A journalist in north Colombia has been murdered after accusing the local mayor’s staff of plotting to kill him, in a reminder of ongoing ties between politics and organized crime, and the danger faced by those who try to expose them.
Luis Carlos Cervantes Solano, the director of radio station Morena F.M., was gunned down in the street in Taraza, a town in the northern department of Antioquia.
His murder comes just over two weeks after Colombia’s National Protection Unit (UNP) withdrew Cervantes’ security detail, days after he filed a report denouncing new threats against him, reported El Colombiano. The UNP is a government agency set up to offer protection to those facing high risks because of their work.
Cervantes first received threats in 2010, while covering the coca-growing Bajo Cauca region for TV station Teleantioquia. His mistake was to question strange goings-on in the Taraza Mayor’s Office following the removal of Mayor Miguel Angel Gomez Garcia, who was accused of collusion with the paramilitaries (see video below).
Gomez Garcia was later cleared of the charges, despite testimony from paramilitary leader Ramiro Vanoy Murillo, alias “Cuco Vanoy,” stating that the mayor was a staunch local ally. The politician has continued to wield political influence over the town since his removal, according to reports from the region.
As the threats continued, Cervantes said that a leading member of narco-paramilitary group the Urabeños told him that officials in the mayor’s office had asked them to threaten the journalist.
In Cervantes’ mind there was no doubt about who was behind the campaign. “Some officials in the mayor’s office want to kill me,” he told Verdad Abierta in 2011.
In the face of the persistent death threats, the authorities provided Cervantes with two bodyguards and one police escort.
The UNP have defended their decision to remove his security detail in July this year even though the threats continued. After Cervantes’ murder, the unit released a statement saying that their security assessment had concluded that the threats were not related to his work as a journalist, reported El Tiempo.
InSight Crime Analysis
In the widely-accepted narrative of Colombia’s falling violence, dismantled cartels, and demobilized paramilitaries, the situation in forgotten regions such as Bajo Cauca is often pushed aside so as not to undermine the image of Colombia as a nation transformed.
But many of these regions remain as tightly controlled by a nexus of organized crime and corrupt state institutions as they ever were in Colombia’s darkest days. In much of the country, corrupt caudillos still dominate the political landscape, and local government remains a vehicle for personal enrichment.
The ties between politicians and armed groups may not be as clear-cut as in the paramilitary heyday, when the so-called “para-political” alliance sought to control much of the country, but local politicians are often still backed to the hilt by groups such as the Urabeños, which are always willing to accept contracts to remove journalists and other troublemakers.
Stripped of the political façade of the paramilitary’s counter-insurgency campaign against the guerrillas, these alliances are shown for what they truly are — driven by greed and power — and all too willing to use violence to protect their position.