Issue # 19 Sign Up for Free Mailing List

March 25, 2002

Presidential Candidate Alvaro Uribe's Newsweek Interview

(above) and Narco News Reports Explode in Colombia

Narco News '02

Alvaro Uribe

vs. the Press

Facts Reported by Narco News & Newsweek
Explode in Colombian Presidential Debate

Colombian Journalist Who Reported Uribe's
Narco-History Threatened with Assassination

Journalist Fernando Garavito:
Now in Exile in the United States

Uribe: "You have come here
to smear my political career"

By Al Giordano

Part II of a Narco News Investigative Report

Ya, en Español: Uribe vs. La Prensa

Miss Part I of this series? Click Here

On March 19th, the day that Narco News and the March 25th issue of Newsweek published stories reporting the narco-history of Colombian presidential candidate Alvaro Uribe (See Narco-Candidate in Colombia, March 19, 2002 and "I Have Been Honorable," the Newsweek interview with Uribe, March 25, 2002), a presidential debate was held in Bogotá with the five candidates and a panel of journalists.

Narco News reported information verbatim from U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration documents that the DEA had seized 50,000 kilos of potassium permanganate - a necessary chemical in the production of cocaine - in 1997 and 1998 destined for a company owned by Uribe's campaign manager Pedro Juan Moreno Villa.

Mr. Moreno's unreported shipments of what the DEA calls a List II Controlled Substance constituted a volume sufficient to make half-a-million kilos of cocaine hydrochloride, with a street value of $15 billion US dollars. Because potassium permanganate is not produced in South America, where the coca leaf grows on trees, whomever controls the chemical's market in Colombia thus controls the cocaine trade. DEA chief Donnie Marshall noted in an August 3, 2001 DEA document that Mr. Moreno's company, GMP Chemical Products, was the single largest importer of the chemical from 1994 to 1998, roughly the same years that Uribe was governor of the state of Antioquia and Moreno was his chief of staff.

That official document exploded like a bomb in Colombia this week.

Rafael Santos, the representative of the daily El Tiempo on the debate panel, asked Uribe this question:

"Doctor Uribe, at the end of your interview with the prestigious magazine Newsweek you said there was a campaign of disinformation against you. Was the irritability you showed with the magazine reporter a gimmick to sidestep the debate about your very controversial positions such as your defense of the CONVIVIR (paramilitary squads), your participation in the homage to General Fernando Millán, your friendship with César Villegas or your 'case closed' defense of someone close to you like Pedro Juan Moreno? Shouldn't the country have a president with the character of one who has the lucid serenity to clear the air over any doubts about his past?"

Uribe's response:

"I have always answered everything the people have asked me through the media, with the microphones turned on and available to public scrutiny.

"The interview by the Newsweek editor was to offend me, to judge me. There came a moment in which I told him: Look, Sir, I cannot answer more questions.

"I have answered on all the issues including what you have asked me for many years. The Attorney General and Comptroller of the Nation have examined some of them. They have always absolved me."

Reporter Juan Gossaín, a debate panelist, then asked Uribe:

"The columnist María Isabel Rueda says that you have a bad image abroad, a black legend, and she counsels you to travel and confront it. Are you disposed to do that?"

Uribe Responded:

"I have always done that. I also want to say this night to the national community that my security program has generated a lot of controversy. They have used all the elements of dirty warfare to confront it. My security policy for the Colombian people has no retreat. To the international community, I want to say that this security policy will be conducted with all firmness, but with transparency. There will be security for the Colombian people, recuperating human rights."

The Newsweek Interview:
"We have nothing to discuss"

For a glimpse of what a narco-candidate like Alvaro Uribe considers as "transparency," consider the following verbatim text from an interview by Newsweek correspondent Joseph Contreras with the embattled presidential frontrunner, with additional analysis provided by Narco News:

Newsweek: In 1997 and 1998, agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA] seized 50,000 kilos of a chemical precursor used in the processing of cocaine. Those chemicals had been allegedly purchased by a company belonging to Pedro Juan Moreno, who served as your cabinet chief when you were governor of Antioquia.

Uribe: I became aware of that only after my term as governor ended. If the charges are true, he should go to jail. If they are groundless, the DEA should rectify that error. I believe that an error was made in his case.

Narco News Publisher's Note: Moreno, the trafficker of chemicals that produce cocaine, the man that many Colombians are calling the future Montesinos of Colombia, remains at the helm of Uribe's campaign today.

Newsweek: According to a best-selling book about the drug trade entitled "The Jockeys of Cocaine," you spoke out on behalf of a low-income housing program in Medellin that was funded by drug lord Pablo Escobar when you were mayor of that city in 1982...

Uribe: I asked the attorney general's office to investigate that matter, and I was completely cleared of those charges. That housing program was well underway when I became mayor. I had nothing to do with that.

Narco News Publisher's Note: The charge was that Uribe personally presided over the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Houses that Escobar Built after he became mayor. Uribe's answer obfuscates in such a manner as to confirm the original accusation.

Newsweek: Well-informed sources say that a record number of pilot's licenses and airstrip construction permits were issued by the civil-aviation authority when you headed that agency in the 1980s, a period when drug trafficking was on the rise...

Uribe: Let's not talk further. I see that you have come here to smear my political career.

Newsweek: Your deputy at the aviation authority was a man named Cesar Villegas, later sentenced to five years in prison for his links to the Cali cartel and murdered earlier this month...

Uribe: I refuse to accept that you foreign correspondents come here to ask me these kinds of questions and repeat slanders made against me. All I say is this: as a politician, I have been honorable and accountable. We have nothing else to discuss.

This same week, the world saw a clear example of how Uribe and his supporters "discuss" the facts with domestic journalists in Colombia.

Colombian Journo Flees
Country After Threats

Foreign journalists don't get their questions answered, but domestic journalists who critique Uribe are not allowed to live in peace - or live, period.

Last week, Narco News reported that El Espectador columnist Fernando Garavito was the first journalist to break the news about Uribe, the candidate of the narco.

Within days, Garavito was forced to leave the country as a direct result of threats stemming from his reporting about Uribe. He is now, according to the news agencies El Espectador, EFE, AP and the Miami Herald, in exile in the United States.

The Spanish news agency EFE reported on Thursday:

Colombian journalist Fernando Garavito, a columnist for the weekly El Espectador, said Friday that he had been forced to flee to the United States after receiving death threats.

Garavito, whose pen name is Juan Mosca, has been very critical both of President Andres Pastrana and of dissident Liberal candidate Alvaro Uribe Velez, whom the polls show as the favorite to win the May 26 presidential elections.

The columnist decided to leave Bogota after two unknown individuals claiming to be members of a non-governmental organization made inquiries at the University of Sergio Arboleda about his teaching schedule.

Garavito is the latest in a long line of Colombian journalists forced into exile, a phenomenon that has caused a serious "brain drain" on Colombian journalism and thus allows a narco-candidate like Uribe to escape real scrutiny at home. Uribe's complaints about "foreign journalists" must be analyzed in the context that he is partly responsible for the forced exile of Colombia's best domestic journalists to foreign lands.

31 Journos Assassinated
Under Narco-State's Watch

Enrique Santos Calderón, codirector of the Colombian daily El Tiempo, told a gathering of journalists in Bogotá last week that, "In almost every case of a dead colleague, there is the stamp of impunity," meaning that the assassins know full well that the Colombian government, which benefits from their dirty work, will do nothing to apprehend the journo-killers. He said that in 31 cases of journalists assassinated in Colombia "not a single intellectual author of the crime has been captured."

According to El Tiempo's coverage of last week's meeting of the World Association of Newspapers in the Colombian capital, "María Teresa Ronderos, of the Foundation for Freedom of the Press, recalled that twenty reporters have had to leave the country in the past year. Fidel Cano, director of El Espectador referred to the case of columnist Fernando Garavito, who had leave the country due to threats against him, and said, 'In Colombia, it is impossible to stop the bullets when free ideas are discussed.'"

Authentic Journalist
Fernando Garavito

Through the daily El Espectador, where his column appears, Fernando Garavito spoke on Saturday from exile. His newspaper described him as "an ironclad critic of presidential candidate Alvaro Uribe" who "left the country after being threatened with death by unknown persons."

"In this country the dark forces that don't want peace persist, but from exile I will continue writing my column for El Espectador because it is a commitment I have to the country," Garavito declared from the United States.

"With 40 journalists killed in the past 10 years, another 50 kidnapped in the past three years, and nearly thirty forced into exile, Colombia holds the record of violence in all categories," according to Reporters Without Borders' 2001 annual report.

Unable to brand the Colombian born Garavito as a "foreign journalist," Uribe instead called Garavito to a meeting last week and made a big show of calling for the Colombian government to protect his journalistic critic, when, as stated above by Enrique Santos Calderón, the government has already proven itself useless in the protection of journalists' lives. Uribe's cynical call was akin to asking the proverbial fox to protect the livestock.

After meeting with Uribe, the columnist Fernando Garavito thought it wiser to leave his country.

Garavito thus joins the ranks of authentic journalist Alfredo Molano, another critic of the right-wing paramilitary death squads forced to leave his homeland. Molano was interviewed in Barcelona, in July 2000 by Narco News about The Hidden Agendas Behind Plan Colombia.

Narco News informs the United States government, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Ambassador Anne Patterson in Colombia that we hold them personally responsible for the safety of journalist Fernando Garavito and other Uribe critics both within, and outside, of U.S. borders. Due to the economic weight of Plan Colombia's billions and an intense intelligence apparatus, U.S. officials have absolute control over the Colombian government, its paramilitary organizations, and the Uribe campaign that Washington continues to support.

This is not merely a rhetorical call: The U.S. Departments of State, Justice and Defense each subscribe, openly, to The Narco News Bulletin's free mailing list. We allow them to subscribe gratis just like any other citizen precisely for moments of moral crisis like this one, in which they must be held accountable for the consequences of their actions or inactions.

Uribe Lets His Fist
Do the Talking

Newsweek's Contreras reported, in an article accompanying the Uribe interview, "there is a whiff of the arrogant about Uribe that surfaces from time to time. In his book about the Colombian drug trade, 'Whitewash,' British journalist Simon Strong recounts a 1994 interview with the then senator that turned sour when the reporter asked a question about one of Uribe's political proteges who had once enjoyed the backing of the late drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. According to Strong, the senator stormed out of the Bogota restaurant where the meeting was taking place. When Strong later emerged, the journalist encountered a belligerent Uribe waiting for him outside, surrounded by bodyguards as he waved his fist in front of Strong's nose and challenged him to resume the interview (in his interview with NEWSWEEK, Uribe said he has never 'intimidated' or 'threatened' any journalist).

"The thin-skinned politician apparently hasn't mellowed with time," reports Newsweek. "Uribe personally phoned the Bogota correspondent, Gonzalo Guillen, of Miami's Spanish-language newspaper El Nuevo Herald, two weeks ago to complain about his investigation of Uribe's past ties to the notorious Ochoa clan. The Ochoas were major players in Escobar's Medellin cartel during its heyday, and Uribe has acknowledged his father's long friendship with the recently deceased patriarch Fabio Ochoa, but Uribe maintains he parted ways with Fabio's sons many years ago. Nevertheless, Uribe didn't appreciate Guillen's inquiries and made his displeasure known by pointedly asking whether the journalist lived in Bogota or Miami."

We urge readers and colleagues in journalism to pay close attention to the two step process of avoiding press scrutiny inherent in Uribe's strategy: First exile the best reporters from Colombia, then claim that only reporters still inside the nation's borders can have their questions answered.

Al Giordano, journalist, reports on the drug war from Latin America.

See Part I of This Series:

Narco-Candidate in Colombia

Next: Part III in the Series...

Uribe's VP Candidate Francisco Santos & the

Corruption of "Revolving Door Journalism"

for more Narco News, click here

The Fourth Estate Confronts The Narco-State