A trial for the 1999 murder one of Colombia’s best-known public figures, journalist and television personality Jaime Garzon, began this week in Bogota.
Jose Miguel Narvaez, the former deputy director of the now-defunct security agency DAS, is standing trial for aggravated homicide, more than 14 years after Garzon’s death.
Prosecutors are alleging that Narvaez organized the assassination by enlisting Carlos Castaño, the founder of the right-wing paramilitary group AUC, to put out a hit against Garzon. Castaño was convicted in absentia in 2001 of masterminding the plot and remains the only person to have been found guilty in the case.
Garzon, 39 at the time of his death, was shot five times while traveling to work at a Bogota radio station on August 13, 1999, and died instantly. Two assassins pulled up next to his vehicle on a motorcycle as he was stopped at a traffic light and fired at near-point blank range.
Narvaez denies any involvement in the killing, claiming to have only learned of it through the media. He said: “I deny it outright, I have complete naivety about this fact.”
Narvaez has asserted that the allegations have been fabricated by the AUC in retaliation for a dispute between him and three AUC members. He said that versions of a story linking him to a meeting with Castaño have inconsistencies and stated, “I was not there with Castaño, I did not instigate Castaño to kill Jaime Garzon.
There have been various speculations around the motive for the slaying due to Garzon’s political activities and it has long been suspected that Colombia’s security forces were involved.
The Jaime Garzon cables
A US State Department cable that was declassified in 2011 contains evidence implicating security personal and was used by the Jose Alvear Restrepo lawyers collective and the Commission of Colombian Jurists to request a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
According to The National Security Archive at George Washington University in Washington, DC, “the [State Department] cable backs up the testimony of former AUC paramilitary leaders who have also linked top military officials to the Garzon murder.”
Widely-read Colombian columnist Francisco Santos said of Garzon’s death: “In this case there is no doubt. The extreme right-wing of the military killed Jaime Garzon.” Former Defense Minister Rafael Pardo appeared to back up Santos’ remarks by publicly announcing that he had witnessed Garzon complaining to then-defense minister Rodrigo Lloreda that a general in the army had mounted a defamation campaign against him as a guerrilla sympathizer. Pardo said that Garzon was being harassed by senior military offices.
Garzon’s life and death
At the time of his death he had been involved in “civic-political commission” to encourage the government to enter peace talks with Colombia’s second-largest armed leftist rebel group, the ELN. The State Department cable said that now-imprisoned Army Brigadier General Rito Alejo del Rio had met with him and “harshly upbraided Garzon for the ad hoc group’s efforts to restart peace talks between the government and ELN.”
Narvaez has been implicated in the case since Colombian prosecutors General’s office opened an investigation into allegations of his involvement in October 2009, making him the first person to have been officially connected to the assassination.
Garzon rose from a campus radical (and brief ELN member) to be one of the highly recognized public figures in Colombia.
He had an early political career as the mayor of Sumapaz, an underdeveloped rural district of Bogota, and quickly courted controversy with his character “shoeblack,” a toothless shoe-shiner who during skits would satirize well-known Colombians while polishing their shoes. He was also a respected journalist and peace activist who served as an intermediary in kidnap negotiations with guerrilla groups.
His death was met with outpourings of grief including an estimated 85,000 in attendance at his funeral and condemnations from across the political spectrum.
Narvaez is one of dozens of government officials with proven ties to the AUC. The former intelligence executive is also involved in a scandal over the illegal wiretapping of Colombia’s Supreme Court, journalists, political opponents of former President Alvaro Uribe and human rights groups.
- Después de 14 años, se abre juicio por asesinato de Jaime Garzón (Vanguardia.com)
- Inició juicio contra ex subdirector del DAS por homicidio de Jaime Garzón (La Nación)
- Who Killed Jaime Garzón? (The National Security Archive)
- Guerrillero conocido como ‘Romaña’ fue condenado a 40 años de prisión por secuestro masivo (El Tiempo)