Reporters Without Borders said that it is very worried about Salud Hernández-Mora, a journalist with dual Spanish and Colombian nationality who went missing on 21 May while reporting in Catatumbo, a northern region near the Venezuelan border where four guerrilla groups and paramilitaries operate.
Hernández-Mora is the correspondent of the Spanish daily El Mundo, which has cited military sources in the area as saying she was probably kidnapped, but no guerrilla group has so far claimed her abduction.
The National Liberation Army (ELN), one of the guerrilla groups with the biggest presence in the region, normally issues a communiqué when it takes hostages but it has said nothing in this case.
According to RSF’s information, Hernández-Mora went to El Tarra, a municipality in the region, to cover protests about the disappearance of two young people, and attended several meetings held to organize searches for these two missing people, who were subsequently found.
Her last known meeting was with a nun based in the area. She then took a motorcycle in the direction of Filo Gringo, an outlying locality within the municipality. She had reportedly tried to mobilize her sources in order to venture into the remoter parts of the region. At the same time, she had warned that mobile phone coverage was erratic. She arrived in Filo Gringo but thereafter the trail goes blank.
“We are very worried about the disappearance of Salud Hernández-Mora, a veteran reporter with a great deal of experience in areas controlled by guerrillas and devastated by armed conflict,” said Malén Aznárez, the president of RSF Spain.
“We urge the Colombian authorities to get concrete results in their search and to coordinate their actions effectively with the Spanish government. We give her family our full support and we will do everything in our power to ensure her safety, as we have always done in similar cases.”
Spanish foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo said his staff was in permanent contact with the embassy in Bogotá and was following the search operations in Colombia. “All measures have been taken to find the journalist,” he said.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he had ordered the deployment of a specialized team to the area to find out what had happened to Hernández-Mora, to establish whether she really was kidnapped and, if so, to identify those responsible.
A Colombian defence ministry communiqué said: “The army and national police have implemented search procedures. At this time, intelligence teams have been deployed to cover the area and reinforcements have been made available to pursue operations designed to determine Ms. Hernández-Mora’s location. The army and national police appeal to the population to cooperate with the authorities in the efforts to find the journalist.”
The hashtag #DondeEstaSaludHernandez (Where is SaludHernandez) has been used by thousands of Twitter users to urge the authorities to quickly establish what has happened to her.
Hernández-Mora is a very experienced journalist who has worked for El Mundo since 1999, specializing in covering Colombia’s armed conflicts. She is also a columnist for the Colombian daily El Tiempo. She is known for her incisive style and critical opinions, which leave no one indifferent in Colombia.
She writes on her website: “I am a journalist to the core. If I could choose where to work, I would be with the firefighters, ready 24 hours a day to rush to where the fire breaks out.”
Colombia is ranked 134th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.