Sun, Oct 07, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Freelance reporter leaving Colombia over death threats

AP , BOGOTA

A freelance reporter for the Miami Herald's Spanish language newspaper said on Friday he is leaving Colombia because of death threats he received after being criticized by the Colombian president.

Gonzalo Guillen said he was preparing to depart yesterday after receiving 24 death threats in 48 hours.

ESCOBAR LINK

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Tuesday accused the 55-year-old journalist of ghostwriting a book by a former mistress of the late drug lord Pablo Escobar that alleges Uribe was a friend of the Medellin cocaine cartel.

"Behind this lady is Gonzalo Guillen who has dedicated his journalistic career to infamy and lies," the president, who has repeatedly denied any ties to Escobar, said on radio.

Guillen has denied any connection to the book Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar, written by former Escobar mistress Virginia Vallejo.

"I did not write the book, nor have I read the book," Guillen said.

Repeated calls to the president's press secretary, Cesar Mauricio Velasquez, were not returned.

THREATS

El Nuevo Herald executive editor Humberto Castello said the threats were from paramilitaries, illegal far-right militias that have backed the government's tough anti-guerrilla policies.

Castello said he was extremely worried about the journalist, whom he said has contributed to the paper from Colombia since 1999.

The Colombian journalist said he believes Uribe is also upset with a book he published in May, The Confidants of Pablo Escobar, which claims that the Uribe family had ties to organized crime.

Violent drug cartels, far-right death squads and leftist rebels have made Colombia a precarious place for reporters.

At least 40 journalists have been killed in the country since 1992, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said.

"We are concerned that the president's comments could endanger our colleague Gonzalo Guillen," Committee to Protect Journalists executive director Joel Simon said in a statement on Wednesday. "We call on President Uribe to abstain from making such accusations."

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