At its most fundamental level, the job of a journalist is to bear witness. In 1999, journalists in Sierra Leone witnessed rebels' atrocities against civilians in the streets of Freetown. In the Balkans, journalists watched ethnic Albanians fleeing the deadly menace of Serbian police and paramilitaries. In Indonesia, they recorded the violence of Indonesian-backed militias against supporters of political independence. Some who wrote about what they witnessed ended up dying because of the stories they told.
In a year that saw both an escalation of Colombia's armed conflict and a tentative beginning of peace negotiations, the press found itself in the crosshairs of nearly every party to the increasingly complicated civil war. Five journalists were killed in the line of duty, while scores of others were threatened, attacked, or kidnapped. Colombian journalists, many of whom had tolerated extremely dangerous working conditions for two decades, began leaving the country in unprecedented numbers.
Quintero co-founded the Journalists' Club of Valledupar. He was also the local correspondent for "Televista," a news program on the regional channel Telecaribe, and a professor at the National Correspondence University.
On September 29, police arrested two suspects, Jorge Espinal Velásquez and Rodolfo Nelson Rosado Martínez. According to local authorities, both men were identified by witnesses and are believed to be professional assassins.
Many local sources believe Quintero was killed in retaliation for his work as a journalist. They have suggested several possible motives. Quintero had recently been looking into the 1998 murder of Valledupar television journalist Amparo Leonor Jiménez Pallares. According to the attorney general's office, Jiménez was killed in retaliation for a story she broadcast in 1996 about the murder of peasants by a right-wing paramilitary death squad.
Quintero's assassination may also have been prompted by his public denunciation, in July, of an attack on the home of Saída Maestre, a presumed guerrilla sympathizer, in the town of Patillal. Quintero published the article after speaking with Maestre, who was then kidnapped on July 5. Her horribly mutilated body was found sometime later. The right-wing United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) was linked to Maestre's murder, and many have speculated that Quintero may have signed his own death sentence by publicly denouncing the attack.
May 3, 1999 Bogotá, Colombia -- In 1986 when El Espectador editor Guillermo Cano was gunned down at a traffic light in downtown Bogotá, everyone in Colombia knew who was behind the hit. Medellín cartel leader Pablo Escobar reportedly held several lavish victory parties to celebrate the murder.
There were no parties on May 19, 1998, the day a gunman in Cali shot television journalist Bernabé Cortés as he was getting out of a taxi. No one knew for sure who wanted him dead.