In Colombia, February 9 is Journalists Day, or as the emails I received yesterday clearly stated, a very Feliz Día del Periodista. The word “Feliz” paramount to this daily exercise of a profession that besides a pen and stack of notebooks requires us to wear different hats everyday.
I am not implying that we are cachacos with feathered fedoras, but that news comes to us in a constant flow, forcing us to adapt to fast-changing stories that range from the very local to those that have international repercussions. So whether, we are covering a protest regarding the return of bullfighting to the Santamaría ring, or a summit with visiting Nobel Laureates, we have to chose every day, “which hat to wear.”
The hat that we most wore last year, was one of peace. There are many Colombians who rightly remain concerned about the fragility of a process that has now entered its implementation phase with 24 of 26 “Transitional Adjustment Zones” receiving guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). During the course of the next three months the story will focus on the welfare of the 6,300 combatants who must begin an arduous reintegration process and surrender their weapons to the tripartite mechanism of the United Nations in Colombia.
Our historic peace process – four difficult years in making – has come full-term and even though President Juan Manuel Santos has reiterated that this is “an imperfect peace,” the fact that conflict-related violence has plunged to record lows not witnessed since the mid–1970s, has forced media outlets to focus on other stories, and an unprecedented departure from the daily body count that filled the front pages for so many years.
Even though the peace process is hardly “yesterday’s news” and remains an all-consuming story – and will be for most of 2017 as the post-conflict consolidates – journalists and editors must now find other stories to report given the vacuum of our current reality, after a half-century of violence. The relationship between the national media and government hasn’t always been smooth sailing here, and during the narco years, investigations revealed a series of plots to influence presidential elections with drug money from the Cali cartel.
More recently, the investigations by Gonzalo Guillén on rampant corruption in La Guajira led to the arrest of the department’s former governor, Juan Francisco “Kiko” Gómez, who was sentenced last month on triple homicide charges to serve 60 years in prison. And then seven-year-old Yuliana Samboni who was sadistically murdered in December by the pedophile Rafael Uribe Noguera. Yuliana’s tragic disappearance and accounts of her final hours in a Chapinero Alto apartment, just blocks from her poor shanty, shocked a nation, and after the murderer confessed, will result in a maximum sentence at the March hearing.
If the conflict hadn’t ended, I wonder how these stories would have been covered and how much “play” they would have gotten to make the front pages of the national press. I tend to believe that, sadly, so many cases such as what happened to Yuliana were not reported, because the daily “death beat” in Arauca, Cauca, and Caquetá were lead stories. For the victims of rape and child abuse, their plight, was a marginal footnote near the classifieds.
So while our historic peace advances, and stories such as Yuliana’s are finally getting the coverage they deserve, relations between the government and the media have generally been cordial here, and far cry from the current crisis that has erupted stateside between President Trump and big media.
As FARC phases itself out and the much smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) follows suit with “fast- track” negotiations, this country can finally capitalize on its tourism potential – and I suspect – many foreigners will take the leap of deciding that Colombia is not only great place to visit, but also an ideal place to set up a business or residence.
We have a great quality of life here and many individual freedoms that seem to be eroding elsewhere. Even though uncertainty can be contagious, especially during these explosive times, detonated by intolerance, we can consider ourselves fortunate to be in a country whose challenge ahead is to open up to tourism and find reconciliation after a polarizing peace process. And for us journalists, this is just one more hat we have to wear and a story that must be told.