Outspoken journalist Claudia Lopez, who fled Colombia last week due to death threats, has told Colombia Reports that she “knows exactly where [the threats] are coming from,” and is demanding that the police take action.
During the last week of September, Claudia Lopez’s sources alerted her that a hitman had been contracted in Bogota to kill her and several of her colleagues. Lopez has reason to believe that the threats are coming from a criminal gang led by “Marquitos Figueroa,” who is believed to be colluding with Francisco “Kiko” Gomez, the governor of the northern Colombian state of La Guajira.
Two years ago, Lopez and three other journalists exposed Gomez, among others, as having ties to the mafia and having potentially assassinated political opponents.
Lopez and her fellow journalists went to the police and the Prosecutor General to ask them to investigate the threats, but she says that the authorities “have not moved forward on the requests to [examine] the evidence.” The journalist decided to flee the country this past Wednesday out of fear for her life.
“If the police and the Prosecutor General do not move forward on these investigations, there will not be security for me when I come back to Colombia,” Lopez told Colombia Reports from an undisclosed location.
“The only thing that can effectively protect us is the government.”
The Initial Threat
In 2011, Claudia Lopez and journalists Leon Valencia and Ariel Avila agreed to do a story with the office of the President of Colombia and the then Minister of the Interior, German Vargas, about corrupt politicians and elected officials who had ties to illegal groups.
The investigation revealed that 160 candidates probably had ties with the rebel groups FARC and ELN, paramilitary groups, or criminal gangs. They then made a list of the five most serious cases, among which included Governor “Kiko” Gomez, due to his alleged ties to Figueroa’s criminal gang.
An independent investigation conducted later in 2012 by journalist Gonzalo Guillen revealed that “Kiko” Gomez also had links to the assassinations of persons who had spoken out against him.
Beginning in 2012, all four began to receive verbal threats and they had to change locations many times within La Guajira in order to continue their investigations. Finally it just became “impossible to conduct our investigations in that region” and they returned to Bogota early this year.
Four months ago, Valencia, Avila, and Guillen were targeted by a hitman who came to Bogota from the Caribbean coast, but his attempt to assassinate them proved a failure.
“I was not in Colombia at the time,” said Lopez, but her colleagues assured her that the police were handling the situation and investigating the alerts reported by the National Protection Unit of Colombia (UNP).
The failure of the hitman led to a “change in strategy,” and when a hitman from Bogota was contracted 10 days ago, Lopez acknowledged that “[something] was different this time. This time the threats included me. Not just the other three, but also me.”
‘If the Authorities Don’t Act, then You are Left Seriously Exposed’
The alert suggested that the Bogota killer had been hired by the same people who had hired the Caribbean hitman four months ago, so the journalists went to the police to see what headway had been made on their case, and if they could verify these new threats.
“They informed us that unfortunately in the last four months it had not been possible for the police to report anything official about our request – that is, about the concrete facts that they’d had for four months,” Lopez told Colombia Reports.
“That worried us a lot, because the danger does not come from what the criminals will do; the danger comes from what the authorities will not do… If the authorities don’t act, then you are left seriously exposed.”
The fact that the threats had transformed into a real attempt on her life, added to the fact that the police had not made any progress in verifying the truth of the hitman claims, led Lopez to “make the preventative decision to leave the country.”
“Additionally, we made a formal public request to the Prosecutor General, the police, and to the Minister of the Interior asking that they please take these investigations seriously and confirm or dismiss any evidence that they have.”
A Career of Threats
Claudia Lopez is no stranger to death threats after a career in which she has broken some of the most controversial stories in recent Colombian history. As well as revealing ties between politicians and paramilitary groups – a crime known as “parapolitics” – she recently won a defamation lawsuit filed against her by a former President of Colombia, Ernesto Samper, concerning an article claiming that the leader had links to mafia groups.
“For eight years I was investigating links between criminals and drug traffickers and politicians,” Lopez told Colombia Reports. “In those eight years, I received threats many times: telephone threats; sometimes through messages; sometimes through intermediaries. But every time up till now, it took [the police] two months to confirm [the veracity of] the threats or dismiss them…They responded in two months!”
This time the police have taken four months to find nothing. Lopez said that if this had happened a few years ago then those responsible would have already been jailed.
On Sunday she tweeted that “it is unprecedented that we have to run around the world to get protection in Colombia.”
— Claudia López (@CLOPEZanalista) October 6, 2013
Frustration and Moving Forward
The most frustrating aspect of this situation for Lopez is that both the journalists and the police “know exactly where [the threats] are coming from.”
“[Governor] Francisco “Kiko” Gomez was being investigated for the murder of some people who had spoken out against him in La Guajira but those investigations have not moved forward either…The police know that Gomez is a dangerous man who has alliances with the mafia…and they’ve had the information for two years! There is a lot of uncertainty and in this case a high level of danger.”
Lopez is also angry at the the inactivity of the government because it was the government who helped the journalists write the initial story in 2011.
“[Now] we have to put pressure on the national government, the police, the Prosecutor General, and the President so that they do their work,” Lopez concluded defiantly.
Soon after the interview with Colombia Reports, Claudia Lopez tweeted that she will continue to do her work because “in order to do what I have described, we need life and a voice. We have nothing more, but we do not ask for less.”
pero como toca, haremos la tarea. Porq para hacer todo lo q he descrito antes necesitamos vida y voz. No tenemos más, pero no pedimos menos
— Claudia López (@CLOPEZanalista) October 6, 2013
- Interview with Claudia Lopez (Colombia Reports)