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Ignacio Gómez

BY Liz Harper  January 16, 2003 at 4:59 PM EST

As founding director of a Colombian press freedom organization, the Foundation for the Freedom of Press in Colombia, Gómez has worked to defend the rights of Colombian journalists.

Ignacio GomezDuring his 18-year career in investigative journalism, Gómez has written about alliances between drug lords and politicians, and examined the relationship between Colombia’s military and its powerful paramilitary groups in numerous violent outbreaks.

In recognizing Gómez for a 2002 International Press Freedom Award, the Committee to Protect Journalists applauded the longtime reporter’s “exceptional commitment to truth and freedom.”

CPJ estimates nearly 30 reporters have been killed in the past decade during Colombia’s decades-long conflict among left-wing guerrillas, paramilitaries and the Colombian armed forces. Covering Colombia remains a dangerous assignment; a dozen journalists died in the line of duty in 2001 alone, according to Reporters Without Borders, an international media watchdog group.

Gómez — or Nacho, as his friends call him — began working for the venerable Bogota daily, El Espectador, at the age of 24. 

Gómez says one of the happiest moments in his life came when he met legendary El Espectador editor-in-chief Guillermo Cano, whom Gómez deeply admired for his crusading work against Colombia’s powerful drug cartels. Just a few weeks later, Cano was gunned down by suspected “sicarios,” or hit men, allegedly ordered by Medellin drug baron Pablo Escobar in December 1986.

Cano’s death only strengthened the young reporter’s desire to “uncover the truth,” as he puts it, regardless of the consequences and to strive to defend the rights of Colombian journalists.

Gómez himself was targeted in the late 1980s for his investigative reporting on alleged government corruption and ties to drug cartels and right-wing paramilitary groups. At the height of the cocaine trade, Gómez published a report exposing a list of Medellin buildings and other properties secretly owned by Escobar, who was considered one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives.

Gómez began receiving numerous death threats as he continued to investigate Escobar’s connections with the government, international mercenaries and right-wing paramilitaries. In September 1988 — shortly after suspected paramilitaries bombed El Espectador’s office in apparent retaliation for his investigative work — Gómez fled the country for nine months.

In 1996, Gómez helped establish the Colombian press freedom organization, La Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP), a non-profit organization that provides temporary protection for threatened journalists. FLIP also keeps a record of all reported acts of intimidation and violence toward the press.

In 2000, Gómez again found himself in danger after El Espectador published several stories linking the Colombian police and military with the brutally violent right-wing paramilitaries.

He received hundreds of death threats for one article in particular, which accused a Colombian military colonel of masterminding the 1997 massacre in Mapiripan, in which nearly 30 people were killed by right-wing paramilitaries for allegedly supporting left-wing guerrillas.

Gómez said he uncovered a plan in which the Colombian military and the right-wing paramilitaries collaborated to kill at least 60 residents of the Mapiripan village as a punishment for allegedly aiding the left-wing guerrillas in the area.

That same year, Gómez’s colleague, El Espectador reporter Jineth Bedoya, was kidnapped and brutally tortured for writing about alleged collusion between Colombian security guards and right-wing paramilitaries. Bedoya’s kidnappers repeatedly warned her they were going to kidnap Gómez and “chop [him] into little pieces.”

After learning of the threats, Gómez immediately left the country for a brief stay in Washington, DC, where he continued reporting. During that time, he was awarded a prestigious Neiman Fellowship at Harvard University and the Simon Bolivar Journalist of the Year award in Colombia.

When he returned to Colombia last year, Gómez continued his reporting, heading up the investigative team for Noticias Uno, a public affairs television show.

Death threats once again became a part of Gómez’s daily life last spring, their resumption coinciding with an April report he and his colleagues aired linking then-presidential candidate Alvaro Uribe with the Medellin cartel. However, it’s unclear whether the threats are linked to Noticias Uno’s report on Uribe, who went on to win the May 26 election by a landslide.