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CAPSULE REPORT: Reporting in a climate of fear in Cali and Valle del Cauca

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

Cali and Valle del Cauca: Journalism versus Corruption

In the city of Cali, the capital of Valle del Cauca department, self-censorship and fear taint the practice of journalism.

According to FLIP's analysis, Valle del Cauca is the department with the second highest rate of press freedom violations. From 2003 to mid-2007, 50 violations were documented; 35 journalists were threatened, 5 of whom fled into exile; and 3 journalists were killed.

The state of journalism in Cali and throughout the department is directly linked to the violence plaguing the region. Of all the municipalities in the department, Cali registers the highest level of human rights violations, including murders, kidnapping and forced displacement.

Reporting in a climate of fear

Threats, intimidation, assaults and attempted murder by members of armed groups, or by corrupt politicians seeking to conceal their crimes, has led to the widespread practice of self-censorship by journalists in the region. "Here, one can only publish official pronouncements because to investigate puts one in danger," Blanca María Torres, editor of the newspaper "El Caleño", told FLIP.

On 20 February 2007, "La Razón" editor Edgar Buitrago was saved from an attempt on his life by the intervention of his security escort. However, the then-commander of the Valle police, General Luis Alberto Moore, denied that it was the editor who had been targeted, maintaining instead that the assailants were trying to settle a score with his bodyguards.

Edward Alzate, the departmental representative for the state intelligence agency (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad , DAS), says his agency never dismissed the possibility that the journalist was the target of the attack.

Following its own investigation, FLIP still considers this a case in which the journalist was targeted for his work.

Pablo Arbelaez, editor of an independent media outlet, received a death threat from an unidentified source, after investigating corruption in the departmental administration. When he sent his newspaper containing the report to the printer, he received a telephone call in which the caller told him: "Our boss doesn't think you belong in this city. You won't be able to publish your paper again." The threats were repeated weeks later, when two men entered his office and warned him that, if he did not leave the city, he would be killed.

In another incident, the editor of the newspaper "Q'Hubo", Rubén Darío Valencia, received various threats in June, apparently from a drug boss in Buenaventura: Olmes Durán, alias "El Doctor". According to what the journalist told FLIP, the threats stemmed from his reporting on the drug-trafficker's having been detained by police.

By no means do the cases documented by FLIP represent all of the press freedom violations in the region. The reasons for which not all violations get reported are various: journalists do not take some incidents seriously, or do not recognise them as violations, or are afraid to report them, or do not trust the authorities, or do not feel they will have the backing of the media outlet for which they work if they complain, or are unfamiliar with the process by which to register a complaint, etc.

In meetings with representatives of the police, the DAS, the local administration and the office of the country's vice-president, FLIP was told that journalism faces serious threats in Cali and Valle del Cauca. Diego Arias, of the vice-president's office, said that, although there is no mechanism by which his office can receive complaints from journalists, they are in contact with the leaders of journalists' unions. Nonetheless, all these officials indicated that they have received very few complaints of threats against journalists.

To see the complete report (in Spanish only), see: http://www.flip.org.co/veralerta.php?idAlerta=249

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