Satirist killed on streets of Bogota

THE COLOMBIAN journalist and humorist Jaime Garzon, known for satirising his country's political elite, was killed by two gunmen on a motorcycle yesterday morning as he drove to work.

Garzon, 40 died immediately in the dawn attack, just two blocks from the Bogota studio of the Radionet station where he was a morning host. Upon learning of the assassination, President Andres Pastrana suspended a trip to the town of Narino, which was devastated by guerrillas a week ago.

The President, a friend of the comedian, insisted that Mr Garzon's killers would be brought to justice. "It wasn't just that he made us laugh," Mr Pastrana said. "Jaime identified with thesentiments of Colombians, with what we were thinking."

In his most popular sketches, Mr Garzon disguised himself as Heriberto de la Calle, a dishevelled shoeshine man who knelt before cabinet members and visiting dignitaries, mumbling scathing insults at them while he polished their shoes.

With an uncanny gift for imitation, Mr Garzon also designed a mock news show in which he called up politicians using the voice of then-president Cesar Gaviria and offered them prized cabinet posts.

For another political satire programme, he created the character of "Dioselina," a maid at the presidential palace who used culinary metaphors to gossip about ministers' sexual orientation.

Colleagues also remembered Mr Garzon as a peace advocate and said he had used his rebel contacts to help negotiate the release of kidnapping victims. One colleague said he had been involved in recent efforts to negotiate the release of more than 40 people who are still being held by the National Liberation Army after the rebel group carried out a massive kidnapping at a Cali church in May.

Two radio stations announced that an unidentified caller had attributed the killing to right-wing paramilitaries but one later received a fax from the same group denying it was responsible for the attack.

Colleagues said Mr Garzon had received death threats in recent weeks from paramilitaries and had planned to meet their leader, Carlos Castano, at the weekend. Radionet newscasters said Mr Garzon did not employ bodyguards, despite the threats. "His humour and his good will were his shield," said one colleague. National police commander, General Rosso Jose Serrano, said two gunmen on a white motorcycle shot Mr Garzon as he drove to work in a green Jeep Cherokee shortly before 6am.

For many, the anonymous murder of a well-loved and seemingly harmless media personality was yet another reminder that Colombia entered a period of escalating violence with the inauguration of peace talks with the country's largest and most prominent guerrilla group in January.

"No one can believe, that for a humane cause, such as meeting with a commander, or with a family member of a kidnapping victim, that this would be a reason for an assassination," said Julio Sanchez, a programming director. "We're living in such extremes in Colombia that a bullet could come from any side," he said.

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