murder last week of radio journalist Norvey Diaz confirms Colombia's status as one of the most dangerous Latin American countries for the profession.

Diaz, director of the "Rondando por los barrios" program on Radio Colina, was found in Girardot, a resort town north of Bogotá, with a bullet in his neck and a cigarette butt still resting in his hand. Six years earlier, Diaz had reported the alleged involvement of police in the murder of street people, and on the apparent investments made by drug traffickers in vacation resorts in Girardot. Investigators believe his murder was carefully planned by professionals.

Two days later, on October 20, Manuel Vicente Peña Gómez of the daily La Prensa de Bogotá, was driving his car when several gunmen pulled up alongside and opened fire. Peña, a reporter known for his virulent tone in his writing about government officials, was not injured in the attack because he was driving an armour-plated car.

During the past two decades, more than 100 journalists have been killed in Colombia. More than 95 per cent of these murders have not been solved. Drug cartels, guerilla groups, and corrupt government officials have created a culture of violence. President Ernesto Samper called a state of emergency in August 1995 to try to end the violence that left 39,000 people dead last year. Samper himself denied allegations that he had links with drug traffickers.

Faced with the corruption of the establishment and the ruthlessness of the drug cartels operating within Colombia, journalists here feel helpless to publish the truth and for that reason censor themselves. The apparent impunity with which these crimes are committed adds to this helplessness. In its Preliminary Report on Unpunished Crimes Against Journalists published this month, the Inter American Press Association states that "impunity leaves an insidious ripple effect on the victim's family, friends and colleagues. Most of the time, the same murderers threaten anyone who wants to investigate the murder or push for results."

For example, in the 1986 contract hit against Guillermo Cano Isaza, publisher of the highly-respected newspaper El Espectador, the man who ordered his killing, the late drug kingpin Pablo Escobar Gaviria, is also suspected for the murders of a magistrate, the father of a judge, and the Cano family lawyer for their involvement in the case against him. Another magistrate, four journalists and two of Cano's children had to flee Colombia after repeatedly receiving death threats. The general manager and the circulation manager of El Espectador were murdered. The newspaper's main office was effectively destroyed by a bomb. The Cano summer home was set ablaze. The legal process was compromised by bribery and misconduct.

On August 22, 1995, nine years after the execution, a Bogotá jury handed down a sentence of aggravated homicide against five people for the murder of Cano. All but one were either dead or serving prison terms for other crimes. A year later, on July 30, 1996, Bogotá's Superior Tribunal revoked the 1995 sentences against three of the accused and upheld the sentence of one accused, Luis Carlos Molina Yepes. According to IAPA, however, Yepes, a businessman and former confidant of Pablo Escobar, escaped from police custody in 1989, and has never been recaptured.

Regarding the Cano case, IAPA has resolved to ask the Departamento Adminstrativo de Seguridad (DAS) and other Colombian police to enforce an arrest warrant that remains pending against Molina Yepes.

Regarding the cases of murdered journalist Norvey Diaz and Manuel Vincente Peña Gómez, we recommend the following:

Send appeals to authorities:

* urging that they use their influence so that the investigations into these two cases lead to the apprehension and punishment of those responsible
* asking for assurances that the safety of threatened journalists will be guaranteed


His Excellency Ernesto Samper Pizano
President of the Republic
Palacio de Nariño
Carrera 8, No. 7-26
Santafe de Bogotá, Colombia
Fax: +57 1 289 3377/ 286 7434 / 286 7324/ 287 7937

Dr. Horacio Serpa Uribe
Minister of Interior
Ministry of Interior
Carrera 8, No.8-09, Piso 2
Santafe de Bogotá, Colombia

SOURCES: Reporters sans frontières, Inter American Press Association