Elizabeth Obando Murcia
July 11, 2002


ELIZABETH OBANDO MURCIA, Colombia



Elizabeth was the youngest of the three Obando Murcia children. She earned her living selling wool and bags in Roncesvalles, a town in the central Colombian Department of Tolima, whose capital is Ibague. Very generous, more than once she hosted the parish priest in her home when he came to town. Many times the money to pay teachers came out of her pocket when funds didn’t arrive on time, ensuring that education would continue in her community.



People there live off coffee, cotton, rice and sorghum. There are also small cattle ranches and textile factories. Since 1992 the newspaper El Nuevo Dia has served the region, surviving despite its newsroom being plagued by frequent written and phoned threats from the guerrilla, paramilitaries, common criminals and corrupt elements . A few journalists have left the paper and a few have even left the country.



In Roncesvalles the newspaper was distributed and sold by Elizabeth Obando who turned this into a modest addition to her small business. All was calm until the day that the regional head of the FARC, aka Donald, came across her in the public square and complained about the publication of several articles exposing abuses by the FARC on residents of the towns in the area, accusing them of expropriating their property, seizing their land and even recruiting their young children for training. He forbade the surprised woman, who had nothing to do with the newspaper's editorial content, she only distributed the paper, to sell the newspaper, threatening to kill her if she did.



The same treacherous warning was sent in writing on March 3, 2002, to the paper’s agency supervisor, with the addition that "I didn’t call you because this can’t be discussed on the phone." Given the risk, the decision was made to suspend distribution of El Nuevo Dia in town. The cautionary measure and self-censorship would be futile. Four months later, when Elizabeth returned to Roncesvalles on a bus from Ibague, the bus was intercepted by armed rebels who made her get out and shot her on the spot. She was left dying on the road until they allowed her to be taken to the nearest hospital where she died two days later.



The newspaper has never stopped publishing its criticism as a tribute to the woman who all recognized for her work and help to others. But the crime remains unpunished. Investigations to find the perpetrators have added no new information to the case. Ibague’s Special Prosecutor is handling the case and has it on hold.  A warrant was issued for the arrest of Gustavo Bocanegra, aka Donald, as the alleged mastermind. That's it. Justice isn’t advanced. No suspects have been arrested.