Journalist narrowly escapes shooting after exposing luxurious lives of jailed military

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 8 May 2013

A journalist narrowly escaped death as he was shot at five times by two hitmen in a classic contract killing attempt in the Colombian capital Bogotá.

The journalist, Ricardo Calderón, had recently published an investigative report exposing the luxurious reality of life in prison for army personnel in the Tolemeida military base in central Colombia. The report followed up a previous exposé published two years before and described how imprisoned military personnel still had access to swimming pools, were given leave for several days at a time to go home, and continued to carry out their business activities, all whilst Colombian prison authorities have been calling for emergency legislation to deal with the most serious overcrowding problem seen in “civilian” Colombian jails for twenty years. In many Colombian jails there are often five people to a cell designed for one, prisoners are crammed into hallways, and close to 500 have died in the last five years due to a lack of medical attention. All of the estimated 9,500 political prisoners, whose existence the Colombian government denies, are held in such prisons.

The Tolemeida Reclusion Centre holds army personnel, from officers to low-ranking soldiers, who have been involved in some of the most horrific acts of the dirty war carried out against Colombia’s civilian population. The journalist described however how what is meant to be a high security prison for serious human rights violators is in fact more like a ‘holiday resort’. One of those benefitting from these conditions was Sergeant Wilson Casallas Suescún, sentenced to 40 years in prison for his involvement in the killing of four peasant farmers including a six-month-old baby. He used his rank to ensure regular leave and had a local bus business which he continued to manage despite his sentence. Santiago Escudero, one of the few soldiers convicted in the ‘false-positive’ scandal in which army soldiers killed over 4,000 civilians and presented them as guerrillas downed in combat, was revealed to be enjoying regular visits to his family home and was given leave for new-year celebrations.

The journalist managed to avoid the bullets by diving into a ditch and his car protected him from the five shots that were fired. As the Director of the Semana magazine where Ricardo works stated, “this is obviously not a case of two lone hitmen; it is something much more delicate.”

According to a recent international report, of the 139 journalists killed in Colombia between 1977 and 2011, there have been sentences in only 12% of the cases.

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