Friday links Para-Politics on the ropes
Aug 182008

It is hard to follow Colombia for any period of time without coming across, and enjoying, the books of Alfredo Molano. A journalist who has traveled to the farthest corners of his country, Molano has published several hugely compelling oral histories of violence, injustice, and the struggle to survive in the largely unseen “other” Colombia. He publishes a popular column in the Sunday edition of Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper.

I count six of Molano’s books on my shelf, and have had the pleasure of meeting him – and learning a lot from him – twice in Bogota. So I’m especially disturbed that he is facing criminal charges brought by a wealthy provincial family, whose members are trying to force him to retract a February 2007 column that does not even mention any of them by name.

The Colombia Support Network, which is seeking signatures for a letter of support for Molano, explains:

On February 24, 2007 well-known Colombian sociologist and journalist Alfredo Molano-Bravo wrote in his weekly column in the newspaper El Espectador an article entitled “Araujos et al”. In it he drew upon his personal experiences in Cesar Department and its capital city, Valledupar, where he had worked in INCORA, the Colombian government ‘s land reform agency, and later visited collecting oral testimony of regional history. After referring to the Araujo families of Valledupar and Cartagena as operators of haciendas and commercial businesses and as occupants of public offices, Molano described a series of unlawful, immoral actions which he ascribed to the “Notables” of Valledupar, including contraband in coffee, cattle and marijuana; using notary services by relatives to obtain lands in their names; stealing land from the indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada region; and procuring votes in their favor by transporting indigenous peoples to the polls, giving them liquor and then abandoning them after receiving their votes.

Molano did not identify the “Notables” as members of the Araujo family and made no charge against any member of the Araujo family for the activities of the “Notables”. It should be observed, however, that former Senator and Minister of Agriculture Alfredo Araujo Noguera, accused of kidnapping one candidate to favor the election of his son, Alvaro Araujo-Castro, is a fugitive from justice, while his son Alvaro is in prison accused of using illegal paramilitaries to pressure people to vote for him.

When members of the Araujo family complained to the Attorney General’s office that Molano had accused them of committing crimes, a staff attorney of the office, Maria Cecilia Cadena-Lleras, met with the Araujos and Molano. She interpreted the description of misdeeds by the “Notables” to refer directly to the Araujo family of Valledupar, though nowhere do the words of Molano make that connection. When Molano refused a proposal by the Araujos that he show them a response for their appoval before publication–essentially prior censorship– he refused. He asked for three months to respond to the charges and substantiate his position. However, Ms. Cadena instead formulated criminal charges against him for falsely imputing dishonorable conduct to the Araujo family, violating their right to a good name and privacy, and libeling them, causing intangible harm to the good name, honor and dignity of each of the members of the Araujo family of Valledupar–none of whom he specifically named in his article.

For more information, visit the CSN site, the Spanish-language blog Todos Somos Molano (”We are all Molano”), and read this excerpted translation of Antonio Caballero’s column in Sunday’s edition of Semana magazine.

A Judicial Papering-Over
By Antonio Caballero, Semana magazine, August 16, 2008

I ask: Why, when García Márquez wrote Mama Grande’s Funerals, why didn’t the “notables” of the Caribbean coast sue him for slander and libel? Why, when Escalona wrote Admiral Padilla, did the Socorrás family not bring him before a judge for saying that their relative Tite made a living by smuggling?

A year and a half ago, Alfredo Molano published in El Espectador an article titled “Araújos et al,” telling of how the provincial notables behave in this country: how they manage their haciendas, politics, business, beauty contests and also the justice system.

One column that was, let’s say, folkloric. And several young members of Valledupar’s Araújo family – themselves still not very notable but certainly members by blood of the coastal notability – added an equally folkloric endnote to his column, hitting Molano with a lawsuit that is running its course before the 4th Municipal Penal Court of the Bogotá circuit. Last December there was a conciliation hearing, in which the journalist refused to retract his words, since “this would place a bad precedent for freedom of the press” justifying his censure. The plaintiffs persisted with the case. …

Molano, faced with the judicial onslaught from the young Araújos, has not wanted to retract what he wrote in his article. He is right. Molano is the great chronicler of a country that has been torn up by the local notables’ outrages, which he has described in a dozen books and hundreds of press articles. A chronicler cannot allow them to gag him judicially when he is describing, literally, the reality that surrounds him. He cannot allow himself to be silenced, because to speak is his essence. …

As Albert Camus said in his speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize for literature: “The writer cannot put himself today in the service of those who make history; he is at the service of those who suffer it.”

They are papering over Molano for being loyal to his role as a writer.

7 Responses to “Defend Alfredo Molano”

  1. boz Says:

    I agree with the general issue above. Molano should not be facing criminal charges.

    A more process oriented question: Is it really right to ask President Uribe to weigh in on this case? If a goal is to have a prosecutor’s office independent of pressures from the executive branch, a letter like this may appear to undermine that goal. I realize that the letter is only asking for a “statement in solidarity,” but a similar “statement” in a trial related to the para-political scandal or Yidis-gate would likely be criticized as interference by some.

    I realize I’m just being difficult in asking about this theoretical issue, but I think it’s a question worth asking. Why is it ok to ask Uribe to weigh in on this case if it’s considered “interference” if he weighs in on other cases? Shouldn’t there be one standard for how we want the president to act with regards to ongoing criminal cases?

  2. Jaime Bustos Says:

    In a broad sense, I agree with boz proposal: Mr Uribe should stick to his circus show. In this particular case, however, Mr Uribe is a very close friend of the family suing Molano, for which, for practical reasons, it’s not difficult to understand why Mr. Molano’s friends feel compelled to address him for mediation.

  3. Chris Says:

    On another note, Molano is now recieving more publicity that will attract curious men & women to read his work…

  4. Adam Isacson Says:

    I’ll leave it to the CSN to explain their choice of directing the letter to Uribe. In my view it probably would have made more sense to direct it to the country’s chief prosecutor, Mario Iguarán.

  5. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Adam, I agree that sending a letter to Mr. Uribe, being aware of who he is, is pointless. But sending it to Mario Iguarán would be comical.


  6. Louis Esparza Says:

    Molano’s “The Dispossessed” is a favorite in my Sociology of Latin America class. He writes in an extremely compelling and acessible manner, letting the stories do all the work. He is nothing short of inspirational and has certainly made my work a lot easier.

    Another pillar of Colombian Sociology, Orlando Fals Borda, died recently and also deserves some attention for the infrastructure he has built for the professional left in Colombia.

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