(Translated by Colin Kluendner, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The death threats to Pascual Gaviria, journalist of the program La Luciérnaga de Caracol Radio and columnist of the newspaper El Espectador, and to the Rural Press Agency, alternative media of the Colombian rural sector, reveal the high electoral risk through assaults on the press and the repeated use of political violence in Colombia.
The issue is fairly sensitive for the freedom of expression and press, but should also be for the exercise of democracy, citizen participation in public debates and the guarantee of the right to opposition.
And amidst a peace process between the Colombian government and the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the matter takes on greater relevance if one considers that the second point on the agenda of the negotiations in Havana concerns political participation; which points to this unguaranteed right as one of the causes that has given rise and perpetuation to half a century of conflict.
“The theme of peace generates polarization, shouts, and insults in Colombia,” affirms Pascual Gaviria himself in a column written on his blog Rabodeají, where he revealed details of the threat against him.
Afterwards, he recognizes that he has been a defender of the peace process and concludes that “the regional elections always cause tension in the political environment up to the brink of physical assault.”
In his personal case, the attack arrived after Pascual Gaviria denounced electoral pressure from the University of Medellín —of liberal inclination— to students, teachers and staff; and furthermore questioned publicly the liberal candidate of the statte of Antioquia, Luis Pérez Gutiérrez, due to his “famous blunders” as Mayor of Medellín and “his lies and opportunism as a shady and enduring candidate.”
On this occasion it’s about the threat to a journalist publicly renowned for his participation in massive means of communication. But, like him, at least 73 journalists in Colombia have suffered some type of attack during the current electoral process, revealed the Colombia Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) that rejected the threat against Pascual Gaviria.
September 25th, a month before the elections, FLIP reported that 46 municipalities were at electoral risk and signaled that Antioquia was the state with the most assaults. According to Jonathan Bock, member of that foundation’s area of supervision and protection, of the 73 assaults on journalists that had occurred in Colombia during the current electoral process, seven had been in that state.
Compared to the 2014 presidential elections, when FLIP registered six assaults in the country, the current environment poses greater risk. For Jonathan Bock this is due to “the interests in the local campaigns that generate greater tension and anxiety.” In addition these pollings involve more coverage on behalf of the regions’ journalists.
Furthermore, it’s the regional sphere, and specifically in the debate over the peace and rural development of the country, where the death threats against the Rural Press Agency and against various social leaders of the Agricultural Summit movement, the Indigenous Guard and the General Workers Central are framed.
The threat is signed by the post paramilitary group the Black Eagles who, as Rural Press published, “declare themselves against the peace process, against the will of the majority to put an end to the armed conflict and make a call to mend the ranks of paramilitarism.” The pamphlet arrived by means of email from firstname.lastname@example.org this past Tuesday, October 6th, at 8:33 p.m.
“This lampoon arrives precisely in the moments in which the Democratic Centre has launched a furious smear campaign against the peace process and when their leader Álvaro Uribe Vélez has called for the District Attorney to respond for the massacre of El Aro, in Ituango, that occurred when he was the governor of Antioquia and in which the paramilitaries, assumedly transported by a helicopter of the Department, murdered 15 citizens in 1997, with the complicity of the army”, citing in his denouncement the alternative media.
These situations leave questions; how closely narrow does the relationship continue to be between illegality and some political sectors that, in actuality, fight over the local power and even oppose the construction of peace? Will it be possible to end the use of violence as means to political ends and to cut short the participation of others? This is not a minor challenge, if one takes into account that in Colombia this strategy has been retread throughout history, from the war between liberals and conservatives, until today’s paramilitarism and guerrillas.
In the midst of this environment, with elections marked by the peace process with the guerrillas, actions come to mind such as the massacre of the Patriotic Union, the murder of Luis Carlos Galán, the assassination of Jaime Garzón, and the crimes against the human rights movement, just to mention a few cases.
Such memories should bother society, and incite demands to separate illegality from politics, particularly in the current elections; an issue that becomes primordial for the freedom of press, for democracy and for peace. Otherwise we could be doomed to repeat history.