Our Voices

Five things to know about the Guillermo Cano case

On February 9, the Colombian government will finally acknowledge its responsibility for the prevailing impunity in the 1986 murder of renowned newspaper editor Guillermo Cano, one of the reparation measures that has been called for by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Below are five things to know about this key case.

1. Cano was editor of El Espectador, the newspaper founded by his father. He was a member of the newspaper’s staff for 34 years. A major focus of Cano’s professional career was writing about the ills perpetrated by his country’s drug cartels.

2. He was murdered on December 17, 1986, after leaving the newspaper office, by men linked to Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s powerful Medellín cartel. The day after Cano’s death, thousands lined the streets for his wake at El Espectador office, and all sources of Colombian media—from radio to newspapers to movie theaters—ceased all operations for an entire day in solidarity. After almost a decade of impunity, in 1995, four men were found guilty of conspiring to commit murder. On appeal, all but one of the convictions were overturned.

3. Violence against El Espectador journalists and others continued following Cano’s death, with multiple other El Espectador journalists murdered, along with eight judges, investigators, and attorneys connected with Cano’s case. In 1989, the Newspaper’s building was car-bombed, killing at least one person and injuring more than 80 others. Since 1986, 148 journalists and media workers have been killed in Colombia, according to the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP). Just one of those cases resulted in punishment for all of the perpetrators of the crime, and less than 20 percent have resulted in any convictions. The rest of the murders remain in complete impunity.

4. After an individual petition against Colombia was filed by the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) in 1997, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights adopted a decision on the case but failed to notify the victims and their representatives. In 2018, RFK Human Rights and FLIP joined the representation on behalf of Cano’s family to reactivate the case and secure reparations.

5. In addition to publicly acknowledging its responsibility in the case, on February 9, the State of Colombia will sign an agreement with the Cano family that includes the commitment to reactivate the investigation of the murder and the production of a documentary on Guillermo Cano and the violence suffered by members of El Espectador.