All deaths hurt, but those that carry the horror of violence are overwhelming. And the pain is sharper and mixed with anger when certain murders don’t carry the right ‘label’ for a good debut in the media, nor merit the words of governors, politicians, of national or international human rights NGOs, or journalists’ associations.
Mónica del Pilar Uribe Marín
Because of their lack of a good ‘brand’, of a ‘constructed image’, many bodies and faces are buried in anonymity, as happens, paradoxically, and absurdly often, among journalists who have been murdered, threatened, persecuted, tortured or silenced in countries that are at war or whose governments are anti-democratic.
One of those faces was lost last Sunday night, 8 October when two bullets – one in the chest – determined her last day. It was that of Maria Efigenia Vásquez Astudillo, an indigenous journalist for the radio station Renacer, in Kokonuko, in the province of Cauca, Colombia.
On that day, a police unit named Esmad (known for its violence and acting with impunity), burst violently into the Aguas Tibias farm in Puracé, which was occupied by hundreds of indigenous people. Efigenia was there. They killed her there.
Her death, which puts into context not only the death of a journalist, but also the violence used against a legitimate protest by indigenous people, did not fill the headlines of the main media, as it should have done.
It obtained only a few lines in the media, and few statements by any press associations. Her death was made known more, and received statements of solidarity thanks to the local newspapers, and through social networks.
The news did not remain on the front page, nor was it discussed in the ways that happen with journalists who have senior positions, are based in the cities, or are those who are the darlings of their company, and for whom a mere insult gains the full support of their press association, and all the publicity necessary. Not a single columnist dedicated an article to Efigenia, neither was there any movement of support for her, nor were any letters signed by colleagues.
No. Efigenia’s death didn’t lead to that, although she represented those thousands of journalists who don’t matter neither to their bosses, nor the media, nor the journalists’ trade unions or associations, nor to very many Colombians who think that the only ones who exist are those whose names appear in the headlines.
And so it is, that after 150 cases of journalists murdered in the last four decades in Colombia, there have been only three guilty verdicts. And there will certainly be more cases that went unreported, because the invisible people don’t appear in the statistics.
In addition, so much depends on the ‘status’ of the journalist.
Efigenia was not only indigenous, she also worked for a regional radio station and her work was directed to a local audience. She didn’t belong to the ‘elite’ journalists, those who – whether union members or not – can generate media solidarity in response to the slightest threat, those who work for well-known media, those who are favourites of their bosses, or have the right contacts, the friends, the money, or simply the luck of having the ‘material’ to make themselves ‘news’ and receive help.
Efigenia, like thousands of journalists working for local radio stations or newspapers, or who are correspondents, or work for alternative media (almost always very small), forms part of this invisible journalists.
Journalists who are paid the minimum or nothing, and therefore have to take on other unskilled work to survive, and whose lives hardly matter to anyone but their families and local people.
But they are the ones who live in the violent situations produced by the internal conflict in Colombia, by corruption, by drug-trafficking, paramilitary terrorism, the army or some guerrilla groups.
‘The invisibles’ are not the ‘special correspondents’, nor do they receive expense allowances, and their faces are not imprinted on the retina of the public. But over them – thousands of them – swings the sword of Damocles, every day like a pendulum. They are being, or have been threatened, disappeared, harassed, sacked, arrested, raped, tortured, wounded, silenced, forgotten, discredited, kidnapped, murdered… Ignored.
In other words, they are suffering, or have suffered, situations which another ten ‘media’ colleagues have suffered, who if only they could, would leave the country, or work (or be contracted to work in a newspaper or similar), or form an NGO, accept invitations to speak about their own tragedy.
And although it is true that everyone’s tragedies are authentic, these media favoritisms, of press associations or groups in certain cases, reveal a clear lack of respect for the tragedies of others. Those of the invisible journalists. Or those who simply decide to keep a low profile. For example, as happened in 2000 when the paramilitaries, employing their violent horror, made public the list of names of some journalists that they were going to kill.
Many went into self-imposed exile. Others remained in Colombia. Some of them they were always in the news. Others, very few, suffered their fears and tragedies in silence, despite continuing to be threatened.
These journalists are also invisible to international media organizations. They are not on the lists of those who are usually invited by NGOs to talk about the dangers of journalism in Colombia, because for those NGOs the names are always the same ones, as if only they represent the tragedy, and as if it were not necessary to listen to the voices of some of those other thousands of journalists. Any regional voice, is just as important as those of the well-known media. As important as any constructed myth.
(Translated by Graham Douglas) – Photos: Pixabay