Despite threats, protection lacking

By Aïda Delpuech
Translation by Phineas Rueckert
Reading time: 2m

THE RAFAEL PROJECT | April 18, 2023

A tireless journalist who denounced corruption and illegal activities, Rafael Moreno’s investigations also made him a lot of enemies. Threatened for many years, he requested protective measures from Colombia’s National Protection Unit (UNP) for the first time in 2017. At the time, he was president of the Junta de Acción Comunal – a local solidarity organization – in Puerto Libertador, his hometown.

Under the supervision of the Colombian Ministry of the Interior, the UNP is a security organization that coordinates the protection and escort of people or communities threatened on account of political, judicial, journalistic, union, community, economic, or other types of activities.

In Colombia, more than 10,000 individuals are currently under UNP protection, including 187 journalists, and nearly 50,000 are protected collectively, according to figures provided by Augusto Rodríguez, the director of this organization. In the department of Córdoba, where Rafael Moreno was born, 202 people are under UNP protection.

Moreno was first granted protection in June 2017, given a bodyguard, a bulletproof vest and a panic button. But more than a year later, in November 2018, the risks he faced were described as “extraordinary.” An armored vehicle and a bodyguard were added to his protection scheme.

But relations between the protection authority and the journalist become strained. In 2021, the protection measures ceased for three months, with the UNP claiming that Moreno had “abused his means of protection.” He asked several times for this decision to be re-evaluated, in light of numerous threats he had been receiving.

In 2022, the threats intensified. In July, almost two months before his murder, the journalist found a letter with a bullet in the trunk of his motorcycle. “You think you’re untouchable because you speak out publicly, but nobody here is,” the anonymous note read. “We know everything about you and will not forgive you for what you’re doing.” After this, his case was re-evaluated and he was reassigned a bodyguard.

On the day of his murder, Moreno was alone in the restaurant he managed in Montelíbano. According to a UNP press release, the journalist had dismissed his bodyguard the previous morning. The bodyguard then disappeared for a period of several days, before reporting the facts to his hierarchy two days after the journalist’s killing, according to information we received. Forbidden Stories tried to reach out to him, without success.

“The person responsible for the use of protective measures is the protected person himself and if he asks the [bodyguard] to leave the premises, this decision is beyond the control of the contracting company and the UNP,” a representative for the UNP said in response to questions sent by the consortium, while admitting that there were “obvious flaws” within Moreno’s protective measures. “Things are not perfect, [but] we have to move forward and modernize the whole system,” Rodríguez, the director of the UNP, added.