Will Colombia Honor A Beloved Musician Who Was Also A Convicted Killer? : Parallels Colombian views on violence against women are under scrutiny as lawmakers consider honoring a popular deceased folk musician — one who was convicted of murdering his girlfriend in 1997.

Will Colombia Honor A Beloved Musician Who Was Also A Convicted Killer?

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One of Colombia's most beloved musicians was also a convicted killer. And that complicates efforts by Colombian lawmakers to honor him. Reporter John Otis has the story.


DIOMEDES DIAZ: (Singing in Spanish).

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: The music of Diomedes Diaz blasts from a cantina in La Junta, a village of dirt streets and cactus on the edge of a desert where the late singer grew up. His songs celebrate country living, all-night partying and falling in love.


DIAZ: (Singing in Spanish).

OTIS: This style of music is called vallenato. Diaz was Colombia's vallenato king. And La Junta is now a mecca for his fans.


OTIS: Many, like retired oil worker Hector Suarez, come to see the people and places depicted in Diaz's songs.

HECTOR SUAREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "This is our second visit. Diomedes was our idol," says Suarez, who spent two days driving here with his family. But offstage, Diaz was often out of control. He was a heavy drinker and cocaine user, and relatives say he fathered at least 28 children. In 1997, a drunken Diaz got into a fight with his 24-year-old girlfriend, Doris Adriana Nino. He ended up strangling Nino, and his bodyguards dumped her corpse in a cow pasture. Diaz then fled to the mountains and found refuge with paramilitary drug traffickers. He finally turned himself in and was convicted of manslaughter. But due to Colombia's lenient penal code, he spent just two years behind bars.


DIAZ: (Singing in Spanish).

OTIS: In 2005, Diaz launched a triumphant comeback tour and all seemed forgiven. When he died of a heart attack two years ago, thousands attended his funeral. President Juan Manuel Santos called Diaz a musical genius.


JUAN MANUEL SANTOS: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: So why is it that Colombians are so willing to overlook Diaz's criminal past? For some answers, I speak with Yalile Giordanelli. She's the producer of a top-rated Colombian TV series about the life and death of Diaz.

YALILE GIORDANELLI: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "The problem isn't just Diomedes," Giordanelli says. "In a macho society like Colombia's, violence against women is common, even accepted," she says. As a result, the killing of his girlfriend is widely viewed as a minor blemish on Diaz's career.

(Speaking Spanish)

OTIS: "No one is perfect," says Alvaro Lopez, who played accordion in Diaz's band. The Colombian Congress seems to agree. It's now considering a bill to honor Diaz for his contributions to Colombian folklore. Opponents say the bill makes no sense. Just a few months ago, these same legislators passed a law that imposes tougher punishments on those who murder women and girls.


MARIA ROBLEDO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: During a fierce debate over the bill, lawmaker Maria Robledo said, I will not stand to let this Congress pay tribute to a man who mistreated and was violent towards women. But other lawmakers are fans of the singer, and the bill is expected to pass. As for Diaz, he never said much about his manslaughter conviction. But before he died, he spelled out his feelings in a song called "Forgiveness."


DIAZ: (Singing in Spanish).

OTIS: "You have thousands of reasons to scold me, but I deserve another chance," Diaz sings. "I've also done good deeds, so everyone should forgive me." For NPR News, I'm John Otis, La Junta, Colombia.

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