<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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The Day that Mario Menéndez Returns to Colombia

A 1966 Story That Was Made Public in 2010 for the First Time


By the Online Journalism Working Group
2010 School of Authentic Journalism

February 27, 2010

“Get dressed!” yelled a soldier after a long night in a cell in Bogota. The previous night a military tribunal had handed down a sentence in one of the thousands of summary trials that at that time were secretly held in Colombia: he would die at dawn, after a judge dressed in olive green furiously beat upon the courtroom table. They were the times of military law and the National Front. The alternation of power between the two traditional parties of the Creole elite had been going on for barely nine years, creating a farce democracy in the country and facing the resurgence of the civil war that was thought to have been silenced.


During a four hour interview for the School of Authentic Journalism, veteran journalist Mario Menéndez Rodríguez revealed for the first time in public the details of his arrest and death sentence in 1966 in Colombia.
D.R. 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky
Mario, one of the 20th century’s great Latin American journalists and the first Mexican to interview Fidel Castro after the triumph of the Cuban revolution, had traveled all over Latin America covering armed uprisings and guerrilla movements. A strange curiosity brought him to Colombia, a curiosity that, as he tells the story of his stay in the country, he himself admits was a mix of religious mysticism and his self-taught Marxist education: he was looking to contact the Army of Nation Liberation (ELN) and learn up close how Camilo Torres Restrepo died. Torres Restrepo was the priest who, when he took up the cause of the poor, became a sociologist, social leader, founder of the United People’s Front (FUP) and, later in life, a guerrilla who died in the department (state) of Santander when he could no longer resist his enemies’ harassment in the city.

Don Mario’s Cuban friends had guided him to the ELN. They gave him contacts so that he could carry out the necessary interviews and record the operations of the insurgent organization with which Father Camilo lived his last days until his execution, which was carried out by the military in 1966, just one year before this prominent journalist would visit the long-suffering Andean country. He walked the paths of war for days, a hardened veteran but nonetheless scared, as he himself accepts with a smile in the conference that he offered to students from the School of Authentic Journalism in Mérida, Yucatan, forty-three years later.


Mario Menéndez greets his old friend Johanna Lawrenson of New York who, in the 1970s with her late husband Abbie Hoffman, lived seven fugitive years in Mexico.
D.R. 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky
His embarrassment is evident as he recounts how he was captured a few days after managing to visit the guerrilla camps and returning to his hotel: the military accused him of having supposedly commanded an ELN ambush and they were looking for him. He tried to take refuge in the Mexican Embassy in Colombia—the plenipotentiary at that time was a friend of his father and would surely help him in times of persecution. However, he had bad luck with the military. Taking advantage of the state of exception, hours later the soldiers decided to break down the diplomatic mission’s gates, kick the ambassador, and carry him to a military base, where the worst of fates could be awaiting him.

In his guayabera shirt, his pants perfectly ironed, and his Yucatecan shoes, all as white as his snow-white hair, Don Mario recounts that the military tribunal didn’t allow him to see a lawyer, and the uniformed man who presided over the rigged trial limited himself to reading the charges and asking him what he had to say. “Nothing,” Don Mario says he responded, but upon hearing the sentence he couldn’t remain silent any longer. He asked the judge, pointing to the enormous crucifix behind their backs, “And is that man there the one who told you people to do this to me?”

The furious blow that the soldier that acted as judge dealt to the table signed the sentence. All he had to do was await the firing squad.

They were his last steps, he was sure, but he slept soundly because he believed that he had already done everything he had to do in this world as a journalist and as a man that was dedicated to life and social change. His last steps carried him down a path of bitterness that few left alive in those fateful years: it seems as though Don Mario was detained and would possibly be disappeared and executed, as occurs to many others secretly in Colombia, even today.

Before ending his final journey, the furious man dressed in green who had called himself a judge stopped him on the path. “You have very powerful friends. Get out of here! But if you come back to Colombia we will shoot you or we will lock you up for life,” he said. The denouncement of an ambassador humiliated by military force that disrespected and continues to disrespect international law, and pressure from various governments had annulled the illegitimate sentence and allowed Don Mario to continue breathing, sharpening his pencils and preparing an infinity of reports that would be brought to light in the magazine ¿Por qué? and, after that magazine’s destruction at the hands of the terrorist Mexican state, in the Yucatan newspaper Por Esto! which he currently directs.


More than 60 students and professors of the 2010 School of Authentic Journalism listened intently to the four hour interview with journalist Mario Menéndez on February 5 in the garage warehouse of the daily Por Esto! in Mérida, Yucatán.
D.R. 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky
However, the death penalty didn’t exist in Colombia in 1910. Eighty-year-old Don Mario’s tale, offered to those in attendance at his conference in the Por Esto! building in the city of Mérida left many unanswered questions in the air: if Don Mario was right, and he wasn’t modifying fundamental information in his traumatic story, his case would become an unreported State crime, one of tens of thousands that have been neither investigated nor judged in the Andean country, given that these clandestine trials in effect existed and some testimonies have been gathered that document this type of conduct carried out by the military in later years, despite the fact that information about these soldiers’ crimes during marital law is scattered. These testimonies would corroborate this brave reporter’s testimony.

Trusting Don Mario and his enormous love for humanity, his story deserves credibility, given that all of his experience is prestigious amongst the continent’s journalists. If this is taken into account, it is time that justice is served and that those guilty of this State crime are punished. It is time for Mario Menéndez to return to Colombia to teach authentic journalism to new generations.

Translated to English from the Spanish original.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America