Sign up for weekly updates

CAPSULE REPORT: Journalists pushed toward silence by violence in Buenaventura

(FLIP/IFEX) - The following is an abbreviated version of a 14 September 2007 FLIP report:

Buenaventura: journalism torn between silence and violence

The port city of Buenaventura is geographically the largest and, in terms of population, the second largest municipality in the department of Valle del Cauca. Despite its economic importance as a major port and repository of natural resources, the city and its environs suffer from high rates of unemployment and poverty.

Moreover, violent competition among armed groups for control over the drug trade has subjected the city to chaos, with more than 100 individuals targeted in assassination attempts in 2006. Efforts to improve security have merely resulted in the targeting of police and municipal officials.

Journalists who are supposed to be protected under a special programme of the interior ministry complain that the precautionary measures, such as police patrols around journalists' homes and places of work, are no longer being taken.

Within this generalized crisis, journalists are on the brink of falling silent or disappearing. In the crossfire of armed actors and drug traffickers, amid official corruption and social blight, and in the face of threats of violence and the temptations of corruption, journalists struggle to remain independent and to avoid self-censorship.

Between 2003 and the first half of 2007, FLIP has documented 19 violations of press freedom in Buenaventura. Threats are commonly used by guerillas, paramilitary groups, drug traffickers and corrupt officials to try to silence journalists. Of the 19 violations, 16 consisted of threats against journalists. Two of the threatened journalists felt sufficiently endangered to flee the region and, eventually, the country.

William Soto Cheng, who hosted commentary programmes on the local television station Telemar, was murdered in December 2003 after criticizing official corruption and the involvement of public officials in electoral offences. His murder is still unpunished.

Adonai Cárdenas Castillo, who writes for "El País" in Cali, is one of the most threatened journalists in Buenaventura. He told FLIP: "Self-censorship is the only way for Buenaventura-based journalists to protect themselves. Despite the heavy security presence in the city, there is no safety for journalists."

The authorities ignore the role of the Buenaventura's press, in fact some of them go so far as to state that there is no journalism in the port. The Attorney General's representative in Buenaventura, meanwhile, has stated that no complaints of threats against journalists have been registered by his office. Journalists informed FLIP that they do not approach the Attorney General's office with their complaints as they have no confidence in that body; they choose instead to submit their concerns to other agencies.

Journalists' lack of confidence in official bodies extends also to the police, the intelligence services (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, DAS), and municipal authorities. Various journalists assert that there are ties between these bodies and certain illegal groups active in the area.

Lucy Giraldo, of the human rights organisation Pastoral Social in Buenaventura, notes that journalists face serious challenges in their attempts to access information, since certain neighbourhoods of the city - the Lleras and Cordoba neighbourhoods, for example - are controlled by armed groups beyond the reach of the law.

Nonetheless, Giraldo underlines the importance of journalism in situations of conflict such as that being experienced in Buenaventura. Although little information is made available, at least some effort is made to expose the social problems of the city. She adds: "Despite the difficulties they face, such as threats, self-censorship and corruption, journalists in Buenaventura have not been silenced."

To see the complete report (in Spanish only), see:

Latest Tweet:

Diciembre en #Venezuela: intimidación, censura y detenciones. El último mes del año cerró con un total de 43 violac…

Get more stories like this

Sign up for our newsletters and get the most important free expression news delivered to your inbox.