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Gustavo Ruiz Cantillo
November 15, 2000

GUSTAVO RUIZ CANTILLO, Colombia

Ruiz Cantillo was a native of Pivijay, a town in the northern coast of Colombia’s Magdalena department -- capital Santa Marta --  and home to a critical part of the country’s  history, especially in terms of the violence that has plagued the area: the banana dispute of 1928, fatal conflicts brought on by the marijuana bonanza of  the 70's, and the presence since the 80s of paramilitary groups and guerrillas who  use blood and firearms to gain control over the territory and local politics.

Gustavo Ruiz Cantillo was born, grew up, went to school and learned the reality of his surroundings there to become became a radio journalist, a job he held for 10 years. He knew his community well and adopted an approach that gained him an audience but at the same time brought him risks: he had credibility and always told the truth. And, during his last three years he denounced, based on his own investigation or using the police as a source, the armed groups that were creating uncertainty - and death - among the population.

He knew very well that Pivijay was controlled by the paramilitaries, that there was  corruption, robbery and theft, that teachers were not paid, and that they raised the rates for the deficient electric utility at will. The reporter kept his large audience by calling attention to all the irregularities in the region. He was a brave and determined defender of freedom of expression, despite the dismal record of Magdalena where 12 journalists had been killed over the past decade.

But Ruiz Cantillo did not take the necessary safety precautions despite having been stopped on a Pivijay street at noon by three strangers who threatened him, saying: "Don’t  be a squealer. Something bad could happen to you." He only told his brother-in-law, asking him to keep it quiet so the family wouldn’t be alarmed. And he figured out immediately that it was related to his radio reports on the increase in assaults and murders in rural areas and the actions of illegal armed squads.

A month late Ruiz became the next journalist to be gunned down. At five in the afternoon on November 15, 2000, he crossed the town's market square, not realizing that two men were following him. One of them shot him in the head from behind.

When the IAPA arrived to check out the investigative process, the case file was tossed on the floor of the Santa Marta’s Special Prosecutor’s office and the official  argued that "time limits ran out and it was not possible to identify anyone involved ." At the request of the IAPA, in February, 2006, the case was transferred to the Human Rights Unit in Bogotá, where the it was reopened and the Prosecutor ordered the implication and capture of several involved, including a paramilitary leader who had been extradited to the U.S., and requested the Criminal Court of Santa Marta to hand down the corresponding sentences. 



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