International Papers

Murder in the Cathedral

As accustomed as Colombia has become to outrageous acts of violence and terror, the murder of the archbishop of Cali Saturday night has shocked the nation. Two young men approached Monsignor Isaías Duarte Cancino as he left church after officiating at a wedding and shot him at point-blank range. Britain’s Daily Telegraph said the assassination “has all the hallmarks of a contract killing.” The archbishop had a long list of enemies as a result of his outspokenness: He had denounced Colombia’s two main leftist guerrilla groups, FARC and ELN, and in 1999 he excommunicated several ELN leaders after the group interrupted a church service and kidnapped 150 churchgoers. According to El Tiempo of Bogotá, both groups have denied responsibility for the assassination. Suspicion now falls on the competing gangs of narco-traffickers based in Cali. Back in February, Duarte claimed that several candidates in the March 10 congressional elections were financed by drug money. Although he refused to name names, El País of Calí reported Monday that Duarte had scheduled a meeting with prosecutors to substantiate his allegations.

Bogotá’s El Espectador calculated that Duarte is the 50th member of the clergy to be murdered in Colombia since 1980. Spain’s El País added that political killings had cost the lives of more than 8,000 civilians in the last seven years, but Duarte “is not one more. His voice can still be heard in a country dominated by fear. He will not be silenced by the crimes of guerrillas and paramilitaries nor by the moral and political corruption of narco-traffickers.”

Madrid’s ABC declared: “Colombia continues to bathe in its own blood while the violent vermin nourish themselves on dozens of bodies.” The editorial fretted that as voices like Duarte’s are silenced, the situation in Colombia becomes more hopeless. President Andrés Pastrana could not bring an end to the violence “because the guerrillas have proved there is nothing a democratic state can offer them to abandon their current way of life. Without ideals that justify their existence in a democratic country, the guerrilla ‘leaders’ have dropped their masks and are revealed as simple terrorists who augment their personal wealth with drug-dealing and extortion.”