The stories of two U.S. citizens silenced for their reporting on Colombia, one by the FARC rebel group, and the other by the government intelligence agency DAS, show that freedom of speech still has a long way to come in the country.
Former RCN anchor Brian Andrews recently opened up on why he was forced to leave Colombia. He is one of two Americans within a year to be shut up for telling stories about Colombia. The second one is Colin, a Bogota blogger who was called in to see the DAS (the Colombian FBI) to explain why he wrote so much about sex and violence.
The two men had very different publications; Andrews worked for the country’s largest television network and focused on showing the beauties of Colombia, while Post mainly was talking about the low-down and dirty side of the capital, Bogota. In both cases, they were stopped from freely expressing themselves about the Colombia they knew; Andrews by the FARC and Colin by the DAS.
The case of Andrews is particularly eye-catching, because inside Colombia he had become a well-known guy who was invited on talk shows and even appeared in gossip magazines. His now-defunct Colombianews.tv contributed to reporting on Colombia by going into the country and showing places many of us had never seen. He had become the poster-boy for the new-and-improved Colombia and was one of the first to show the country’s rural beauty and cultural diversity to foreigners.
He did this until he was forced to flee a village in the south of Colombia amid serious suspicion that the FARC had plans to either hurt or kidnap him. Two days later he was out the country, perhaps the first American victim of forced displacement in Colombia, where millions are made to abandon their homes due to the threat of violence from the country’s armed groups.
His Colombianews.tv lived on for a few weeks, and then ended because the situation had become unworkable.
Unlike Andrews, the case of Colin has gone pretty much unnoticed. His blog, Expat Chronicles, obviously didn’t receive the attention Andrews’ Colombia News TV was getting.
Expat Chronicles is a blog that used to be about the other Colombia; the back-alleys, drug-use and prostitutes in the urban nights of Bogota. Colin was the anti-poster boy for Colombia, because he was showing the world of the misbehaving, coke-snorting and whore-mongering gringos we all know exists, but which normally stays out of the limelight.
Colin was ordered to report to the DAS twice, which — if you know anything about the history of the DAS — is quite intimidating. The blogger was interrogated about his website, and why he was publishing his gonzo-style stories on these asshole gringos who give the country a bad image. For the record, Expat Chronicles was not breaking the law in any way; It was not promoting illegal activity or glorifying terrorism. It was simply describing a reality.
The DAS gave Colin the message politely, but it was clear as rain; the intelligence service was keeping an eye on him. Any half-intelligent individual knows that you don’t want to screw with the agency that has been illegally wiretapping politically inconvenient people, has given lists of names to death squads, is accused of dozens of human rights violations and even drug trafficking. They can make someone’s life pretty miserable.
Colin, intimidated by this state interference, got the message. Since his visits to the DAS, Expat Chronicles has been about reggaeton, traffic jams, mullets and, surprise surprise, Colombian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero. The blog that used to provide the most in-depth view of Bogota’s dark side of town has turned into the same cliche blog like all the other ones who beforehand figured what will happen if you piss off the wrong people.
In the cases of both Andrews and Colin, reporting on Colombia has suffered severe blows and shows that you don’t have to be the reporter of a local radio station in the periphery of the country to be stopped from openly and frankly talk about Colombia the way you perceive it.
For a while, we were all in the illusion that we foreigners were able to freely express ourselves about the country we have come to love so much, but we were wrong. There are still plenty of people, both of illegal armed groups and state agencies, who are successfully shutting us up.
Because of security concerns, I was asked to remove Colin’s last name from the column.