Colombia’s Foundation for Freedom of the Press is Stuck in a Quagmire
For a long time, Ignacio Gomez has detested journalists who don’t share his ideas. He instituted an unwritten rule of segregation that, unfortunately, persists at Flip: defend left-wing journalists and turn a blind-eye to whatever befalls “right-wing”
By Eduardo Mackenzie
March 27, 2016
(Tra. Lia Fowler)
What can you say about a journalist who persecutes fellow journalists? One who uses his title as a director of a foundation “that protects journalists” to attack journalists who have had to flee the country due to government persecution? That is the sad case of Ignacio Gomez, a leader of Colombia’s Foundation for Freedom of the Press (Flip). In recent days, Gomez found himself in a muddy mess of his own making. From his Twitter account, Gomez rants like a maniac against Ricardo Puentes Melo, a journalist he defines as “right-wing.” He insults and even threatens Puentes. It’s not clear why. On March 26, Ignacio Gomez also launched two outlandish photomontages in which he depicts Ricardo Puentes as a terrorist – a jihadist of the Islamic State, no less. Has the charismatic director of Flip lost his mind? Is he trying to inspire some lunatic to try to murder Ricardo Puentes in his place of exile? Anything is possible. Whatever the case, Ignacio Gomez behaves with such hatred toward Ricardo Puentes, that he opens himself up to allegations of inciting violence.
For a long time, Ignacio Gomez has detested journalists who don’t share his ideas. He instituted an unwritten rule of segregation that, unfortunately, persists at Flip: defend left-wing journalists and turn a blind-eye to whatever befalls “right-wing” journalists. When the FARC seriously injured Fernando Londoño Hoyos, host of the radio news program La Hora de la Verdad, in an assassination attempt in Bogota on May 15, 2012, Flip didn’t lift a finger to demand that the terrorists
responsible be captured. Nor did Flip demand respect for freedom of expression or the right to criticize of those journalists opposed to the government. However, that assassination attempt was a message sent by FARC to all journalists: There will be no criticism of the so-called “peace process,” better described as the secret pacts that President Santos and top narco-terrorists are discussing in Havana.
Now Ignacio Gomez is suggesting that Ricardo Puentes, Director of the web-based news portal Periodismo Sin Fronteras, one of the best sources for journalism and freedom of expression in Colombia, and a staunch critic of the “peace process,” is a “criminal,” a “slanderer,” a “terrorist,” and the “creator of a judicial war.” Gomez concludes by saying he will “clean” Puentes.
The strange language used by Flip’s boss is that of a lowly rogue, worthy of El Chapo Guzman. Gomez masterfully makes baseless accusations and libelous statements. With these excesses, he insults the ethics of his profession and Flip itself. In so doing, he does not dishonor the journalist that is above such sinister tantrums, but the associations that defend journalists. How shameful for Flip to have a member of that caliber. An individual that despises other journalists so much cannot carry out his mandate honorably. Flip will have to disassociate itself from that raging lunatic if it wishes not to besmirch its image even further in Colombia and abroad.
Flip has “cooperation agreements and alliances” with similar non-governmental organizations in other countries and claims to be a “consulting member” of the Organization of American States. What will happen to those agreements when those organizations know that the pharaoh of Flip organized hate campaigns against other journalists?
It is unknown what particular bug bit Ignacio Gomez. The only clue is that, years ago, Ricardo Puentes, an investigative journalists living in exile due to the value of his revelations and his articles, exposed with irrefutable evidence the fraud perpetrated by former prosecutor Angela Maria Buitrago during the prosecution of retired Colonel Alfonso Plazas Vega. She introduced and even fabricated false evidence against a high-ranking officer to obtain a conviction. She got her conviction in a lower court, and in doing so she besmirched her peers, because that farce of a trial became the biggest judicial scandal in Colombia. The Supreme Court absolved Col. Plazas and ordered his release on December 16, 2015. But the damage had been done. Colonel Plazas was abused and mistreated and he spent eight and a half years unjustly imprisoned thanks to Angela Buitrago’s illegalities.
Years before the historic Court decision that demolished the ex-prosecutor’s case, other magistrates verified that she built her case with false evidence. Magistrate Judge Hermens Dario Lara requested she be investigated for it. In light of the horrific findings in this and other prosecutions, the Attorney General asked for her resignation. She currently has one or two open investigations against her for prosecutorial misconduct and falsifying evidence in Colombia. Now the foreign press is reporting that Angela Maria Buitrago also has problems in Mexico, which is where she landed after the scandal of her venal actions in the Plazas prosecution exploded.
She is a member, in fact, of the “Interdisciplinary group of independent experts” that is investigating the nefarious case of the disappearance of 43 students in Iguala (Guerrero). Today, that group is the subject of an investigation by Mexico’s Inspector General Jose Antonio Ortega Sanchez, for alleged fraud perpetrated by the group in the amount of $2 million, for lying, and for providing false satellite images related to the case. The professional careers of Angela Maria Buitrago as well as the other members of the group, are also the subject of investigative reporting in Mexico. News of Attorney General Ortega Sanchez’ decision to investigate Buitrago broke on March 24, and coincides with Ignacio Gomez’ hysterical rants against Puentes. This new attack against Puentes could be responding to ex-prosecutor Buitrago’s orders. That is something very serious, as it not only puts Puentes’ life in jeopardy, it reduces to nothing the guarantees of safety that all journalists in Colombia should have in doing their work. Colombia is going through a moment of great political tension. With the crisis of the “peace negotiations” and the discovery that the FARC are demanding concessions unacceptable to the country – which impeded the signing on March 23 of President Santos’ much-touted “final peace accord” – pressure on journalists and the press in general is increasing. The FARC does not want the public to become aware of what is happening with the negotiations. More than ever, journalists need non-governmental organizations that fight against censorship and defend freedom of expression and of the press, and defend the rights of journalists. What the Flip leader is doing betrays those objectives, weakens the guild, and reinforces totalitarian control.
Flip should explain why it has such close ties to the government. Each time a journalist receives death threats, the National Protection Unit (UNP) defers to Flip’s position on the subject, rather than conduct its own assessment. Flip decides whether the journalist does or doesn’t merit protection. Sometimes, Flip denies protection. What happened to Ricardo Puentes in 2013 proves it. Puentes had been assigned an official security detail, as he and his family had received numerous threats. One of his children even suffered a kidnapping attempt. What Ricardo Puentes has been subjected to for his journalistic work is well-documented. On October 4 of that year, however, the UNP withdrew his protection without notice. His security detail was suddenly called off in the middle of the street, at a moment in which the threats against him had intensified due to the investigations he had been publishing. And what did Flip do? Did it protest? No. On the contrary. When I went to file a complaint with Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Paris regarding the danger Ricardo Puentes was facing, a staff member at RSF said they would ask Flip to corroborate my information. Flip’s response was typical: Ricardo Puentes is a “right-wing” journalist. As a result, RSF declined to publish an alert to protect him. One month later, an unknown person, who refused to identify himself but claimed to be acting on orders of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare, tried to kidnap Puentes’ children. He was unsuccessful. Anette Tessmann, a German human rights activist, denounced these tactics as “comparable to those used by the STASI in East Germany,” where the communist regime “used the removal of children from supposed ‘enemies of the State.’” Puentes and his family had to emigrate from Colombia in 2015.
Flip has fallen very low. Led by Ignacio Gomez, Flip is stuck in a quagmire. To come out of it, Flip is obliged to comment on the vile campaign launched by its leader, Ignacio Gomez, and on the shady relations it has with government entities. In the United States and in Europe, the associations that defend journalists have a very precise ethic that prohibits alliances with those in power.
The Munich Declaration of November 24, 1971, adopted by the majority of journalist guilds in Europe says: “Every journalist worthy of that title should strictly respect the statutes established herein. The journalist recognizes the established laws of each country, but in regard to professional integrity does not accept anything other than the jurisdiction of his peers, and excludes any governmental or other influence.”
The Charter of Professional Duties of French Journalists, in place since 1918, says: “Slander, unfounded accusations, the alteration of documents, the misrepresentation of facts, and deceit are the gravest professional faults.” Do Flip’s statutes say something similar? We don’t know. Flip’s website is purposefully opaque, where not even it’s leadership is listed, much less its statutes.
The defense of journalist Ricardo Puentes, the repudiation of Ignacio Gomez’ comments and Flip’s subordination to the Santos government are needed immediately. It’s something that impacts the state of Colombian democracy.