“Make invisible” seems to be the slogan. So no one gets to know what’s going on in Latin America, that way they can stigmatize social movements, cover up the most outrageous repression as public safety, forget the millions and millions of excluded people in America the Impoverished.
The grotesque imprisonment of Telesur’s reporter in Colombia, Fredy Muñoz (1), a sharp and dedicated 33-year old journalist, makes very clear that yet again critical, free independent journalism is under attack by people who insist on using coercion, scare tactics, lies and brute force to crush it. Everything indicates that what this detention aims at is to criminalize Telesur and the work of its reporter in Bogota, based on journalistic rigour and truth-telling. Perhaps some people want to provoke a new crisis between Venezuela and Colombia, just days before presidential elections in this country and at the same time cloak behind a smokescreen the grave institutional crisis Colombia is undergoing.
Those of us who live in the South know that the case of Muñoz is not an isolated one. There are thousands of honest journalists who have paid and continue to pay for their ethic, for their dedication to report the truth, with imprisonment, persecution, threats and violence. We know more than enough of journalists disappeared, murdered, tortured and sacrificed so as to maintain silence about State terrorism, barbarity and misery.
There is no doubt that beyond the signing of a Free Trade Treaty that not even its own business people want, Colombia is living a serious institutional crisis with a succession of scandals deriving from the fact that individuals involved with paramilitaries hold high office in the government, including a Senator accused of fomenting acts of genocide.
The latest events in Colombia – made visible by Telesur’s reporting of which Fredy Muñoz is a part – include a falsified attack with a car bomb in the south of Bogota on July 14th a little before the elections that saw the re-election of President Alvaro Uribe. Colombia’s Public Prosecutor described this terror attack – attributed at the time to guerrillas – as “a grotesque stunt” by an army major and captain to get promotion. Without any doubt, just as that one was so the one involving Fredy Muñoz is another grotesque, artful stunt with the participation of the DAS secret police and the Caribbean section of the so-called naval “intelligence”. But that is not all. Because this is just one of five incidents of the “false positives” : attacks denounced as being of the guerrillas when in reality they were carried out by the security forces. And that is why the opposition Liberal Party have demanded the head of Juan Manuel Santos, the Minister of Defence.
Could it be they have all gone mad? No. These days the Colombian press appears to be recovering its memory, intermittently of course, and brings to the table the confrontation between army and police in Guaitarilla, the campesinos killed in Cajamarca, the presentation of civilians as dead guerrillas, the massacre of an elite police unit by an army unit in Jamundi, the participation of soldiers in an alleged settling of accounts bewteen drugs-traffickers in the department of Atlantico. These events, like many others in the Colombia’s routine daily conflict, were made visible by Telesur. Today in the Colombian Congress from the ranks of Liberalism and from the Democratic Alternative Pole severe criticisms have been made of the dubious demobilization of the Self Defence paramilitaries that people want to present as based on legality and peace.
According to a DAS secret police investigation 44 new paramilitary groups currently operate in different parts of the country. In the Senate it was noted that the paramilitary groups had an exponential increase in membership between 2003 and 2006, growing from fifteen thousand to forty one thousand.
Likewise it has been denounced in Congress that many unemployed rural workers immersed in poverty have been used so as to make them pass as paramilitaries and in that way collect a monthly allowance from the State, assistance that in the last two years has reached US$100m which obviously comes out of the taxes all Colombians pay.
While the State subsidises the paramilitary machinery, the principal chiefs of the Self Defence groups, protected by the ill-named Justice and Peace Law, are accommodated – supposedly detained – in the holiday centre of La Ceja, in Antioquia. For Colombian jurists, this law is an instrument of impunity by means of which it is intended to frustrate a possible intervention by the International Criminal Court by classifying the Self Defence groups under the category of political crimes. Senator Parmenio Cuellar has reminded us that political crimes are those involving rebellion against the State. Self-evidently, the paramilitaries are not fighting to overthrow the established order, to overthrow the government.
The Colombian Commission of Jurists has demonstrated that in the two years of this “demobilization” policy, the various paramilitary blocs have committed more than 3000 murders, almost all of them defenceless rural workers, social leaders, trades unionists and also business people with the aim of getting hold of their businesses.
In the Northen bloc alone, Self Defence forces have committed 558 murders, a figure confirmed in the impounded computer of captured paramilitary chief “Jorge 40” and denounced in the Senate last October 18th. At the same time the Self Defence groups continue drug trafficking and controlling political and economic territory in broad areas of the country.
Wihtout any doubt, Telesur puts the traditional elites and power brokers in many of our countries out of joint. And for that reason they want to silence our voice so that the silence from which so very few benefited for over 500 years can continue. Because the multi-State Latin American channel only carries out any journalist’s job : to make visible, to make public, transmit to the whole continent and the rest of the world what the commercial media – very often coerced and frightened so they apply self-censorship – do not make known about the realities in our continent.
One cannot permit artful marginalization and stigmatization. Because beyond our our trifling personal concerns, we are all Telesur. All of us who believe in and fight for a process of integration, who believe in democracy, in diversity, in plurality. Beyond the range of its signal, Telesur today is an example of alternative mass journalism, and not only in Latin America.
It is worth remembering also that in Colombia the Public Prosecutor has an office for the Protection of Journalists which helps journalists under threat from the paramilitaries with vehicles and bodyguards. And the self-same DAS states, in an unusual “clarification”, that it protects 28 threatened journalists. Many press workers (trades unionists, human rights defenders, rural workers) have been murdered and others forced to leave the country to save their lives and their families’. There is a reality that perhaps those who set up this grotesque manoeuvre did not reckon with : Telesur will not keep quiet and will not leave voiceless those whom the commercial media have left and continue to leave without a voice. Latin Americans will always see the reality.
Because, too, Fredy Muñoz is all of us. The huge, broad solidarity with this young journalist from Cartagena and with Telesur makes that very clear.
Aram Aharonian is director of Telesur
1. Telesur journalist Fredy Muñoz was detained by Colombian security police and accused of terrorism on November 19th 2006.