Semana has been the center of attention this week after it
revealed Colombia’s intelligence service had been wiretapping political
opponents of the government. Time for director Alejandro Santos to
explain more about his magazine.
Semana — that publishes most its articles in English too — often has been the one to break stories that led to serious crises in the Government. The past six months alone, the magazine was the first to break the news on members of the army killing civilians and presenting them as guerrillas, the death of supreme leader of the FARC, Tirofijo and now, the wiretap scandal that has making the country’s spy service shake to the foundation.
The director, Alejandro Santos is a nephew of Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and thus part of the powerful Santos family that owned the country’s least critical newspaper El Tiempo and had different generations in Colombia’s government, yet Alejandro Santos’ magazine is considered the most critical and least compromised of all Colombian media.
Santos was interviewed by conservative Spanish daily ABC. The following is a translation of this interview.
How did you uncover this story about espionage and corruption?
About five months ago DAS officials told us that they did not only intercept communications between people, but also sold national security information to guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug traffickers. The hard part was convincing these sources to overcome their fear to talk. There were threats and they were monitoring our news room.
How is it possible that the main office of Intelligence of a country is working for the underworld?
The DAS is corrupt and beheaded. Some officials record information, others sell information. It’s internally decaying. Because of that, this happens.
And Uribe, the boss, is aware of this?
No one questions Uribe in the Casa Nariño. All officials want to win points with him. Uribe likes to be kept informed about everything. These days anyone can call the DAS to request information.
It is not very convincing that a President who is involved until the cleaning of airport bathrooms does not know that his intelligence agency is subjected to decomposition.
Troubled waters are useful for fishing for the government itself. Uribe loves to know what this or that official is doing, so he asks someone to call. I don’t think Uribe says ‘spy on this guy’.
Again. Uribe is the President of ‘Democratic Security’. How can he not know that they are spying illegally?
This is the third or fourth scandal in the last ten years. The question is: why have they not reformed it? This story at least made the Prosecutor General intervene in the DAS and another organ will supervise it.
How is it to question a government that is so popular?
In the beginning it was difficult to say the truths that are inconvenient for the government. Many scared advertisers called us. But the denunciations have increased our sales 25 percent annually. The people want to know what happens.
Were you able to interview Uribe?
Uribe does not give interviews. He like radio and television where no one contradicts him. I must admit however, that he has never tried to block information or interfere in our investigations.
What would you ask him?
I want to know why he insults journalists, why he links some to guerrillas, why he stigmatizes. This in Colombia is dangerous. It is a president that has done important things, but to me it seems bad that he continues to stay in power. Such concentration of power isn’t good for a country.
The same you could say about your family, the Santos. You are director of a medium, your uncles, Juan Manuel Santos is Minister of Defense and Francisco Santos is vice-President. Your father, Enrique Santos is former director of daily El Tiempo and today its star columnist.
El Tiempo used to be of the family, but now belongs to Grupo Planeta. Semana is the most critical of Uribe, even though it has two members of the family in power.
But the Defense Minister leaked the death of ‘Tirofijo’, the leader of the FARC to Semana.
He leaked that to columnist Mario Isabel Rueda and not to me. Juan Manuel didn’t say “I give the tip to my nephew. Juan Manuel wanted to be on the cover of the most read magazine. It was purely political strategy.
Your uncle sounds like the natural successor of Uribe…
Uribe has a messianic vision of power. Meaning that the well being of Colombia depends on his leadership. He is encouraging a number of candidates to run. He wants to check who is eligible. The one that embodies and interprets his policies will be elected. If he sees that none can be elected, he will be running for a second re-election without any doubt.
What bothers you about Uribe so much that you criticize him like this?
His personal interests are intertwined with the general interest of Colombia. Within that vision, any criticism hinders the development and progress of Colombia. It’s a bossy voice. From this perspective of power, the allegations are uncomfortable.