Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Remembering Jaime Garzon

The following post reflecting on the assassination of Colombian comedian and satirist Jaime Garzon was first published on August 15, 2011.

We are reprinting it today since it's the fourteenth anniversary of Garzon's untimely death.

Imagine the public reaction in the U.S. if Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert were to be gunned down in cold blood. Now picture that in the subsequent years impunity surrounds the murder and investigations into the crime have yielded few results. Such is the case of Jaime Garzon, Colombia’s top political humorist who was assassinated just over twelve years ago.

Garzon was best known for his sharp satire against the Colombian political establishment in TV programs such as “Zoociedad” and "Quac, El Noticiero". (In this clip, for instance, Garzon pokes fun at then-Governor and eventual president Alvaro Uribe as “the dictator Colombia needs!”) His most famous character was Heriberto de la Calle (roughly translated as “Heriberto of the streets”), a shoeshine man who grilled celebrities and political leaders. (In this clip, Heriberto asks ex-U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Myles Frechette if it’s true that the U.S. “doesn’t pursue guerillas since the rebels send cocaine to the U.S. and they receive arms in return?”)

Aside from his humor, Garzon was also a lawyer and peace activist who involved himself in the liberating of hostages from the FARC as well as the failed peace negotiations with the rebels. Paramilitary leaders allegedly viewed him not as an intermediary but instead as a guerilla collaborator and he reportedly received death threats from them. It’s believed that paramilitary chief Carlos Castaño ordered Garzon to be killed, a tragedy that would occur in Bogota on August 13, 1999.

In 2000, Castaño was convicted in absentia of the murder of Garzon and sentenced to 38 years in prison. The purported mastermind behind the assassination never spent a day behind bars for his crime and he himself would be killed under mysterious circumstances in 2004.

After years of weak investigations in Colombia, Garzon’s family last week sought the intervention of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). In the meantime, one cannot help but wonder how Garzon would’ve skewered the Colombian political landscape of the past few years and if the country is still without a “national identity” as he jokingly refers to in this 1993 interview:

Prologue: "(Garzon's family) has always been concerned and upset that so many years have passed and the judicial system has yet to respond.  They seek the truth and punishment against those responsible (for Garzon's death)" said Alirio Uribe, the attorney representing the Garzon family.

In remarks made to the Colombian press today, Uribe added his belief that Garzon's murder was a "state crime" masterminded by "paramilitaries, agents of state and members of the military" opposed to his role as intermediary between the guerillas and families of kidnapping victims.  

Retired Army Col. Jorge Eliécer Plazas Acevedo and José Miguel Narváez, ex-deputy director of Colombia's now-defunct intelligence agency, are the only individuals accused of possible involvement in the death of Garzon though neither man has been officially charged or stood trial for Garzon's murder.  (Narváez was accused of taking part in the "chuzadas" scandal, an illegal wiretapping program of dozens of judges, journalists and opposition figures during the presidency of Alvaro Uribe).

Marisol Garzón Forero, Garzon's sister, accused the media of distorting her brother's image by turning him into a "fool" for their own purposes.

"The victims end up being the bad guys and TV series are made of the victimizers," she said possibly in reference to a popular but controversial local telenovela that dramatizes (and allegedly romanticizes) the life of the late paramilitary chief Carlos Castaño.

Video Sources: YouTube via users Juan Sebastian Garcia Blanco, Michael Jordan and CamiloSanchez1979

Online Sources: El Heraldo; Noticias Caracol; El Tiempo; El Espectador; Colombia Reports

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