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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.
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.


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.

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


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.


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.


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.


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."


- 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.


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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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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