For the past ten years and until last Tuesday, Ernesto Yamhure had been a controversial and provocative columnist. He became an advocate of ultra-conservative positions with a passion and radicalism that made him visible overnight. Several medias opened him their doors in order to have a representat
ive voice of the right wing and of the "uribismo" (the wing that supported the political views and reforms of the former president Alvaro Uribe) in a time when in the public debate and in the journalism world views were most critical of the Uribe government and its dealings with paramilitary groups. He had a weekly column in the newspaper El Espectador, he became a regular guest on Hora 20, a popular radio programme, and he also led the radio morning show La Hora de la Verdad with the former Minister Fernando Londoño Hoyos.
But last week, all the media closed their doors to Yamhure. The newspaper Un Pasquín, lead by the political cartoonist Vladdo, opened with a cover story showing the close ties between the columnist and the paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño. The article, written by the journalist Claudia Julieta Duque, reveals parts of the contents of a USB, belonging to the demobilized paramilitary Hebert Veloza García, aka HH, who handed it to the Attorney General in July 2008.
The content was so outrageous that in a matter of hours, El Espectador accepted Yamhure's resignation to the column, Caracol Radio announced that they would suspended his radio comments, and La Hora de la Verdad notified his withdrawal. The embarrassing revelation comes from a draft column that Yamhure send to Castaño, entitled " Felicitémonos!", to be published in El Espectador in December of 2002. In this article the journalist welcomed the peace process between the government and the AUC, a group that united almost all Colombian paramilitaries. After reading it, Castaño asked the columnist to make various changes in form and content. He asked, even to moderate his criticism to SEMANA and to the political analyst Leon Valencia. Yamhure changed the text, and it was published in El Espectador, with a fairer defense in terms of the demobilization of the paramilitaries.
It is not the first time that rumors circulates about the close links between Castaño and Yamhure. The site Verdadabierta.com had posted an e-mail that the columnist sent to the paramilitar chief in November 2002. On this document, that was written on the eve of the declaration of a cessation of hostilities of the AUC, the columnist suggests to Castaño how to write a good and credible statement. In the memorandum, entitled "Consideraciones sobre el primero de diciembre'' Yamhure advises Castaño in different aspects: "It is recommended that the statement is accompanied by the manifestation of each and every one of the commanders (the AUC) good will", "You must explain that this is not a short-term political gesture, but it is the first step of many that will be done in the pursuit of national reconciliation," "you should also give credit to the government on the success of the ceasefire", "you have to emphasize the issue of international monitoring", Yamhure told Castaño, among other suggestions.
Yamhure, who hasn’t give any public statement since the scandal broke out, has said in other occasions that his contacts with the paramilitaries were part of his research for his postgraduate theses "The AUC peace process: origin, development and eventual outcome" which ended in 2003. The newspaper Un Pasquín also includes the testimony of Juan Rodrigo García Fernández, brother of Carlos Mauricio, the former commander of the Bloque Metro de las Autodefensas according to which "in the sauna of Carlos Castaño’s house, while I drank coffee they drank whiskey and Doctor Yamhure smoked his pipe".
Yamhure's situation changed since the publication of Un Pasquín. The disappeared Castaño, tells the columnist: "I ask you a favor, insert a paragraph (in his column in El Espectador) where you alert to the AUC members about the importance of respecting their engagement with the cessation of hostilities, including abandon any involvement in drug trafficking activities, because this is what United States expects (...) I think that this way gives more credibility to your writing and also shows that you have a more critical line with all the violent actors". If in the past Yamhure tried to present his correspondence with the AUC as part of the research for his thesis, or as a helper in the negotiation with Uribe's government, the tone of friendship and trust which is now revealed, and the unusual fact that Carlos Castaño send political messages in a column in El Espectador, leaves serious doubts about Yamhure’s journalism.
In fact, the Un Pasquín article opens new questions. What other e-mails has the Attorneys Office? What else did Yamhure advised the commanders? Were there other consultants? Questions that suggest that this i not the last chapter of this story.