March 5, 2002
Narco News '02
Is the Press
FARC: The State, not the
By Al Giordano
A Narco News Media Analysis
City, March 5, 2002: A spokesman for
the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in its Spanish
initials) spoke on Monday to 600 delegates from 21 countries
in Mexico City, where he refuted U.S. press reports that blamed
the FARC for the assassination of a Colombian Senator.
FARC spokesman Marco León Calarcá
made himself available for questions from the press all day;
the date on which the wire services AP and Reuters, and top U.S.
newspapers, had all blamed the FARC for the murder last week
of Colombian Senator Martha Daniels.
None of those news organizations sought
comment from the FARC in their published reports.
"They accuse us of the assassination
when the whole world knows that it is the State that assassinates,"
said the official FARC spokesman. "We don't have civilian
Although the major U.S. newspapers and
wire services have bureaus in Mexico City, and yesterday's event
was well publicized with invitations
in four languages to the public and media, not a single U.S.
news organization availed itself of the opportunity to seek the
FARC's comment on this current news story.
any serious standard of journalism,
when the media accuses an organization of murder, it ought to
seek comment from the accused.
Nevertheless, Monday's headlines were
filled with the accusation, which Colombian prosecutors last
night began to retract. The spin began with reports from two
major wire services: "Rebels
Kill Colombian Senator" (AP,
by Jared Kotler); "Colombia
Senator Killed, Rebels Blamed"
(Reuters, by Phil Stewart).
These two gems of disinformation were
widely distributed: "Rebels
Blamed for Senator's Slaying"
(Orlando Sentinel, March 4); "Colombian Senator, two others, apparently
killed by rebels" (St. Louis
Post-Dispatch, March 4); "Colombian
Senator Killed by Rebels" (Seattle
Times, March 4).
the Miami Herald, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the
San Jose Mercury News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram,
among others, repeated the AP and Reuters reports verbatim.
Others claimed to report it themselves.
The New York Times' Juan Forero (reported by Narco News last year as having allowed U.S. Embassy officials to monitor
his interviews with Colombian mercenaries) said, flat out: "Last
week, rebels killed a senator, Martha Catalina Daniels."
The Times international desk added
a photo of the martyred Senator. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
published Forero's story, too.
And here's a bizarre new twist: Although
the story appeared on page 6, column 1 of Monday's NY Times
("Apprehension Grows as Colombia Rebels Step Up Pace and
Intensity of Their Attacks," by Juan Forero, March 4th)
Forero's article, as of today, no longer appears on the NYT's
website. It is, however, archived by the Dow Jones news wire,
and by the Media
Publisher's Update, March
Forero article is back up on the NY Times website (subscribers
to the newspaper can click here to read it). However, still no
correction of the article, nor the photo caption that states:
"Martha Catalina Daniels, a senator, was assassinated
by rebels. Her body was found Sunday."
The Houston Chronicle News Service
took AP's errant story without crediting AP, quoting Colombian
police colonel Alvaro Sandoval as saying, "it's assumed
that it was the FARC" that assassinated the Senator.
of these news organizations sought comment from the accused FARC.
That may not be easy for reporters in
Colombia to do: Last February 20th, the Colombian and US governments
ordered that journalists are no longer allowed in rebel territory
unaccompanied by military officials. Every report filed since
then by U.S. dailies and wire services from the rebel zone was
made by reporters brought on "tours" by the military
officials, a fact not disclosed by the journalists in their reports.
Since the Colombian military issued arrest warrants for all the
FARC spokesmen in Colombia on February 20th, the babysitting
policy for the war correspondents has caused an effective blackout
of journalism that reports both sides of the conflict.
But these same news organizations can
still easily seek the FARC's comment through its Mexico City
office. Which puts FARC's international spokesman in Mexico City,
Marco León Calarcá, in an important position. He
is the last FARC spokesman available daily to the press.
The U.S. and other governments have worked
very hard to limit the FARC's ability to respond in the press
even through civilian channels. Last October, the European Union
revoked the visas for FARC spokespersons in Europe. Currently,
U.S. pressure on the Mexican government to ban the FARC office
in Mexico City has increased.
(The info-war has its fronts large and
small: Narco News spoke yesterday with a group of 35 youths
from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN)
in El Salvador, now a legal political party. Despite pre-arranged
visas to travel to Mexico for this week's gathering, the youths
were detained for two days at the Mexico-Guatemala border. They
sang songs and shouted chants while working diplomatic channels
and were finally allowed into the country.)
The FARC's Marco León Calarcá
was available yesterday, all day, at the Mexico City Business
and Commerce Center. That none of these news organizations bothered
to seek the other side of their March 4th reports, speaks volumes
about how the Colombian war, in addition to being a civil war
inside Colombia, is, internationally, an information war, a "netwar,"
as it is defined by think-tanks like the RAND Corporation.
For Latin Americans, the recent controversy
over Pentagon plans to start a "disinformation office"
was laughable. That office has had many names, and existed for
years, South of the Border.
war correspondent worth his salt already knows:
If the FARC had wanted to apprehend Daniels or any Colombian
senator, it would have more likely kidnapped the legislator,
not killed her. The FARC, which seeks a trade of political prisoners
with the Colombian government, freely admits that it has six
such legislators already as bargaining chips. In its stated goal
of freeing hundreds of FARC militants from prison, Daniels would
have been worth far more to the rebels alive than dead.
"The assassination of the Senator
cannot be a revolutionary act," said author Heinz Dieterich
at yesterday's international gathering against Plan Colombia.
"It is an action by sectors of the State; the death squads
of the right wing."
Thus, the story repeated yesterday throughout
the U.S. press was not just false and one-sided: It made no sense.
Even if one adopts the most cynical stance
toward revolutionary movements, it is not the FARC that has the
documented history of assassinating national legislators. Rather,
its adversaries - the Colombian army and police forces and the
paramilitaries they protect - have a long and documented record
of murdering members of Congress:
-- Last October 8th, Liberal Party Congressman
Luis Alfredo Colmenares, of the state of Arauca, was assassinated
by two hitmen. The paramilitary "United Self-Defense Forces
of Colombia" committed the crime, according to the pro-government
national daily El Tiempo. "In taking credit for the attack,
the AUC accused Colmenares of having connections to communist
rebels," reported El Espectador.
-- Six days earlier, on October 2nd, Liberal
Congressman Octavio Sarmiento, also of Arauca, was shot and killed.
The AUC, again, was the perp, according to El Tiempo.
-- The prior month, on September 5th,
Conservative Congressman Jairo Rojas of the state of Cundinamarca,
president of the peace commission of the House of Representatives,
was fatally shot by paramilitary troops, according to El Tiempo.
-- On December 29th, 2000, Liberal Congressman
Diego Turbay Cote was assassinated near rebel territory. The
government claimed that two gunmen were members of the FARC.
The FARC denied the action, and blamed the paramilitaries.
-- In September 1998, Liberal Congressman
Jorge Humberto González of Antioquia was assassinated
by hitmen in Medellín.
On the other hand, the six legislators
kidnapped by the FARC are still alive, each new POW strengthening
the rebel hand in negotiating for the release of its own prisoners.
49, had more obvious enemies than the
FARC: First and foremost, the Pastrana government, and also United
States officials, who never forgave Daniels for leading the 1996
defense of then-President Ernesto Samper of her Liberal Party,
accused by U.S. officials of taking narco-money in his presidential
None of the press reports mention the
Tale of Two Senators: that while Daniels was the point-person
in Congress defending Samper from those charges, the recently
kidnapped Senator Ingrid Betancourt was the point-person
for the other side, staking her career in alliance with the U.S.
campaign against Samper, even writing one of her self-praising
books about it, titled, "He Knew It."
A reader who simply browsed the recent
headlines of the U.S. press could get the impression that it
was Senator Betancourt - the Paris-educated English-speaking
daughter of the Colombian oligarchy and darling of the U.S. media
- and not Senator Daniels who had been assassinated last week.
That may, in fact, have been the intent
of Daniel's murderers: to further muddy the waters of the already
murky Betancourt story, as part of the ongoing disinformation
campaign against the FARC.
"We have entered the phase of the
political isolation of the guerrilla," author Heinz Dieterich
told yesterday's gathering in Mexico City. "Political isolation
is a military strategy."
6 p.m. on Saturday, the first press reports
about Daniels' assassination in Colombia were reported on the
daily El Tiempo's website:
"The authorities said that they have no information about
the possible perpetrators of the assassination of the legislator."
But immediately, the spin machines of
Washington and Bogotá didn't let the facts get in the
way of blaming the FARC. In addition to AP's quoting of a Colombia
police official pointing toward the FARC, President Andrés
Pastrana and former president César Gaviria, from Washington,
pounced to try and place blame.
From Washington, the president of the
Organization of American States, César Gaviria (imposed
on the OAS by Washington as a sinecure and reward for his reliability
as an obedient servant to U.S. policies), was one of the first
to jump on the story. He sent out a press release: "The
death of Martha Catalina Daniels is another hit for Colombia
and democracy. This new act of violence lets the world see that
for these groups there is no respect for human life."
Pastrana went even further with his innuendo
against the FARC, as reported by the Spanish news agency EFE
and the French news agency AFP, which have both been more honest
than Reuters, AP or the New York Times in covering the
"Investigators are also looking into
the possibility that common criminals had been working out the
terms of a ransom payment for the abductees, some newspapers
have said," reported EFE yesterday. "Pastrana, however,
was quick to blame 'violent groups,' who want to bring the country
under their control 'through their acts of cruelty and demented
According to EFE, Pastrana even used the
assassination of Daniels, one of his political opponents, in
a cheap electioneering strategy for legislative elections to
be held this Sunday: "Pastrana called on his countrymen
to condemn the perpetrators of attacks on democracy 'by voting
massively for the most capable and honest candidates in the upcoming
EFE followed up today with a report titled
"Unclear whether FARC or common criminals killed senator."
authorities are not ruling out Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia (FARC) guerrillas as suspects in the murder of Sen.
Marta Catalina Daniels and two companions, but they are also
investigating the possibility that common criminals are behind
Even Colombia's Attorney General seems
to be backing off his claim that audiotapes of alleged guerrilla
radio communications (officials often cite alleged tapes, but
never share them with the press or public, as in the case of
the alleged Irishmen in FARC territory last year, in which the
"tapes" have disappeared).
"This is a hypothesis that we are
working with," Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio told
last night. "But, in all ways, the complexity of the matter
impedes us, at this moment, from making any declaration."
According to El Espectador today:
"'We have clues that lead toward
different conclusions,' added Osorio, in an allusion to the eventual
implication of the FARC or common delinquents, which are the
possibilities that police and judicial authorities are working
with. However, Osorio recognized that the assassination of members
of Congress contradicts the policy of the FARC to kidnap political
leaders to exchange them for guerrillas held prisoner."
has been caught before in blaming murders
on the FARC that were later revealed to have been committed by
paramilitaries or common criminals.
As reported by a Narco News press briefing in September 2000 (scroll down to last item),
a biography of Colombian General Jose Serrano, likely to be the
next United Nations drug czar, reveals that Pastrana and Serrano
both blamed the FARC even as Serrano privately told his staff
that the FARC had not perpetrated a "necklace bombing"
of a farmer.
"There also appears
the history about the "pressures" that he (Serrano)
received to state that the necklace-bomb that killed a farmer
woman from Boyaca had been the work of the FARC when the general
knew that, in reality, it was not done by the guerrilla.
"The first ones to
be surprised by the accusations of the general were his own most
trusted advisors, who had already told him that there was no
evidence that the guerrilla had done it and that all the evidence
pointed to common criminals.
When Colombian and U.S. officials have
been caught time and time again in blaming crimes on the FARC
that later turned out to have been perpetrated by common criminals,
paramilitaries and even Colombian police and military officials,
authentic journalists should be skeptical of the election-driven
campaign underway to blame the FARC for the Daniels assassination.
Pastrana continues to try and link his
nation's Civil War with the U.S. "war on terrorism."
Last week he compared the FARC to Al-Quaida, and referred to
the Daniels assassination as "a terrorist act."
"When they say we are terrorists,"
FARC spokesman Marco León Calarcá told the 600
international delegates yesterday in Mexico City, "we urge
you to erase that word 'terrorism' and put 'self-determination'
in its place. People have a right to rebel. 'Terrorism' is currently
in fashion as an excuse. But last year, more than 150 union leaders
were assassinated in Colombia for engaging in legal struggle.
In defense of these popular movements, we must rise up. The violence
is the responsibility of the governments, the State, and the
to the press: At minimum, all of the
aforementioned news organizations were duty bound, when they
accused an organization of political assassination, to seek comment
from the accused.
Where were they yesterday, in Mexico City,
when they had the opportunity?
Where is the correction owed by AP, Reuters,
the New York Times of their reports?
In a conflict between two clearly defined
parties - the FARC and the State - where is the media's commitment
to seek both sides of the story?
Where is the press?
Narco News Publisher
Al Giordano reports from Mexico City this week from the International
Solidarity Gathering for Peace in Colombia, now in its second
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