"COLOMBIA IS NO LONGER SAFE FOR ME," HE WROTE SOME DAYS BEFORE HE DIED
Mario Paciolla: the price for a minister's resignation?
The possible leak of information from the UN Verification Mission about his report of the bombing in which seven teenagers died opens new questions about the apparent suicide of the Italian volunteer.
Mario Paciolla was found dead in his apartment in San Vicente del Caguán, on July 15, 2020 / By El Espectador
“Tonight we will listen to the cracks of narratives
the screams of those strangled
by the night at night”.
In November 2019, while on vacation in Naples, Mario Paciolla asked to delete his poems from several French and Italian cultural websites. He also deleted personal and family photographs from his social networks, set his Facebook account to private, changed passwords and, although he left his Twitter account open, he erased his tweets. At the same time, he asked a friend to back up the information on his personal computer, and his father, Giuseppe Paciolla, to separate the internet connection that his apartment and the family home were sharing.
Between November 19 and 21, Mario Paciolla was still in Colombia and told several people close to him that he and some of his colleagues from the UN Verification Mission assigned to the San Vicente del Caguán (Caquetá) office suffered cyber attacks. This happened about two weeks later after the fall of the then Minister of Defence Guillermo Botero, due to the scandal related to the killing of seven minors during a bombing against the FARC dissidents by Colombian governmental forces.
The UN volunteer, together with his Mission colleagues, documented the details of the bombing occurred on August 29 in the Aguas Claras village, in the municipality of San Vicente del Caguán, against the camp of Rogelio Bolívar Córdova, alias Gildardo el Cucho, in which seven minors between the age of 12 and 17 died. Thanks to journalistic reports, it was found out that many more adolescents died on that day.
Mario Paciolla, rigorous and meticulous worker, was one of those in charge of verifying the circumstances of the bombing, with particular attention to the death of the adolescents recruited by Cucho, commander of the dissidents belonging to the FARC's 7th, 40th and 62nd fronts. Paciolla also had the task of checking the facts related to the subsequent forced displacement of their families and to verify the issues concerning the threats to the Puerto Rican official Herner Evelio Carreño, who previously informed the Military Forces about the recruitment of minors in the area.
Paciolla — found dead in his apartment on July 15, eight months after the incident — felt in danger, betrayed and upset with his superiors and informed his close circle that he had requested his transfer to another Mission headquarters after learning that, by decision of Raúl Rosende, director of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, parts of his reports reached the senator of the U party (i.e. Columbian centrist social liberal political party) Roy Barreras, whose complaints in the second motion of censure against Botero, on November 5, dealt a hard blow to the military leadership and forced the minister to resign.
During his time spent as minister, Botero was putting pressure for the UN Mission's mandate, which is renewed every September, not to be approved for 2019, which had caused annoyance. Sources assure that, on more than one occasion, the former minister refused to receive the Mission, and in the first official meeting with the UN head Carlos Ruiz Massieu, he thanked them for their work and at the end he snapped: “Now we continue...”. This expression can be interpreted as an early dismissal by decision of the Military Forces.
The decision to leak the sensitive and confidential information about the bombing was taken in the last weeks of October by officials coordinated by Rosende. They selected the documentation that would be delivered for the debate on the motion of censure of Senator Barreras as a result of the murder of the demobilized Dimar Torres in Catatumbo and other reports of human rights violations by the Military Forces after the signing of the Peace Agreement with the FARC in November 2016.
The leak to senator Barreras — who violated the norms of the Mission — was not discussed with Ruiz Massieu, due to the reservations that he would generate internally because of his alleged proximity to the government of Iván Duque. It was not the first time that Rosende had withheld information from Ruiz Massieu. As head of the Mission's regional and local delegations, the Uruguayan blocked the access to reports to his boss. A source revealed that “information is gold in dust and the one who handles it at will is Raúl Rosende”.
The concealment of the information to Ruiz Massieu and the danger that the leak implied for the officials who collected the information about the bombing - among whom was Mario Paciolla - generated an internal division in the Mission during the weeks following the debate. There were those who celebrated the fall of the minister as well as those who, foreseeing eventual retaliations by the Military Forces, complained about the leak of information and the breakdown of official communication channels with the Government.
When Roy Barreras, president of the Senate Peace Commission, was consulted about the issue, he denied having received any material from the UN Verification Mission concerning the bombing in Caguán, and reiterated that his sources were active Army officers dissatisfied with the military actions and human rights abuses that have been the subject of public debate. "I do not know how they obtained that information, but what I can say with utter confidence is that I did not receive them from the Mission, neither for this debate nor for any other".
The Mission refused to answer the questions posed by this journalist (i.e. Duque herself) to clarify this case. In addition, Ruiz Massieu blocked her (i.e. always Duque) on WhatsApp. The organism's press chief, Liliana Garavito, has only forwarded the statement by Farhan Haq, spokesperson for António Guterres, UN Secretary General, delivered on August 3 in New York after two articles came out on El Espectador, which denounced the obstruction of justice in the Mario Paciolla case and the alteration of the crime scene.
However, seven highly credible sources within the Mission, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, gave particular details - which this journalist refrains from publishing so as not to put them at risk - about the discussions and the exchange of encrypted emails. In the days leading up to the debate on November 5, a lot of things happened: the joy after Botero's resignation, the internal conflicts caused by the leakage of information and the role of Mario Paciolla in verifying the bombing, as well as the hacking of several officials of the Mission.
It was in this context that Mario Paciolla began to express that he felt "betrayed", "used" and "dirty" in the Mission, and decided to remove all traces of him from the internet. "I do not want anyone to be able to say that I am someone’s friend or that I may be connected to someone via Facebook," he said at the end of December. It was no wonder: his report has been used to carry out a major political attack that took the head of the Defense Minister and left those who carried out the field verification in serious danger.
The volunteer traveled to Italy on November 23 and returned to Colombia on December 27, to go back to his work in San Vicente del Caguán at the beginning of January, from where he requested his transfer. On July 11, he told his family that he felt in serious danger and wanted to go back to Naples. On that same day, in a chat conversation with a friend, Paciolla wrote in Italian: “I want to forget about Colombia forever. Colombia is no longer safe for me. I don't want neither to set foot in this country nor to work for the UN ever again. It is not for me. I asked for change a while ago and they did not give it to me. I want a new life, away from everything”.
The intelligence board in the Mission
A month before the resignation of the minister of defence Guillermo Botero, prior to the regional elections of October 2019, another information leakage in Antioquia also put at risk the safety of the Mission ground force, most of them UN volunteers, who delivered a report that included the hypothesis of responsibility of the Military Forces in an attack initially attributed to the ELN guerrilla.
The verification report, carried out in the format established by the UN, according to which the names of its authors and specific details that allow the traceability of sources are recorded, was leaked to Brigadier General Juvenal Díaz Mateus, commander of the Fourth Army Brigade. When Diaz read the report, he got enraged and called the head of the Mission in Antioquia, the Catalan Francesc Claret. Such was the discomfort in the Military Forces and the fear caused by the general's call that Raúl Rosende himself traveled urgently to Medellín to rebuild the relations with the brigade and calm the members of the Mission.
This event has not been an isolated case: there were other similar events that occurred during the last two years in different areas of the country which, despite having had lesser repercussions, have increased the feeling of vulnerability of the Mission personnel in charge of verifying compliance with points 3.2 and 3.4 of the Peace Agreement between the Government and the FARC. These points involved the reincorporation of the FARC into civil life as well as granting them political participation and protection against criminal behaviors and organizations.
According to sources from the Mission, all the incidents of information leakage have had a common denominator: the retired Navy captain Ómar Cortés Reyes, the Mission's contractor since the time of the French Jean Arnault, who, despite only as a consultant, receives regularly in his mailbox the Mission’s verification documents, which can only be accessed by the authors, their direct managers in the regions and a restricted number of high-level officials in Bogotá. In the wrong hands, such reports could compromise the safety of the Mission's personnel, since they are daily, weekly, biweekly, situational reports, check sheets, of a confidential nature.
Cortés Reyes, whose rank is equivalent to that of Lieutenant Colonel, was one of the seven soldiers who were part of the technical subcommission for the end of the conflict at the negotiating table in Havana in regard to the ceasefire and laying down of weapons. He was Director of Intelligence of the National Navy and a member of the Joint Intelligence Board (JIC), the highest body in charge of preparing intelligence and counterintelligence analysis for high-level decisions by the national government, among which are the ones related to military operations and national security.
Cortés and his direct boss in the Mission, the Peruvian Yhon Medina Vivanco, head of the Security Guarantees area, shared with the high command the reports of the field officers, with the argument that they intended to build trust with the uniformed men. "They use us to strengthen high-level political relations and leave us at risk through irresponsible handling of sensitive information, the only result of which is the strengthening of intelligence work against us, which originates from the Mission itself," says a volunteer who withdrew from UN after a situation similar to the one suffered by Mario Paciolla.
Mario Paciolla's mouse
Both the Prosecutor's Office investigation as well as the Mission’s internal investigation on Mario Paciolla case do not show great progress. The silence of UN, which seems to confirm the pact of silence between the Colombian authorities, the Italian embassy and the Mission denounced by Maurizio Salvi, correspondent for the ANSA agency in Latin America, has not been an obstacle in order to find out details about Paciolla’s death, such as those reported by El Espectador concerning the destruction of evidence in Paciolla’s apartment operated by UN forces.
The last of them has been the discovery at the UN headquarters in Bogotá of Paciolla's computer mouse, which officials of the United Nations Department of Safeguarding and Security have stolen along with other belongings on July 16, a day after the volunteer’s death. According to the Italian newspaper “La Repubblica”, they were coordinated by the head of Security of the Mission in Caguán, the retired army officer Christian Leonardo Thompson Garzón.
The device appears in the inventory sent by the Mission to Paciolla's family, who, despite the UN announcements in New York, have not received yet any of their son's personal effects. What was not known until now is that a technical test carried out by officials of the Public Prosecutor's Office showed that the mouse was impregnated with blood and it was cleaned and removed by the UN from Mario Paciolla's home, located in the Villa Ferro, in the municipality of San Vicente del Caguán.
The appearance of the mouse at the Mission's headquarters was confirmed by three UN sources, outraged by the high degree of responsibility of Christian Thompson in this issue. Thompson is a retired Colombian Army officer and, until his employment by the UN, had been working as a security consultant. for multinational companies in various parts of the world.
Germán Romero, lawyer in Colombia for the Paciolla family, says he does not know anything about the finding of the mouse impregnated with blood in the Mission's offices in Bogotá, since he has not had access to the complete file yet. He claimed not to know whether the report of the bombing of el Cucho and the presence of Captain Cortés Reyes have been already aired in the criminal proceedings.
Up to now not much has changed within the Mission, with the exception of the closure of the office in San Vicente del Caguán, which was intended as an act of prevention against situations of extreme pressure that could cause "another suicide." Ruiz Massieu is criticized in a low voice by his colleagues because of his passivity, lack of leadership and inability to purge an organization that abounds in archived internal investigations, transfers and promotions of officials for convenience, in addition to the latent fear and silence that were later imposed about the death of Mario Paciolla.
And the Prosecutor's Office remains silent.
Written by Claudia Julieta Duque
Source: El Espectador