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El Nuevo Herald reporter Gerardo Reyes.

El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language sister paper of The Miami Herald, has performed some of the most aggressive investigative reporting about narcotraffickers’ and paramilitaries’ power in Colombia. While its editorial board has been fiercely supportive of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, the rest of the paper has worked assiduously to reveal uncomfortable truths about Uribe, his associations, and his past as a rising politician in cartel-dominated 1980s Medellín.

Most of this is the work of two veteran El Nuevo Herald reporters, Gerardo Reyes and Gonzalo Guillén. Both are Colombian. In part because they are associated with a U.S.-based newspaper whose editors give them backing, they have been able to carry out investigations into topics that most Colombian journalists would find very uncomfortable.

The work of both reveals a deep suspicion about Álvaro Uribe’s background. “Bombs are exploding all around Uribe and some shrapnel has hit him,” Reyes told the Colombian newsmagazine Cambio in November. “But there is nothing strong enough to place his credibility in question. Since no direct link with the paramilitaries has so far been demonstrated, the United States has not begun to exert pressure.”

Guillén, meanwhile, has probed more deeply into President Uribe’s past than almost any other reporter, including allegations that, upon his father’s murder by FARC guerrillas in 1983, Uribe tried to reach the zone in a helicopter belonging to Pablo Escobar. These investigations attracted Uribe’s notice, according to an October article in the Miami New Times weekly.

In 2003, he says, he received an unexpected call from the president. “He said he had copies of several e-mails that I had sent to people and that he didn’t like the investigation I was doing,” Guillén remembers. “People from the [American] embassy that I knew told me these calls were really threatening and dangerous. And a secretary of the government named Moreno told me that I was really in danger.”

Reyes, who works out of Miami, has broken many stories about paramilitary groups’ infiltration of Colombia’s state, implicating many officials close to Uribe. He is one of few reporters to have interviewed Rafael García, a jailed former official of the presidential intelligence service, the DAS. García has become a star witness in several so-called “para-politics” criminal investigations, including one against his former boss, Jorge Noguera, who allegedly worked closely with top paramilitary leaders while heading Uribe’s DAS for over three years. The New Times recounts an April 2007 confrontation between President Uribe and Reyes.

In April, speaking before journalists from around the world at the Ritz-Carlton in Coconut Grove, Uribe castigated Guillén’s colleague, El Nuevo Herald investigative reporter Gerardo Reyes, for asking about the paramilitary ties.

The scene was otherworldly weird, Reyes says — a president who follows the press too closely. “He began reciting each story I had written,” Reyes recalls. “He was furious, and he was looking right at me. Everyone turned around to look. It was very uncomfortable.”

In May of this year, Guillén raised the stakes, publishing a book, Pablo Escobar’s Confidants, alleging that the Uribe family had links to the drug trade. This clearly enraged President Uribe, who singled out Guillén in October when Pablo Escobar’s ex-girlfriend, Virginia Vallejo, published a separate book including allegations that Escobar was quite fond of the young Uribe.

On October 2, Uribe told a Bogotá radio program, “Behind this woman [Vallejo] is Gonzalo Guillén, who has dedicated his journalistic career to slander and lies.” Guillén, who said he had not even read Vallejo’s book, was forced to leave Colombia after receiving about two dozen threats and having one of his two DAS bodyguards inexplicably removed.

“I got a call at my home … a guy said, ‘We can kill you,’” Guillén told the Miami New Times. “Then the threats started coming fast. Five calls at my home, e-mails, 24 death threats in 48 hours. I was afraid for me, for my family. I left the country in a sprint.”

The Miami Herald editorial board’s response was surprisingly tepid, avoiding strong criticism of Uribe’s actions even though his words endangered one of the paper’s reporters.

President Alvaro Uribe’s recent comments about journalist Gonzalo Guillén strike … a dissonant chord. The president’s words have impact, and they can have devastating consequences. … Mr. Uribe should be careful to avoid remarks that might increase that risk.

On Sunday, though, the El Nuevo Herald reporters themselves showed that they have not been deterred.

In a detailed article, Gerardo Reyes revealed new details about the 1984 murder of Colombian Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, a crime that was ordered by drug lord Pablo Escobar. Lara Bonilla had publicly denounced Escobar, who was then an alternate member of Colombia’s Congress, and helped oversee the security forces’ takedown of an enormous cocaine lab in Caquetá called “Tranquilandia.” Mark Bowden asserted in his 2001 book Killing Pablo that Lara Bonilla’s murder is what finally caused a majority of Colombians to view the country’s newly rich drug lords as a threat.

In Sunday’s paper, Reyes reveals some sworn testimony that Lara Bonilla’s sister gave at the time – testimony that mentions Álvaro Uribe, then an up-and-coming Medellín politician, and his father Alberto Uribe Sierra, who had been killed by FARC guerrillas a year earlier.

The statement, given in July 1984 following Lara Bonilla’s death, suggests the ex-minister believed that [Alberto] Uribe Sierra might be tied to the world of narcotrafficking, because he had discovered a helicopter belonging to him while carrying out a gigantic search of a cocaine processing laboratory in the south of the country, in a place known as Tranquilandia.

“He said that Tranquilandia was very serious and compromised people who were very important in the country’s politics, that the helicopter they had found at Tranquilandia belonged to Álvaro Uribe Vélez’s father,” the minister’s sister, Cecilia Lara Bonilla, declared that year. “It was then that he said to me, in that moment: ‘The mafia has entered into all of the country’s institutions, not just politics but the economy too.’” …

“I believe that he [Lara Bonilla] did have many doubts about [Alvaro] Uribe (Vélez). He did not express them clearly,” Cecilia said in a telephone conversation with El Nuevo Herald.

Reyes’ article forced the resignation on Tuesday of Rodrigo Lara Restrepo, the murdered justice minister’s 31-year-old son, who was serving as the Uribe government’s “anti-corruption czar” (widely regarded to be a rather thankless job).

The Colombian government responded to Reyes’ latest article with a letter to El Nuevo Herald presenting proof that Uribe’s father’s estate had sold the helicopter before it was found at Tranquilandia. The letter, noting that “on repeated occasions one of your reporters has tried to stain the honor of the President of Colombia,” scolds: “Colombia cannot be tied down in a cyclical debate with individuals determined to discredit it and to slander its legitimate authorities.”

Reyes’ article, however, had acknowledged the helicopter’s earlier sale, noting that no formal record of the property transfer exists. It goes on to cite two sources claiming that the helicopter’s new owner was a close associate of Medellín cartel figures Fabio Ochoa and Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha.

Meanwhile, Gonzalo Guill̩n is back in Colombia as of earlier this month Рand he is already receiving threats again. This story is far from over.

18 Responses to “Álvaro Uribe vs. El Nuevo Herald”

  1. jcg Says:

    In spite of everything else I’ve written about this matter in the comments section of this blog….I still believe that the Herald and its reporters have the right to continue their investigative work, regardless of the subjects and individuals involved, and shouldn’t be subject to such threats,which can (but shouldn’t) definitely place their lives in danger.

    It’s one thing to criticize or question the contents of their investigations and news articles. That should always be done, and is absolutely necessary. Their articles are not immune to replies, not all of which need to be favorable or even formally respectful.

    But to send death threats or, alternatively, to make completely aggressive and irresponsible public statements such as those a certain President has made, is something else entirely than mere “disrespect”. That is something dangerous which deserves to be repeatedly denounced, in and outside of Colombia.

    Whether the accusations and implications in those news articles are 100%, 90%, 75%, 50% or 25% correct changes nothing.

    Uribe’s reactions have been completely out of line. Even if it turns out he doesn’t have anything to do with the threats per se, I believe his words do make him morally and politically co-responsible for their consequences (which, I sincerely hope, are not ultimately deadly).

    I don’t know what may be the other judicial responsibilities involved, but if they apply as well, so be it.

    But clearly, if Uribe is ever proven to be directly and undeniably responsible for those threats, then he should rot in a cell ASAP. I hope that is not the case, just as I hope that the consequences for the reporters are not fatal.

  2. Global Voices Online » Colombia: El Nuevo Herald and Uribe Says:

    [...] Colombia and Beyond writes about investigative journalism written by reporters from El Nuevo Herald about Colombian president Álvaro Uribe. Share [...]

  3. Camilla Says:

    I like Reyes. He’s the one who exposed Hugo Chavez’s phony polling firms by knocking on doors in Miami. He discovered that Chavez’s North American Research group was a Venezuelan government front in a shingle operation.

    But I don’t give this column credibility. If you go back and read Elaine Shannon’s 1988 Desperados, which had very thorough reporting on the Tranquilandia raid, you will see that by the time that raid took place, Escobar was all mobbed up with the FARC. None of the Uribes have ever been involved with FARC and Uribe senior was killed by FARC in 1983, before the raid, and before he could transfer title deed for the chopper. He was killed by these people, it’s absurd to think he was friends with them.

  4. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Camilito, that you like Mr Reyes does not speak good of him. You had rather stick to your nonsensical impulsive recriminations and leave alone Uribe’s turbid past exposers. :mrgreen:

  5. Camilla Says:

    Miss Jaime, President Uribe has issued another Comunicado about this Reyes issue. Reyes botched the job and Uribe explained exactly why, credibly as always. Uribe shouldn’t be lied about. Uribe is innocent.

    http://web.presidencia.gov.co/sp/2007/diciembre/15/04152007.html

  6. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Not quite so, caramelito, open this link, click the proves on the right, read them and weep. :roll:

  7. jcg Says:

    Jaime: What Coronell says, in essence, is that *half* of the helicopter still legally belonged to Uribe *and* his brothers (more than one, though I don’t know how many), because the handover to a third party had apparently not been legalized, independently of whether it in fact occurred or not.

    How that conclusion can be further interpreted, judicially or otherwise, is another matter.

  8. Jaime Bustos Says:

    jcf, for future reference. Other than their sister, the family siblings were the now president, alias “El Salgareño”, and his brothers Jaime Alberto, alias “El Pecoso”, and Santiago, alias “El Carepapa” :|

    P.S. errata. proofs for proves.

  9. Germán A. Quimbayo Says:

    Excellent review. For Uribe and friends, The New Herald and others which investigate his past (and present), are always agents of defamation for the “national dignity”. Very sad and disgusting.

  10. Pepe Says:

    Augusto Pinochet + Pablo Escobar = Alvaro Uribe

  11. jcg Says:

    Pepe: Not really, if you actually consider all that such an equation implies, but if thinking that makes you feel better…

  12. Mo Says:

    Camella: the amount and documentary reliability of papers and visual materials that day by day are released about Alvaro Uribe Vélez cannot be denied.

    As a matter of fact we know now that his father came from the rural town of Salgar, struggling with debt, to a middle class suburb of Medellín. In a matter of months, he was acquiring to his name enormous extensions of land in guerrilla-controlled provinces of Colombia, the property of many of them was later written in the name of the Medellin cartel Kingpins’ families. There is, by the way, no report that he won the lottery or inherited a fortune to support the sudden wealth of Alberto Uribe Sierra.

    Just recently the Colombian magazine Cambio published a picture of Uribe happily departing with members of the Grajales family, one of which, Raul Grajales, has for several years now been wanted in the State of Florida for money laundering, among other drug-trafficking related crimes. Although Raul Grajales, was allegedly apprehended, he is still under “house arrest”, despite his association with the Cali Drugs cartel and US Federal indictments.

    It may be true, as you say that there is no smoking gun directly relating Uribe to the Colombian industry of narcotraffic. It has to be remembered that within his family there are at least three notary publics (mainly in the family of his cousin, convicted Congressman Mario Uribe,) and that during Alvaro Uribe’s political career he has occupied key positions within Colombian Government Offices from which direct evidence could be corrupted or vanished -proof of this is that Colombian Civil Aeronautics Archive has been periodically and systematically destroyed after documents relative to expired licenses reach certain number of years.

    In any case, all the evidence gathered today, either circumstancial of by association of Alvaro Uribre Velez with very important figures of the Colombian Industry of Narcotraffic, including both the members of the Ochoa Clan -of which his own mother Laura Velez Ochoa was a cousin in the first degree, and Pablo Escobar, for whose events his father, and him personally, was a patron, currently fills thousands of documents and internet pages. If in doubt, google the words Medellin Cartel Alvaro Uribe Velez and you will find nearly one hundred thousand documents and articles related to these keywords.

  13. Camilla Says:

    Mo, I googled “Medellin Cartel” “Alvaro Uribe Velez” as you suggested and got 554 sources. Most were scurrilous sources of no journalistic repute or merit. Of the few news sources that reported allegations, all said that there was no certainty in what they were saying and that they were reporting rumors and anonymous accusations. If anything, the search just showed that the allegations against Uribe are totally unproven as well as the work of his enemies who hate him for his tough stance against FARC. Show me one reputable news source that can substantiate any of your claims.

  14. jcg Says:

    Mo: I have little desire to engage in essentially the same old debate at this time, or at least no so often, but I do have to say I don’t recall Mario Uribe being “convicted”. He is still currently under investigation as far as I can tell.

  15. Ricardo Cardenas Says:

    The premise of the problem has to be reframed. The premise is not if the chopper belonged to Uribe Sr. or Escobar. The premise is that Uribe Sr. and Escobar made a business transaction. Uribe Sr. received money from someone who, by the time, was already a known drug lord. it was drug money and he accepted it.

  16. Gloria Medina Says:

    Eso son puras habladurias, envidia talvez de Cesar Gaviria y sus compinches comunistas porque a el nadie lo quiere como queremos al presidente Uribe que hasta la presente lo esta haciendo bien, es el mejor presidente que ha tenido Colombia en los ultimos 20 anos. Que viva el presidente Uribe! y ojala acepte la nueva reeleccion, un presidente con los pantalones bien puestos, eso es lo que necesitamos para que el pais salga adelante.

  17. Isidoro Rodriguez, Esq. Says:

    Regarding the assuming away of accountability by the U.S. government for the reprehensible and criminal rape of a 12 year-old girl in Colombia, I note that in 1995 I argued and won in the U.S. Supreme Court, Martinez v. Lamagno and DEA, 515 U.S. 417 (1995). In that case under the Federal Tort Claims Act, then Deputy AG Eric Holder DOJ argued that there was no liability for the negligence of a DEA agent causing an accident while driving drunk and having sex.

    My subsequently civil litigation evidence a record of DOJ in collusion with judges in the Federal Judicial Branch to deny citizens and non-citizens access to both an impartial civil jury trial and court by surreally granting themselves absolute immunity for criminal and tortious acts, See, Isidoro Rodriguez, Esq. v. Ed.-in-Chief, Legal Times, et al., DC Ct. Of App. No. 07-5234 (Friedman, J.)(Beltway Lobbyist/Attorney Eric Holder argued that the government “absolutely immune for tortious and criminal acts of obstructing the rights of fathers (http://www.liamsdad.org/others/isidoro.shtml); see also, Isidoro Rodriguez, Esq. and Isidoro Rodriguez-Hazbun v. NCMEC, et al., D.C. No. 03-0120 (Roberts, J.) (see, http://home.earthlink.net/~isidoror).

    However, under our Constitution“[n]o man in this country is so high that he is above the law.” United States v. Lee, 106 U.S. 196, 220 (1882) (see, Federal criminal complaints filed on August 7, 2009, with the FBI and the AUSA in VA, D.C., CO, NY, and PA, http://home.earthlink.net/~malfeasance). This is because Democracies such as ours are precarious institutions. Therefore, constant vigilance by citizens must be maintained to preserve our Constitution from undue government encroachment permitted by the Judicial Branch on its limited power within or outside the USA. As Thomas Jefferson stated, “[t]he germ of destruction of our nation is in the power of the judiciary, an irresponsible body – working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall render powerless the checks of one branch over the other and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.”

    Thus, we must oppose the use of legal sophistry by attorneys in DOJ and judges to circumvent the limitations in the Constitution and the Rule of Law to make them unaccountable, since “[t]here is no crueler tyranny than that which is exercised under cover of law, and with the colors of justice. . . .”U.S. vs. Jannottie, 673 F.2d 578, 614 (3d Cir. 1982).

    It that context we must recall the sorry behavior of German judges and lawyers use of cronyism which did play a key part in allowing Hitler and the NAZI’s to power. History confirms that “[b]y the time the gas vans came and the human slaughter factories were built in Auschwitz and the other death camps, the murder of the six million Jews and other persecuted minorities was done completely within the framework of German law.” Yad Vshem, The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Remembrance Authority, 2004.

    Consequently, irrespective of what political party or persuasion, we as citizens must make certain that as a Nation we do not transform ourselves into legal tyrannies by permitting the legal profession to authorize unconscionable acts and then utilize cronyism to immunize government employees, attorneys, and judges from accountability for negligent and/or criminal acts outside of their scope of authority, judicial capacity, or jurisdiction.

    Isidoro Rodriguez, Esq.

  18. Tyler Says:

    It’s not necessary to google, if you guys need a document related to this look at The national security arrchive of the niversity of washigton they have declassified CIA document that everybody can see i’ll leave you this link http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB131/index.htm
    guess who is in hte list with the number 82.

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