Following is the text of an editorial which members of the InterAmerican Press Assn., including the Times, are publishing as a gesture of support for the Colombian daily El Espectador, the target of attacks by drug underworld. The 102-year-old newspaper, Colombia's second largest, has been a leading critic of the drug lords.
About 50 news media employees have been killed in Colombia in drug-related violence over the past decade.
Two El Espectador managers Tuesday, and drug barons threaten further attacks if the newspaper does not stop publishing in Medellin, Colombia's second largest city and hub of cocaine smuggling.
El Espectador owner Luis Caro, in Monterrey, Mexico, for the IAPA meeting, has said he will not bow to the threats. His brother, Guillermo, was assassinated for anti-drug crusading three \f7 years ago.
The latest developments in the dirty war waged by drug traffickers in Colombia against the institutions of that country confirm that the audacity of criminals knows no bounds. It suggests, too, that drug merchants will not hesitate to extend the range of their victims -- up to now limited to authorities and journalists who dare combat them -- in their effort to bring the Colombian goernment to its knees and oblige it to stop enforcing the law.
The terrorist arrogance of the drug trafficking cartels showed itself in an especially brazen way last Tuesday. In the space of just a few hours, two persons on the staff of the newspaper El Espectador of Bogota were murdered by gunmen at the service of the drug cartels. The bodies of the victims were still lying in the strets when the drug trafickers delivered their threat literally to blow up Medellin if El Espectador did not close its plant there and withdraw its staff within 72 hours.
The terror claimed by the drug cartels on the Colombian free press has no parallel in the history of the continent. The dictatorships and authoritarian regimes that afflicted Latin American nations for so many decades always made independent journalists priority targets. But not even the most freedom-hating governments have tried to institutionalize the systematic extermination of journalists who defend laws and institutions as the colombian criminals are trying to do.
Moreover, not even the bloodiest civil war provides a precedent for one of the combatant groups blowing up an entire city.
The threat hanging over Medellin, the latest chapter in a long history of horror that includes the brutal executions of journalists, military judges, a justice minister and a candidate for the presidency, strengthens the suspicion that the drug-traffic cartels have managed to infiltrate institutions in Colombia to terrible effect. Despite the efforts of President Virgilio Barco, the truth is that none of the chiefs of the murderous cartels is in jail and subject to extradition, the legal threat that prompted the drug traffickers to unleash the current wave of terrorism in Colombia.
As ever, the impunity of the criminals can only be explained by the fact that their circle of friends includes men in strategic positions of power in the government, police and even the armed forces.
Sadly for the American continent, Colombia is not the only country in which press freedom is suffering a variety of restrictions. That same Tuesday, the wife and son of Luis Fuentos, assistant city editor of El Diario de Hoy of El Salvador, were shot at in the streets of the capitol. Neither in Panama nor in Cuba is there any room for independent journalists. As reports from the various countries represented at the IAPA General Assembly, which opened Monday in Monterrey, Mexico, show, the Americas, seen as a whole, are far from enjoying the high level of civilization-- and there is no civilizaiton without free press -- achieved in other regions of the globe.
That distance may be increased even more if the Colombian drug traffickers continue acting outside the law, a situation that transforms the drama taking place in Medellin into a cause of concern for the whole continent. The drug business involves a whole host of criminals throughout virtually the entire hemisphere.
The drug traffickers' ultimate aim is to neutralize the State -- by seizing power or making government officials their cohorts, as in Panama, to thwart reaction by the healthy part of society. Following the somber examples set by their likes in Medellin and Cali who act against a background of omission or impotence on the part of the Colombian government, gangs of murderers in other nations will feel tempted to copy their methods. That is why it is vital to immediately halt the advance of the cartels.
What is at stake in Medellin at this moment is not just freedom of the press. It is freedom itself.