Colombia’s second largest newspaper, El Colombiano, is owned by a family with a history of admiration for fascist dictators, massacres and state corruption. The family’s domination over public opinion in Medellin is arguably undisputed.
El Colombiano, nonetheless, has over history gone as far as inciting violence and concealing war crimes to advance the ultra-conservative agenda of the Gomez family, a family implicated in state crimes ranging from massacres to the embezzlement of funds for poor farmers.
El Colombiano is by a long shot not the only paper to put a family’s political and commercial interests above that of the public. In fact, it was founded a year after Liberal Party (LP) elites from Bogota founded El Tiempo, the newspaper that for decades promoted the political agenda of the family of President Juan Manuel Santos.
El Colombiano has a tradition of violating almost every basic principle of journalism for the benefit of either the Gomez’ family’s wealth or their ultra-conservative political convictions, initially in alliance with the regional branch of the Conservative Party and more recently the hard-right Democratic Center party of former President Alvaro Uribe.
Consequently, the newspaper has become one of the primary instigators and apologists of political violence, human rights violations and even civil war. Because of its long-held monopoly position in paisa media, hardly anyone in Medellin or Antioquia is aware of the family’s fascist sympathies and leading role in the armed conflict.
The evidence, however, is all over the newspaper’s archive.
The birth of Antioquian conservatism
The newspaper was founded by Francisco de Paula Perez in 1912 as a biweekly newspaper to serve the conservative cause.
In the early 20th century, the conservative cause in Colombia was to oppose liberal democracy, particularly the separation of the state and the Catholic Church. It wasn’t until 1991 that church and state were separated and Colombia became a modern liberal democracy.
The newspaper was bought by Conservative Party executives Fernando Gomez and Julio Carlos Hernandez in 1929 and has remained in control of their families ever since, much to the benefit of their families and whichever political party they supported.
A year later, however, LP candidate Enrique Olaya won the elections, thanks to campaign manager and El Tiempo director Eduardo Santos, the great-uncle of Colombia’s current president.
To end almost half a century of conservative hegemony, Olaya founded the Liberal Republic of Colombia and embarked on a political reform to separate church and state and a rural reform for a less unfair distribution of land, much to the fury of the Catholic Church, which owned much of Colombia’s territory and controlled the anti-secular CP.
Inspired by Bogota CP-hardliner Laureano Gomez, an outspoken admirer of Adolf Hitler, Gomez and Hernandez embarked on a disinformation campaign to undermine the government, promote fascism and recover Conservative control over the state.
The Conservative Party regained power amid major bipartisan social tensions, agitated by newspapers like El Colombiano on one hand and El Tiempo on the other.
By 1936, El Colombiano had become an outspoken supporter of Nazi Germany, with who the conservatives shared an intense hatred against communists. Gomez, together with the Catholic Church, founded the UPB university, copying the neo-classical architecture of the nazis.
When Francisco Franco began his 36-year dictatorship in Spain in 1939, El Colombiano hailed him as “the new Caesar.”
In spite of Nazi Germany’s defeat in the Second World War, both the “Laureanista” wing of the CP and El Colombiano continued propagating fascism, fueling anti-liberal and anti-communist sentiment that increasingly began taking hold in Latin America.
Another “Laureanista,” Juan Zuleta, entered the newspaper’s board of directors “under the wise orientations of Fernando Gomez,” according to former President Carlos Lleras in 1947.
The political tensions came to a boil in 1948 after the murder of LP dissident Jorge Eliecer Gaitan.
El Colombiano reported it a communist coup. It wasn’t. It was the beginning of “La Violencia,” Colombia’s bloodiest decade in history.
Agitated and promoted by the media, the 10-year bipartisan civil war killed hundreds of thousands of Colombians either because they were liberal or conservative.
Gomez was appointed Governor of Antioquia by then-President Luis Mariano Ospina (Conservative Party) the same year. Ospina was married with the sister of Gomez’ business partner Hernandez at the time. Zuleta and the Hernandez family took charge of the paper.
Laureano Gomez, the political idol of the El Colombiano directors, became president in 1949.
El Colombiano reported that “never have there been more orderly elections in Antioquia and Medellin” when Colombia elected its first fascist president in the midst of a civil war.
Gomez has since become known as one of the principal Conservative Party instigators of by far the bloodiest decade in Colombian history, “La Violencia,” except in Antioquia, where El Colombiano had a monopoly position until the late 1970s.
After Gomez was ousted in a military coup in 1953 and dictator Gustavo Rojas imposed censorship. Suarez’ business partner almost immediately left for Bogota, teamed up with his brother-in-law who had left the presidential palace four years earlier, and founded the Bogota-oriented Conservative Party newspaper La Republica.
By 1958, the warring political parties decided to joint rule in a bipartisan pact called the National Front. This elite rule, however, was opposed by the lower class and caused increased protest. However, that was not what was reported in El Colombiano.
On April 18, 1961, El Colombiano reported “the fall of Castro is a matter of hours.” On the same day, the governor’s paper announced that “the military will not allow any public protest.”
When workers of what is now the country’s largest cement company, Cementos Argos, went on strike in the town of Santa Barbara in 1963, the governor sent the 4th Brigade that committed a massacre, killing 12 and injuring dozens, effectively ending the strike.
El Colombiano reported the workers were assassinated in an “ambush” organized by “communist agitators.”
President Guillermo Leon Valencia (CP) appointed the newspaper director Foreign Minister for the first time half a year later, after which Zuleta was appointed director by the two families.
The Medellin Chamber of Commerce remembers Gomez dearly, considering him one of the “great politicians, thinkers, philosophers, poets, diplomats and journalists” in the history of Colombia.
Colombia has distinguished itself for its great politicians, thinkers, philosophers, poets, diplomats and journalists. To find all these elements in one man is not an easy task. Mr. Fernando Gomez is one of the most important Antioquians of the 20th century. He is in history books on politics, diplomacy and journalism, one of the most eminent positions ever reached by any other citizen. He occupied high posts and his admirable career has been marked by initiatives like turning a local newspaper, El Colombiano, into one of the most important newspapers in the country, under the premise of an impartial, catholic and conservative journalism.
Medellin Chamber of Commerce
On his English Wikipedia page, Gomez is deemed a “moderate conservative,” in spite of his explicit support for Hitler, Mussolini and Franco, and the fact he ordered a massacre to break a strike.
The official start of the war
Days after Valencia had ordered an attack on May 27 1964 on the few dozen farmer, El Colombiano reported that the “bandits” led by Pedro Antonio Marin, a.k.a. “Tirofijo,” had been virtually defeated. The FARC to this day celebrate the day of the guerrilla group’s birth.
The National Front years allowed Gomez’ children Juan and Ana Mercedes to enter respectively politics and journalism without liberal resistance.
From conservative to fascist
The El Colombiano leadership had begun calling themselves “Laureanistas,” the fascist, regionalistic wing of the Conservative Party.
When the exiled politician died in 1965, liberal newspaper El Tiempo called him “the monster.” According to El Colombiano, however, Colombia was in a state of “national commotion” when he died.
At the end of the National Front in 1974, other parties than the liberals and conservatives were allowed to take part in elections and the FARC entered the banana-growing region of Uraba to consolidate both political and military power.
El Colombiano announced immediately that the “Laureanistas” in Antioquia dissented from the Bogota branch of the Conservative Party led by President Misael Pastrana. Gomez opposed centralization in general and wanted more autonomy for Antioquia and sought a more fascist interpretation of conservatism.
A “Laureanista” journalist called Fernando Londoño began writing for the newspaper, frequently laying out the arguments of the Antioquia fascists’ stance in opposition to the Bogota conservatives. This group of “Laureanistas” was joined by another CP dynasty politician from the region, Fabio Valencia, laying the groundwork for what now is the Democratic Center Party.
Journalist Dario Jarizmendi left El Colombiano to create the Medellin LP counterpart of El Colombiano and, together with the Gaviria family “and regional businessmen,” helped found El Mundo newspaper, breaking El Colombiano’s monopoly, but not the Gomez’ family political power.
Juan made it from Medellin council member in 1970 to senator in 1978.
Meanwhile, the country, and particularly Antioquia, became increasingly submerged in violence as Escobar teamed up with both the Liberal Party for a political shield and guerrilla groups like the FARC and M-19 to protect his drugs trafficking business. El Colombiano radicalized conservative public opinion against the growing power of both Liberals and Marxists.
Pablo Escobar vs El Colombiano
In 1982, the year that Pablo Escobar was elected into Congress on a Liberal Party ticket, a lot of things happened.
The newspaper patriarch was appointed ambassador to the United Nations and a young LP politician, Alvaro Uribe, was appointed mayor of Medellin. In the same year, the FARC decided it would enter drug trafficking by “taxing” narcos with routes passing through guerrilla territory.
However, Escobar was kicked out of Congress in 1983 and had his immunity removed while Uribe, whose family had intimate relations with members of the Medellin Cartel, was removed from his Medellin office.
According to Uribe, the FARC killed his father for refusing to pay taxes. Escobar sent a helicopter to recover the body of the Uribe family patriarch and his injured son, Santiago.
The drug lord began killing anyone standing in his way, particularly journalists and elitists. Zuleta did not back off and continued reporting on Escobar.
Hernandez, Gomez’ long-time business partner, died the same year, leaving his share to his offspring, perpetuating the long-time tensions within the newspaper over the Gomez’ family’s fascist tendencies and the more traditional conservative Hernandez family.
Zuleta died in 1984 and Hernandez’ son Jorge took over the newspaper’s leadership.
Gomez Sr. died in 1985. “Antioquia says goodbye to a great leader,” his newspaper reported.
In spite of Escobar’s ongoing narco-terrorism, El Colombiano continued opposing the man who had been dubbed “the Paisa Robin Hood” by liberal media outlet Semana less than a decade before.
Social cleansing for Colombians of virtue
Juan Gomez became the first elected mayor of Medellin in 1988, the year the first paramilitary massacre took place at the order of Liberal Party politician politician Cesar Perez and the year Escobar bombed his newspaper.
In rural Antioquia, ranchers and large landowners of all parties had taken the Gomez’ “Laureanism” a step further and formed “self-defense” groups that began a fiercely anti-communist paramilitary offensive against the FARC, the EPL, and labor unions, making fascist terms like “social cleansing” (limpieza social) for the benefit of “Colombians of virtue” (Colombianos de bien) terms commonly used to date.
In 1991, Ana Mercedes took over control of El Colombiano from Jorge Hernandez. A year later, Juan was elected governor of Antioquia, giving the family full control over public policy and opinion.
El Colombiano stressed the new governor’s “independent style and distance to politicking.”
A year later, Escobar walked out of his self-built prison at only miles from El Colombiano’s main office in Envigado and began a major terror campaign against former associates in the province.
The formation of “Los Pepes,” a paramilitary group that had turned against Escobar, in collusion with local police and the military, turned the entire situation around in Medellin and Antioquia.
After Escobar’s death in 1993, the paramilitary group inherited the Medellin Cartel’s drug trafficking business and formed the AUC a year later.
Gomez was succeeded by Uribe in 1995. While still a member of the Liberal Party, the new governor actively promoted paramilitarism until the groups’ brutality became so abhorrent they were banned by President Ernesto Samper.
This caused a rift in the Liberal Party and Uribe left together with Bogota dynasty politicians in media, Juan Manuel Santos and German Vargas.
In 2001 he teamed up with the “Laureanistas” from his home province. A year later Uribe was elected president, endorsed by both El Colombiano and the AUC.
After Uribe had taken office, Londoño was appointed Interior Minister and succeeded by Fabio Valencia after Londoño had been removed from office for corruption. Juan Gomez was appointed ambassador to the Vatican.
With US support bartered by former President Andres Pastrana (CP), Uribe began a brutal military offensive, at times in plain collusion with the AUC.
El Colombiano systematically distorted the reality of the war, going as far as claiming a military attack on Medellin was “applauded” by the locals who had been taken under fire by police, soldiers and paramilitaries and have since successfully sued the president.
Uribe left office in 2010, leaving the presidency in the hands of Santos. In the eight years he was in office, the military had assassinated more civilians than Pablo Escobar in his entire career.
When the president and his family’s former El Tiempo newspaper had returned to the liberal camp and announced peace talks with the FARC, the “Laureanistas” regrouped.
Uribe formed the Democratic Center party and was joined by Ana Mercedes Gomez and Fabio Valencia, ripping apart the Conservative Party while providing a safe haven for families investigated for their ties to the AUC or corruption.
By then, Both Uribe and Valencia’s brothers had already been imprisoned for ties to death squads, while Uribe’s brother was and continues to be in jail awaiting trial for allegedly forming a paramilitary group of his own.
While never implicated in paramilitary activity, Ana Mercedes Gomez reportedly did illegally receive $30,000 in agricultural subsidies meant for poor farmers for which Uribe’s former Agriculture Minister was sent to a US jail while awaiting extradition.
Following the announcement of peace talks in 2011, Juan replaced his sister to “lead the transition” at El Colombiano and, as both director and columnist, became a vocal opponent of peace with the FARC, turning the newspaper into a vehicle for the elite group that once called themselves the “Laureanistas,” and now “Uribistas.”
Londoño, who continues to be banned from politics, is now hosting a syndicated political radio show called “La Hora de Verdad” (the moment of truth), in which he propagates the Uribista, Laureanista, or fascist version of events.
Ana Mercedes was elected senator in 2014, but stepped down a year later citing health issues. Her brother continues to defend the “Colombians of virtue” who feel threatened by the peace process, and for good reason.