EL TIEMPO

Profile 360° → Remembering Jaime Garzon, Colombia's Brave Comic

Poster Image from the TV-Series 'Garzón Vive' which aired in Colombia in 2018.
Poster Image from the TV-Series "Garzón Vive" which aired in Colombia in 2018.
RCN
Juan David Romero

This coming August will mark 20 years since the death of Jaime Garzón, an unlikely martyr in Colombia's long-running battles with organized crime, drug trafficking and government corruption. Despite studying law and working in politics, what eventually turned him into one of the country's most influential figures through the 1990s was his sense of humor. His comedy routines, often critical of corrupt politicians, earned Garzón enemies in the highest of ranks of Colombian public life. At the pinnacle of his fame on August 13, 1999, after getting involved in a hostage exchange and peace negotiations with the guerrillas, he was shot to death by two hit men on a motorcycle in Bogotá. He was 38. The entire country mourned the man who'd given Colombians an outlet for their frustration and hopes of changing a fundamentally violent and corrupt nation. Though progress has been made in Colombia, notably the end to decades of civil war, the case of his murder remains unsolved.

FLASH BIO

Place of Birth: Bogotá, Colombia

Date of Birth: October 24, 1960.

Education: Studied law and political sciences at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

Previous Experience: Mayor of Sumapaz, a district in Bogotá.

Breakthrough: In 1987, former director of newscast "Noticiero de las 7" Antonio Morales heard that "some mayor" had become a local sensation as a skilled and talented impressionist. Captivated by the story, Morales invited Garzón to his show for a demonstration, thrusting Garzón into the national spotlight.


Jaime Garzón mural: "...no more laughter...piece of sh*t country..."​ — Photo: Elberth 00001939

IDEOLOGICAL YOUTH

During his younger days, reports said that he attempted to join the ELN (National Liberation Army), a revolutionary left-wing armed group, something not uncommon for many youth in Colombia at the time. He also led efforts of inclusion towards indigenous communities under the presidency of César Gaviria, such as the translation of the Colombian Constitution of 1991 into various indigenous languages.

THE SHOE SHINER

Throughout the 90s, he could be seen on national TV interviewing prominent figures as shoe shiner "Heriberto de la Calle," the best-known of his many fictional characters emblematic of Colombia's lower working class. This ‘humble" persona was an effective way to disarm anyone who dared sit before him for a polish. His gifted intellect combined with a down-to-earth manner was a formula for pointed interviews of political figures, which eventually made him an enemy of a powerful few while beloved and respected by millions.

DEATH

Not unlike the violence against human rights defenders in Colombia today, it was his work as a peace activist that got him murdered in 1999, when two hitmen approached his vehicle in a motorcycle and shot him to death, drive-by style. During those days, Garzon had been attempting to facilitate the release of hostages held by guerrillas. According to Revista Semana, as many as 2 million people attended his funeral at the Plaza de Bolívar, the main square in Bogotá.

THE DAY BEFORE

He had given an interview just one day before he was killed, where he said that if you live in Colombia, you have a basic task to transform the country. "The guerrillas, the paramilitaries and part of the government have a relationship with narco-trafficking," he added. "And in many ways they benefit from it. Some directly, some indirectly."


LATEST

- Any kind of prosecution and follow-up on his case has been slow.

- In 2016, the Colombian State Council revealed for the first time that members from the Ministry of Defense, the national police force, the army, the AUC paramilitary group and the now-defunct DAS intelligence agency, were responsible for and participated in his assassination.

- In 2004, Carlos Castano Gil, AUC leader, was sentenced to 38 years in prison, but he was murdered before he could serve his time. Only last year in 2018, the first effective sentence carried out against Jose Miguel Narvaez, former top official of intelligence agency DAS, for actually ordering the killing of Garzón. He was sentenced to 30 years behind bars, according to Revista Semana. However, there are still two pending cases against a colonel and a general, who were also involved.

COMEDY IN POLITICS

Though he didn't run for national office, Garzón was a forerunner for other comedians around the world breaking into politics:

- In 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky became the president of Ukraine. Before politics, Zelensky studied law and worked as a screenwriter, actor, comedian, director and owner of Kvartal95, a television entertainment production company.

- In 2015 he starred in Servant of the People, a Ukranian political satire television series of his creation where he played a high school teacher who unexpectedly becomes the president of Ukraine.

- In 2018, Marjan Sarec was elected Slovenia's prime minister, after a career as a comedian and political satirist. He did have extensive experience in politics beforehand though as mayor of Kamnik twice and while running unsuccessfully as a presidential candidate in 2017.

- In 2015, Jimmy Morales, a famous TV comedian, became the president of Guatemala on the slogan "Ni corrupto, ni ladrón" ("Neither corrupt, nor a thief"). Sadly, his presidency has been marred by corruption scandals of all sorts.

- In 2010, Jon Gnarr was elected as mayor of Reykjavík in Iceland. Before politics, he was a well-established comedian and actor. His political platform included promises such as free towels in all swimming pools, a polar bear display for the zoo, and a drug-free parliament by 2020.

- In 2009, Italian Beppe Grillo founded the Five Star Movement political party. However, he's not allowed to run for public office, as he was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter after a fatal car accident.

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Geopolitics

"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.


The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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