A few armed men entered the facilities of the largest circulation newspaper in the Colombian Caribbean and demanded that journalists publish a message from a mafia leader, denounced an NGO that guards freedom of expression.

The “members of an armed group” arrived Monday at the facilities of El Heraldo, in the city of Barranquilla (north), and “said they had received a message from Digno Palomino, their leader, who allegedly wants to participate in the negotiations on total peace”, with which the government is trying to dismantle guerrillas and drug cartels, the Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP) said in a statement.

Palomino, accused by the prosecution of belonging to a gang of drug traffickers and extortionists known as “Los Costeños”, was captured in Venezuela in 2019 and delivered to Colombia in September last year. He has been held in his home in Barranquilla ever since.

There were six gunmen, “two of them entered and demanded a meeting with the outlet’s director, Erika Fontalvo. Three journalists had to go out to talk to emissaries who had asked for an interview conducted by the same armed group to be published,” the Foundation said.

El Heraldo, which has not published Palomino’s post, received a call last week from an unknown person demanding that the outlet alias “El Castor” interview Los Costeños head, according to FLIP.

Threats to the media increased after the videos circulated of the “Negro Óber”leader of the Los Rastrojos Costeños criminal gang, who also demanded that media outlets such as El Heraldo, Zona Cero and Impacto News publish an interview with him following his wife’s arrest, El Colombiano newspaper stressed.

The newspaper made no reference to these incidents.

As part of his “Total Peace” policy, leftist President Gustavo Petro is proposing some benefits for drug traffickers who leave the business and submit to justice, including sentences of up to eight years in prison and keeping 6% of their fortune.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Colombia is the third most dangerous country for journalists in Latin America, after Mexico and Brazil. FLIP recorded 200 threats against communicators in the country in 2022 and two journalists were killed.