In an interview just before his death, the former director of the newspaper ‘El Espectador,’ Guillermo Cano, said: “We have to say to the mafia: Not even one more step!”
The Colombian press has been exposed to different threats, like intimidation due the narcotrafficking industry during the ’80s. That time included the saddest and most epic moments of Colombian journalism, the direct attacks on the newspaper ‘El Espectador’ and its director, Guillermo Cano.
In the ’80s, the Medellin cartel had a strong influence in the whole country. Led by Pablo Escobar, this cartel used to threaten officers, politicians, judges, journalists, and other people who had great influence in small and big areas of life.
The people who did not follow the Medellin cartel’s decisions were silenced. Pablo Escobar’s motto was ‘money or bullet’ (‘plata o plomo’), and there was no other option available for these people. Many were tortured, murdered and kidnapped. The crimes affected not only those who opposed Escobar but also their friends and family.
Pablo Escobar, in order to obtain more influence in Colombian high society, got into politics. He achieved different positions, but at the same time many wondered the origin of his personal assets. Until that point no one had proof that could certify the connection between Escobar and drugs.
Guillermo Cano Isaza, creator and former director of ‘El Especador’ newspaper, developed an important role in covering the news that would expose the crimes from the Medellin cartel.
A source said to ‘El Espectador’ that a long time ago there was a published record that connected Pablo Escobar with drug trafficking. The article referenced that on June 11, 1976, Pablo Escobar along with other criminals had been put under arrest because they were found with 39 kilos (85 lbs. approx.) of cocaine at Itagüí, Antioquia.
On August 25, 1983, ‘El Espectador’ published a story based on the previous story from June 11, 1976, exposing Pablo Escobar’s true personality.
Unlike many other journalists at the time, who fell into so much pressure, Cano did not let the truth in the newspaper suffer despite the Medellin cartel’s pressure.
After that moment, the staff from ‘El Espectador’ received constant threats by the Medellin cartel, until the unthinkable happened–Guillermo Cano Isaza’s murder.
“At 7:15 in the night on December 17th, 1986, when he left the newspaper towards his home in his Subaru truck, two hitmen murdered the director of ‘El Espectador’ Guillermo Cano Isaza. “Colombia is mourning,” said the [Colombian] president Virgilio Barco Vargas, addressing the nation. In solidarity with his family, all media channels silenced their voices during 24 hours.” (El Espectador, December 17th, 2006)
Guillermo Cano Isaza’s death is a milestone that shows how journalists fulfill their role in society until the day of their death. If not for Guillermo Cano Isaza, the connections Pablo Escobar had with drug trafficking may not have been revealed.
Until this day, the murder is attributed to the Medellin cartel, but the process in court has not been completed.
“It has been 32 years, since 1986, awaiting for justice and wanting to know what happened.” (Ana María Busquets de Cano, Guillermo Cano’s wife)
The newspaper did not stop and kept its course, continuing to reveal more stories about the Medellin cartel. Three years after the death of its director, the Medellin cartel bombed the newspaper on September 2, 1989.
“At 6:43 in the morning on a Saturday, September 2, 1989, a truck loaded with explosives, parked in a gas station next to the newspaper in Bogota, blew up, causing 73 injured people.” (El Espectador)
Despite the pressure from the drug trafficking cartels, ‘El Espectador’ kept moving forward as an independent newspaper. Today many media channels allow themselves to be manipulated due to external factors that threaten the independence of journalism. After knowing the story of Guillermo Cano Isaza and ‘El Espectador’ newspaper, I realized that journalism is not only a devoted service to society, but also a privilege to keep moving forward in this cause.
As a suggestion, if you wish to know more about these attacks, you can look up in Netflix “El Patrón del Mal” episode 21, ‘La muerte de Guillermo Cano’ and episode 26, ‘La explosión de ‘El Espectador.’