A Spanish photographer has been missing in northern Colombia, said Reporters Without Borders on Monday.
Borja Lazaro, 34, was reported missing on January 23 by Spanish and Colombian authorities. He was last seen on January 8 at 1 a.m. in his hotel after spending a night with a group of friends.
The Spanish national vanished in the fishing village Cabo de la Vela, in the state of La Guajira, where he was working on a series of photo-reports on indigenous cultures. La Guajira, which lies on the Colombian-Venezuelan border, has a heavy presence of armed rebel and neoparamilitary groups known to kidnap and ransom foreigners.
“Without taking a position on the theories offered by Colombian and Spanish investigators, we think the possibility of abduction should be taken very seriously,” Reporters Without Borders said.
Reporters Without Borders has urged Colombia’s anti-extortion and anti-kidnapping unit GAULA to utilize all available resources to find him.
“A campaign in support of Lazaro is needed even if the circumstances of his disappearance have yet to be established,” the French-based organization said in a statement.
Early concerns have been raised that the photographer was kidnapped by one of the criminal gangs active in the northeastern state. Government officials in the region Lazaro was last seen in have been previously accused of using gangs to see to the disappearance of disruptive journalists. The former governor of La Guajira, Juan Francisco “Kiko” Gomez, for example, was arrested last year for links to several criminal gangs.
A Spanish couple was kidnapped in the same Colombian state last year, and held for a month before being rescued.
Other early theories about the reporter’s alleged kidnapping include the possibility that the photographer drowned in the ocean or was lost in the desert. One source close to the photographer reportedly dismissed the former notion, telling Reporters Without Borders, “I think it is unlikely. His mobile phone, backpack and flashlight were all missing. None of these items was found on the beach and it is hard to see how he could have left without them.”
His parents were reportedly in contact with him eight days before his disappearance.
In 2012, the FARC, Colombia’s largest rebel group, kidnapped French journalist Romeo Langlois in a rural area of the nearby Colombian state of Arauca. He was held hostage for one month but was released after an international effort to free the kidnapped reporter.
The FARC and the ELN, Colombia’s second largest rebel group, both maintain active cross-border operations, and have also been known to kidnap journalists.
Colombia is consistently ranked by the Committee to Protect Journalists as one of the most dangerous countries for the press, particularly in the rural areas where actors in the armed conflict are prevalent.
- Spanish photographer missing in dangerous northeastern department (Reporters Without Borders)