Colombia: Author flees country following death threats

English PEN is alarmed by reports that Gonzalo Guillén (born Bogotá, 1952), author and correspondent for the Miami-based daily Spanish language newspaper El Nuevo Herald, has fled Colombia in fear for his life after receiving numerous threats apparently stemming from his investigation of links between the Uribe administration, paramilitarism and drugs trafficking.

The most recent of these threats seem to have been triggered by a public attack on the journalist by the President himself. On 2 October 2007 the President called national radio stations Caracol and RCN to refute allegations of close links to the deceased drugs baron Pablo Escobar made in a recent memoir by Virginia Vallejo, formerly a TV presenter and Escobar’s mistress. Uribe claimed that Guillén had collaborated in writing Vallejo’s Amando a Pablo, Odiando a Escobar (Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar), published in September, as well as in other books by foreign journalists on the links between paramilitarism and drug trafficking. On air, the President accused Guillén of being “a professional slanderer” who had “dedicated his journalistic career to infamy and lies” and was systematically trying to damage his reputation both in Colombia and abroad. The incident followed an official denial of Vallejo‘s allegations posted on the presidential website the previous day.

Guillén has reportedly categorically denied any involvement with Vallejo‘s book and has requested a retraction from President Uribe. According the journalist, he only met Vallejo once, in 2006, when he interviewed her for an article. However, in the three days following the President’s statement Guillén received 24 death threats and on 4 October it was reported that he had decided to leave the country for his own safety.

The journalist had already been the target of death threats for several months. On 25 May 2007 an anonymous email warning of a paramilitary-police plot to murder him was sent to the Miami offices of El Nuevo Herald. This was followed a few days later by a suspicious presence outside the building where Guillén was staying in Bogotá of individuals who were dressed in police uniform but who were not, it was later clarified, police officers. Guillén was subsequently given a security guard and an armoured car under the Colombian government’s journalist protection programme. However, according to Guillén, the guard was withdrawn following Uribe’s on-air comments.

The threats and the President’s accusations would appear to be linked in particular to a book Guillén published in May this year entitled Los confidentes de Pablo Escobar (The confidants of Pablo Escobar) which contains allegations about the President’s past which are similar to those made in Vallejo’s new book. A number of other articles by Guillén could also have incurred the President’s wrath, including a July 2006 story entitled ‘Pablo Escobar’s secrets’ based on what Vallejo had told him. However the director of El Nuevo Herald has stated that the newspaper had not received any complaints or requests for corrections from the President in relation to Guillén’s pieces. Guillén has stated that he intends to bring law suits against President Uribe for slander in Colombia and the United States.

In a similar incident a week later, the life of Daniel Coronell, TV presenter and columnist for the weekly magazine Semana, was threatened following an on-air argument in which President Uribe accused the journalist of lying and slander. This incident also appears to have been triggered by references to the allegations against Uribe in Vallejo‘s book, which Coronell recently wrote about in his column. During an interview on Radio La FM on 9 October, Uribe asked the presenter to telephone Coronell and proceeded to have an hour-long argument with him on air in which he reportedly called the journalist a “coward”, “liar”, “bastard” and a “professional slanderer”. Uribe also expressed doubt about the death threats that forced Coronell and his family to leave the country in 2005. According to Coronell, who returned to the country in June this year, the emailed threats were traceable to the computer of a former congressman, who is also a friend of Uribe and a convicted drug trafficker. After the confrontation between Uribe and Coronell an email signed by the Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles) paramilitary group was sent to the account of the TV station where Coronell works, declaring him and his team “military objectives”. The death threat has been denounced to the appropriate authorities.

In 2006 the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Colombia as the fourth most dangerous place to be a journalist, with 39 journalists murdered as a result of their work since 1992. The most recent killing occurred on 5 September this year, when the radio journalist and contributor to El Tiempo Javier Darío Arroyave was stabbed to death. None of these murders have been fully solved. PEN’s records show a constant stream of death and other type of threats against print journalists in the country.

For more on attacks on the press in Colombia, visit,


Please send appeals:

  • Expressing alarm at the high level of harassment, including death threats, killings and intimidation, experienced by journalists in Colombia as a direct result of their professional work
  • Urging the President and other public servants in Colombia to desist from making further public statements about Guillén, Coronell and other journalists that could put their safety and lives in danger, in line with recommendations made by the UN Commission for Human Rights to which the Colombian government has agreed to adhere under the London and Cartagena Declarations
  • Entreating the government to respect journalists’ right to freedom of expression, liberty and security under the UN International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Colombia has long been party, and to take all possible measures to bring to justice those responsible for violations of their rights


Appeals to:

President of the Republic
Señor Presidente Álvaro Uribe Vélez
Presidente de la República, Palacio de Nariño, Carrera 8 No.7-2, Bogotá, Colombia
Fax: 57 1 337 5890/ 57 1 342 0592
Salutation: Dear President Uribe/Excmo. Sr. Presidente Uribe

Vice-president of the Republic (Responsable for human rights policies in Colombia)
Dr. Francisco Santos Calderón
Vicepresidencia, Carrera 8A No 7-27, Bogotá, Colombia
Fax: 57 1 565 7682
Salutation: Dear Vice-president Santos/Estimado Sr. Vicepresidente Santos


Please send also appeals to diplomatic representatives of Colombia in your country:

HE Carlos Medellín-Becerra

3 Hans Crescent




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