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May 1, 2023

Ricardo Calderon Shares his Experience as a Investigative Journalist in Colombia

On May 1, the Georgetown Americas Institute (GAI) hosted a conversation with Ricardo Calderon of Caracol Television to discuss his experience as an investigative journalist and the issues he has reported on, including crimes committed by the security services in Colombia and the assassination of Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse.

Ricardo Calderon speaks at Georgetown University’s Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center.
Ricardo Calderon speaks at Georgetown University’s Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center.

Political violence in Colombia and the abuses of power committed by its security services and armed insurgents has been a clear example of the threats faced by the free press in the region in recent decades. The work of journalists such as Ricardo Calderon has played a crucial role revealing countless crimes and massacres that could have otherwise gone unnoticed in the midst of the country’s recurrent waves of mass violence. Calderon, who is a lead journalist in the investigative unit of Colombia’s Caracol Network, visited Georgetown University to share his work. 

Becoming an Investigative Journalist 

When Calderon graduated, not many journalism jobs were available, but he did find opportunities to work as a sports journalist covering the twists and turns of the country’s football teams. When widespread massacres became frequent in his native Colombia, Calderon was sent to cover these to help his overworked colleagues.

“When this wave of massacres hit, I had to get involved. I had to help make sure that the victims’ stories would not go unheard.” -Ricardo Calderon

Calderon explained how due to scarce resources many of these atrocities remained unknown to the justice system and the wider public. Colombia’s civil conflict was so vast, so widespread, that the system could not cover it all. The involvement of individuals like Calderon proved essential.

“I asked for permission from my magazine,” Calderon remembers, “and slowly, through diligent work covering these stories, I became an investigative journalist.”

Ricardo Calderon speaks with GAI Managing Director Denisse Yanovich at Georgetown University’s Leavey Center.
Ricardo Calderon speaks with GAI Managing Director Denisse Yanovich at Georgetown University’s Leavey Center.

In Pursuit of Truth from Colombia to Haiti

His work as an investigative journalist has made Calderon famous in Colombia, but it has also earned him the ire of those whose abuses of power he revealed. In 2013, he survived an assassination attempt as he investigated crimes committed by Colombia’s military. He still remembers the bullets hitting his car as he threw himself to the floor to escape his assailants. Calderon’s investigations revealed that Colombia’s military had historically protected and even rewarded those who committed some of the most heinous crimes. One of the stories he unveiled centered on a network that protected incarcerated former military officers and ensured that they could enjoy every privilege, even leaving their prisons to enjoy time at the beach.

“Relatives and people involved in these stories are often the key to uncovering the truth,” said Calderon. “One vital witness in an investigation was the wife of an officer who realized that her husband was being unfaithful.”

Finding the truth is no easy task, and witnesses and sources can do as much damage as they can do good. That is why Calderon told students that it is always essential to think, “Why is this person telling me this?” Verifying to the extreme, finding multiple sources, and thinking about the source’s intent are necessary steps in this field.

“This is not an easy career. I would say that almost nine out of every ten investigations come to nothing either because a witness backs off at the last minute or because of lack of evidence. It can be a very draining process.” -Ricardo Calderon

These lessons were instrumental in the case of the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse. Calderon helped unveil a network of former Colombian military personnel who had participated in the assassination. The investigation was tied to a previous one that revealed how former Colombian servicemen, once retired, are hired as mercenaries around the world.

When asked about the future of journalism, Calderon remained optimistic. He explained that interpersonal relations are a vital component that cannot be replaced in this field, and that readers want to know the truth. 

“These investigations have been very popular because of their high impact and focus on detail. People are still willing to read these kinds of investigative pieces because they value quality over quantity.” -Ricardo Calderon

The event was moderated by GAI Managing Director Denisse Yanovich.

The event was held in Spanish with no translation. A full recording of the event in Spanish is available on the GAI YouTube channel.