Spring 2001

Truth in the Crossfire

In a brutal attack, ‘my truth…was dealt a mortal wound.’

By Jineth Bedoya Lima
For many, working as a journalist in Colombia is exciting. It’s like experiencing the magical and unreal of what the world has to offer in the 21st century. But for those of us who, in addition to working in Colombia, live in Colombia and for Colombia, it is an exhausting workday in which day by day one gives up slices of life, and one experiences the spirit of death in each task. This is the reality left by the Colombian armed conflict: an undeclared civil war that, in the course of decades, has left thousands of persons killed, displaced, disappeared and exiled.

The confrontation, which in addition to the political interests of the guerrillas, the far right-wing groups, and the drug traffickers includes the hand of the state veiled in impunity, places the press, and therefore the truth of what is happening in Colombia, in the crossfire. We are caught in a thick web that subjects its victim to awaiting the slow approach of any of its victimizers. As a result, we, journalists who have sought to scrutinize these dark webs of interests, have ourselves become their targets.

On May 25 of last year, when I still thought truth prevailed over bad intentions and that it was the best protective shield for a reporter in Colombia, three armed men, who identified themselves as members of the paramilitary forces under the command of Carlos Castaño, kidnapped, tortured and assaulted me in the worst possible way. That day, my truth was caught in the middle of the crossfire and was dealt a mortal wound.

Today, ten months after that terrible episode, I can’t stop thinking so much of my own personal drama, but of the drama of Colombia, which also has a mortal wound in its truth. It is the sum of hundreds of atrocities: There have been towns razed by the lack of conscience of the guerrillas; peasants affronted by the barbaric acts of the paramilitary groups; children wounded by mines sown by terrorists; ideologues, professors and trade unionists subjugated by the black glove of power. And there is a latent foreign threat silently closing in with its winds of war.

It’s Colombia. It’s a country that has seen in recent years how freedom of the press has been at these difficult crossroads. But journalists here have a great responsibility not to grow weak in the face of the cynicism of its rulers and the muteness of its authorities. And in the face of the rulers and authorities, journalists have also waged bloody battles that put us at a disadvantage since we are weaker, and that weakness places us in the sights of the guns. Yet we still have the indissoluble power of the truth, the same truth that is mortally wounded as it lies surrounded by politicians, police, soldiers and criminals. It is the same truth that ten months after I became disabused of many illusions, also enables me to continue living and writing a few lines. This same truth has spurred on the journalist in me, but nonetheless has not been able to encourage the woman in me. It is merely the reflection of a country and the drama of many who, perhaps, don’t have the good fortune to be able to tell their feelings to someone else, as I can now.

Jineth Bedoya Lima is a reporter with El Espectador in Bogotá.

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