by Lucy Komisar
American Reporter Correspondent
New York, N.Y.
November 29, 2002
NEW YORK -- Colombian journalist Ignacio Gomez told a roomful of America's most influential journalists Tuesday how Washington-supported Colombian president Alvaro Uribe is connected to drug traffickers and how U.S. military trainers helped organize a massacre in his country.
Among the 1,000 guests at the Committee to Protect Journalists' annual dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria grand ballroom were NBC's Tom Brokaw, CBS's Dan Rather, Time-Warner's Walter Isaacson, Reuters CEO Thomas Glocer and executives and reporters from the nation's major tv networks, newspapers and newsmagazines.
Gomez, 40, has twice gone into exile after death threats. The media "stars" applauded him for his courage. But did they put his revelations into print or on air? If you didn't see the stories he recounted in the American press, don't be surprised.
As they do every year at the CPJ event, "leading" U.S. journalists lauded the courage of people chancing death for telling the truth, but continue to pull punches in their own news organizations for fear of endangering their multi-million-dollar salaries.
Here's more of what Gomez unveiled for colleagues.
After he investigated a 1997 massacre in Mapiripan, in which 67 people were decapitated, Gomez reported in 2000 that the Colombian military officer accused of masterminding the crime had been accompanied "at all times" by a dozen U.S. military trainers. He also linked the massacre to paramilitary leader Carlos Castano.
Gomez has written frequently about the role of Colombian military and paramilitary in massacres though Washington downplays their connection. Several months after the report was published in the Bogota daily El Espectator, Gomez was almost kidnapped while entering a taxi. He was forced into exile.
Last year, as director of investigations for a public affairs television show "Noticias Uno," he reported that U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had discovered an airplane belonging to then-presidential candidate Alvaro Uribe and his brother at a drug lab belonging to the Medellin cartel.
Uribe, eschewing peace talks in favor of a military response to Colombian rebels - something the Bush administration wants - suffered no Washington displeasure. But Gomez and the station news director got death threats, and Uribe declared ominously that "a free press is one thing, and a press at the service of ... shady deals is something else."
As he accepted the CPJ award, Gomez told the audience that "Colombian journalists first exposed the corruption of the war on drugs, but because of an information monopoly tied to the current government, truth is dying in Colombia. We are no longer allowed to be heard." He said that one of the two national papers and 23 tv news shows had been shut down.
"The picture of war," Gomez said, "is getting blurry - and Americans, whose taxes and whose drug consumption fuel this war, should be concerned." He said that seeing the audience, he felt Colombians were not alone, that they could "still prevail against the powerful forces who want to keep us mute."
Brokaw, Rather, Isaacson and other media chiefs readily showed up, in black tie, to support the CPJ fundraiser, and their conscience money is needed. But their commitment might be taken more seriously if they stopped being "mute" in print and on air about stories - by Gomez and others - that challenge U.S. policy and actions in Colombia.