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Colombia: Conflicting Reactions Following Release of French Journalist Roméo Langlois

[All links in Spanish except where otherwise noted]

The French Journalist Roméo Langlois was released on May 30 after having been held [en] for a month by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC [en]). Langlois had been in Colombia for over ten years reporting on the armed conflict and was taken while covering an operation next to Colombian soldiers.

A commemoration was held at the site of his liberation that implicated journalists, guerilla fighters, representatives, and everyday people of the region, where Langlois made his first statements, some of which we quote below:

“Buenos y malos no hay, cuando uno viene ve que la realidad es más compleja.” (Público.es)

“There aren't good guys and bad guys, when you come here you see the reality is more complex.” (Público.es)

“Se impuso una vez más la política sobre las cuestiones humanitarias y eso es algo que se ha hablado muchas veces de parte de la guerrilla y también del Gobierno y la Fuerza Pública. Yo no señalo a nadie particularmente, pero esto pasa una vez más.” (Público.es)

Politics has again prevailed over humanitarian matters and that is something which has been spoken about both on the side of the Guerillas and also the Government and Law Enforcement. I am not pointing at anyone in particular, but this is happening again.” (Público.es)

French Journalist Romeo Langlois after release. Image placed on Flickr by Globovisión, under Creative Commons license Non-Commercial Attribution 2.0 Generic

“No necesitaba esta experiencia para conocer bien el conflicto colombiano ni para conocer la guerrilla. Ya llevo mucho tiempo en esto, lo que me queda es la convicción de que hay que seguir cubriendo este conflicto y que conmigo se hizo mucha política de muchos lados.” (Público.es)

“I did not need this experience to learn more about the Colombian conflict nor to learn more about the guerilla war. I have already been around this for a long time, what I still have is the conviction that I must continue to cover this conflict and that there was much politicizing on many parts because of me.” (Público.es)

“Ojalá siga la gente visitando estos lugares y dando el micrófono a los campesinos y a las víctimas, que son quienes tienen la verdad de este conflicto”. (El País)

“I hope that people continue visiting these places and giving a voice to those in the country and to the victims, who are the ones that are truly suffering from this conflict”. (El País)

Many people's reactions on social networks mention these and other statements made by the journalist.

The blog Partido Comunista Colombiano (Colombian Communist Party), posted an article called: “Liberación del Periodista Roméo Langlois, un acto humanitario” (Release of the Journalist Roméo Langlois, a humanitarian act). The article summarized the celebrated handing-over of the journalist and refers to the FARC's communiqué read by the commander “Colacho Mendoza”, in which he apologized for having considered him a prisoner of war:

“Queremos aprovechar esta inigualable oportunidad, con la presencia de la prensa regional, nacional e internacional, para desagraviar a Romeo, pidiéndole excusas públicas por la lesión moral que pudimos haberle causado cuando en un comunicado lo declaramos- ‘prisionero de guerra’, por considerarlo en ese momento de confusión integrante activo del Ejército Nacional. Al principio lo tomamos por un asesor gringo o israelí”, dijo un aparte la lectura del comandante.

“We would like to take this unequaled opportunity, with the presence of the regional, national and international press, to apologize to Romeo, begging his forgiveness for the moral injury that we may have caused him when, in a communiqué, we declared him to be a “prisoner of war”, for considering him in that moment of confusion to be an active member of the National Army. At first we took him for a gringo adviser or an Israeli,” the commander said as an aside in his reading.

Moreover, the article reported Langlois's response:

 “Me curaron la herida, nunca estuve amarrado, los muchachos cargaban mi morral y hasta el colchón, para que me sintiera cómodo”

“They cared for my injury, I was never bound, the men carried my backpack and even the mattress, so that I would feel comfortable”

In online magazine Kien & Ke, Miguel Gómez Martínez reproached the deference to the process of the journalist's release:

Es una vergüenza que un estado democrático ofrezca a los terroristas una oportunidad adicional de vanagloriarse por haber violado los derechos humanos y obtener propaganda gratuita de nuestros medios siempre dispuestos a venderse por una imagen.

It is shameful that a democratic state offers an additional opportunity to terrorists to boast themselves for having violated human rights and obtained free advertising through our media that is always willing to sell itself for an image.

For his part, Leonardo Farfán (@jleonardo07) tweeted:

Romeo Langlois al quedar libre, defendió la imagen romántica que los europeos tienen de los terroristas de las Farc.

Upon being freed, Romeo Langlois defended the romantic image that Europeans have about the FARC terrorists.

Marlon Martínez (@MMartin_G) satirized the fact that the journalist went to Colombia to have a good vacation:

Romeo Langlois deseaba unas vacaciones en las selvas colombianas.

Romeo Langlois wanted a vacation in the Colombian jungle.

Former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez (‏@AlvaroUribeVel) accused Langlois through his Twitter account of identifying with terrorism. He did so on several occasions, such as this one:

Langlois: una cosa es la curiosidad del periodista y otra la identificación con el terrorismo.

Langlois: a journalist's curiosity is one thing and it's another to identify with terrorism.

He also said:

Langlois, no nos engañe más, el 50% de las familias colombianas hemos sido víctimas de los terroristas a quienes usted promociona.

Langlois, don't lie to us anymore, 50% of Colombian families have been victims of the terrorists whom you are promoting.

Gabriela Perdomo‏ (@gabrielaper) and other users mentioned a column where journalist Daniel Coronel said that Langlois joined the list of journalists who dared to question Álvaro Uribe and as a consequence have been “criminalized” by the former head of state.

Afrodita de Piscis‏ (@AfroditaBogota) recalled a quote by the journalist Langlois about those affected by the Colombian conflict:

El conflicto COLOMBIANO es una GUERRA de ”POBRES MATÁNDOSE ENTRE POBRES”. – Roméo Langlois.

The COLOMBIAN conflict is a WAR of ”THE POOR KILLING THE POOR”. – Roméo Langlois.

Ana Miranda‏ (@AnamirandaG) referred to the French journalist's attitude after being released:

De verdad no se para que rescataron al periodista francés que estaba secuestrado por la FARC. El quedo encantado con eso de vivir allá!

I honestly don't know why they rescued that French journalist who was taken by the FARC. He loved living there!

In a similar manner, Andi Bedoya Cardenas (‏@AndiBedoyaC18) wondered:

Romeo Langlois es ¿periodista o mensajero de las FARC?

Is Romeo Langlois a journalist or a FARC messenger?

Twitter user Camilo Olaya Zea (@kamiloolaya) questioned those who were speaking out against the journalist and the possibility of listening to other news sources different from the traditional sources, like the company RCN [en]:

¿Porqué a la gente le molesta que el periodista francés entreviste a las farc? Ese es su oficio no? Estamos acostumbrados solo a lo q dice RCN

Why are people bothered that the French journalist interviewed the FARC? That's his job isn't it? Do you we only listen to what the RCN says?

Felipe Sampo's blog summarized some reactions after the journalist's release, but also cited one of Langlois's responses in the press conference:

Dijo que tanto el gobierno como los medios de comunicación en Colombia “venden imágenes distorsionadas” del conflicto que se vive en ese país desde hace 40 años.

He said that both the government and the media in Colombia “sell distorted images” of the conflict that has taken place in that country for 40 years.

The Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP) (Foundation for Freedom of the Press) called for reflection on the conditions of safety and protection of journalists. At the same time it denounced the threats against free press in Colombia:

(…)  La FLIP aprovecha esta oportunidad para llamar la atención sobre los alarmantes ataques contra la libertad de prensa que se han dado este año en Colombia. En lo que va del 2012, la FLIP ha documentado 42 casos de amenazas, 11 de ellas hechas por las bandas criminales, afectando, especialmente, a periodistas de departamentos de Cesar, Antioquia y Arauca. Especial atención merecen las intimidaciones contra periodistas que están investigando temas de restitución de tierras en Córdoba.

The FLIP would like to take this opportunity to call attention to the alarming attacks against freedom of press that have taken place this year in Colombia. Thus far in 2012, the FLIP has documented 42 cases of threats, 11 of which were made by criminal groups, and affect, particularly, journalists in the provinces of Cesar, Antioquia and Arauca. Threats against journalists who are investigating matters of restitution of land in Cordoba deserve special attention.

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