Conflicts & War

Reporters put lives on the line to keep people informed in northeast Colombia

By Jorge Gil Angel

Saravena, Colombia, Mar 3 (EFE).- Radio broadcasters in the northeastern Colombian department of Arauca, the scene of brutal fighting between leftist guerrilla groups, remain committed to keeping the public informed despite frequent death threats.

Some of these reporters work for community radio station Sarare Stereo, which is based in this city just south of the Colombia-Venezuela border and was one of the buildings damaged by a Jan. 19 car-bomb attack.

Afterward, its director, Emiro Goyeneche, received death threats from dissident members of the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group.

Clashes in Arauca between those combatants led by alias Antonio Medina and National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels intensified early this year, exacting a hefty toll in terms of casualties and generating a climate of fear among a civilian population that has no means of escape.

According to Defense Ministry figures, 99 homicides occurred in Arauca between Jan. 1 and Feb. 21, 45 of which took place in the municipality of Saravena. A total of 1,781 people were victims of forced displacement in that region stemming from clashes and death threats.

More than a score of human rights defenders have been killed since the Colombian government and the FARC signed a peace agreement in November 2016, according to Somos Defensores, a non-governmental organization that works to bring a halt to those crimes.

Sarare Stereo was founded 27 years ago with a mission to inform the population about the situation in Arauca, a region that at that time only received news from army and Catholic Church broadcasters.

Today, it offers varied content that includes airing a news program run by Goyeneche and music shows in which members of the community participate.

But the broadcaster’s support for social movements has led to it becoming the target of death threats, most recently from the group led by Antonio Medina.

“No one can figure out how a group that calls itself leftist or revolutionary would attack social leaders the way it has. That doesn’t make any sense,” Goyeneche said.

Asked if the violence and death threats have led to self-censorship, he said he and his colleagues have been forced to maintain a “prudent silence.”

“Some of our co-workers do normal programming, but we have a political, ideological stance that stems from our movement,” the journalist said, adding that “we think it’s of interest to humanity.”

Eliecer Caceres Santos is the director of the community radio station Arauquita Stereo and says he has received death threats for the past three years because of his work in Arauquita, a municipality that is part of the Arauca department and borders Saravena to the east.

“We go to the communities so they can make their needs, their problems, known,” the journalist said.

Arauquita Stereo nearly stopped broadcasting in January after it became the target of a death threat issued by the FARC dissidents.

“We were on the verge of closing our doors, shutting down our on-air programs and just playing music,” Caceres said, though adding that he and his colleagues decided they could not allow themselves to be intimidated.

“If a broadcaster or a media outlet like Arauquita Stereo shuts down, we’re silencing the voices of the community.” EFE


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