Magazine article Newsweek International

Casualties of a Dirty War : The Deadly Risks of Promoting Peace and Human Rights

Magazine article Newsweek International

Casualties of a Dirty War : The Deadly Risks of Promoting Peace and Human Rights

Article excerpt

Reporter Ignacio Gomez feels like a hunted animal. Burglars have broken into his apartment to rifle files and steal computer diskettes. When he answers the phone, he's likely to hear a stream of epithets--or a death threat; once someone at the other end of the line fired a machine gun. Gomez shuns public places and no longer takes taxis. He has cut back on family visits lest he expose his relatives to the deadly menace tracking him. "It is permanent psychological terrorism," says Gomez, who has published exposes of drug cartels and right-wing death squads for the Bogota daily El Espectador. "To become a target, it's enough now to simply report on the [civil] war or advocate reconciliation."

While the 35-year-old civil war rages on in the Colombian countryside, a dirty war has erupted in the cities. Its victims range from government prosecutors to human-rights activists, a former government peace negotiator and the country's leading satirist. Dozens and perhaps hundreds of intellectuals, business people and professionals have been threatened, kidnapped or forced into exile. No one, it seems, is immune to the dirty war--and in a country where drug lords, right-wing Army officers and leftist guerrilla chiefs all have an interest in preventing the outbreak of peace, it's sometimes impossible to figure out who's pulling the trigger.

There is no shortage of guns for hire--or targets. In Medellin, a ruthless band of 300 hit men has carried out dozens of assassinations for drug kingpins and paramilitary groups. A shadowy organization called the Colombian Rebel Army--believed to include extreme right-wing members of the military--has issued death threats against priests, journalists and university professors publicly associated with the peace movement. …

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