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Mario Paciolla: Justice for a poet


22 lug 2020 - Claudia Julieta Duque / El Espectador (Colombia)


[translator's note in square brackets]


Not even 24 hours had passed since the delivery, in New York, of the latest report of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, when one of your colleagues found you dead, my friend the poet and the journalist, in your house in San Vicente del Caguán. The report should have gathered your discoveries as a volunteer [field officer] for this organization in the Caquetá Department, but, just as with regard to your death, the UN kept silent.

It is this silence, which is disrespectful to you and to our reality, which obliges me to write, to try and break with words this lump I have in my throat since I've known that a rope chocked you to death, in the early hours of Wednesday 15 July.

The hypothesis of suicide is unbelievable to those of us who have known your vitality, your smile, and also your criticism towards the UN Mission, when a colleague got infected with dengue, and time was passing by and they wouldn’t transfer him to a city where he could receive adequate medical attention. You wondered what would happen if a snake bit you, if you got seriously sick in San Vicente. You had already decided to whom you should turn for help in case something happened: not someone in the UN, because you were worried that the huge and slow bureaucracy would leave you even more exposed than an illness or an accident.

Your self-respect is in contradiction with the idea that you could have killed yourself in a place this far away from your friends, family, and beloved, from your adored Naples, which would have been your destination on the 20 July: you wanted to wash away all the dirtiness that had darkened your heart in the last weeks, in the waters of the Tyrrhenian sea.

Some weeks ago, you unfastened the lock securing the gate which gives access to the rooftop of the small building where you lived, a prevention "in case someone" came for you. Is it there where they found you? I won't know that, because I have never visited you, neither in San Vicente nor in Naples, as we had agreed.

"See Naples and then die". You kept repeating me this melancholic sentence in order to remind me of the promise that we made to each other in 2018, when you quit the Peace Brigades International, and I left for the Netherlands to get some fresh air before a new avalanche of threats: once you would be back in Italy, I would come and visit.

Your contract with the UN Mission would end on 20 August, but something happened on 10 July., According to what you told your mother Anna Motta, on that day you had a heated discussion with your bosses. You had called your mother to inform her of your early return. You felt disgusted.

During the last days, you kept saying that staying in Colombia and in the UN Mission was not safe for you anymore. Therefore you opened that lock and started to get ready for your departure. On Wednesday 15 you should have left for Bogotá, a first step in your way back. You needed to make the necessary arrangement to take the humanitarian flight of the 20, a smooth procedure for an international officer.

Your personal Whatsapp has been connected until 10.45 p.m. of the 14 July. What happened from this moment until the finding of your body by another ex-Brigades member and volunteer in the UN Mission the morning after, is a mystery. I called her as soon as I heard the news, on the 16, to give my condolences to her, but my own eyes were swimming with tears. "Mario appreciated you so much, he always talked about you. I knew that the two of you were keeping in contact", she told me, and I only managed to ask her to try and take your poems from your computer, the ones you had written and that you wanted to publish in Italy.

On the third week of June, in a formal meeting in Florencia (the capital of Caquetá, where the Regional Office of the UN Mission is based, and from which depends the sub-office of Caguán) one of your colleagues accused you of being a spy.

You said that with a laugh, because you always made fun of absurdities. Today, that your smile has been switched off by your violent and early departure, I wonder whether this was the first sign of the danger you were exposed to. What happened on that day, who could launch such a severe accusation against you, and what kind of measures did Sergio Piraba (head of the Regional Office, an ex-colleague of mine in the Truth Commission) took?

Always with a laugh you commented on your new score on your CV for having expressed your disappointment for the ways in which the UN Mission was managing the pandemic, which you deemed discriminatory. While some officers where facilitated with their travels and with teleworking, volunteers were suffering solitude and isolation.

You were one of those persons they talk about serious stuff with laughter, as when you confessed me that you were publishing some reportages on Colombia with a pseudonym for an Italian magazine. In these days, looking for clues, I have found your articles, but the last one dates back to 2018. It is clear that you have never violated the principles of the UN Mission: since your started the job you stopped writing.

No, I don’t believe the thesis of suicide caused by solitude and depression. Some of your friends now want to believe it, in order to cope with their pain. Neither I believe that an autopsy takes 10 or 20 days. Maybe the toxicological analysis, but the forensic exam should have been ready and should have been rendered public by the National Institute of Forensic Medicine.

I know about your personal disgust for an organization that in its 2019 report only mentioned, in a six-line paragraph, the military bombing in which 18 kids, recruited by the dissidents of the FARC, were killed. Some of them were finished off while lying on the ground, an episode which determined the resignation of the then Minister of Defence Guillermo Botero.

I know that you had documented more cases like this, such as the forced displacement of the families of the kids who were victims of the assassination, and much more. I know that you were uncomfortable with the levity of the UN reports, the complex relationship between some of the UN Mission members with the public force, the recruitment of civilians who had worked with the military forces, the passivity of this organization in front of the bombings against civilians in the south of the Meta [a Department bordering Caquetá], and the increase of targeted killings of ex-FARC combatants.

For months you had been waiting for the activation of a third Early Warning of the Defense of the People of San Vicente de Caguán. This week, Mateo Gómez Vásquez, coordinator of the Early Warning System at a national level, confirmed to me that in approximately one month the warning will be launched, it will especially focus on the increasing dissidence within the FARC, led by Gentil Duarte, and on the new dynamics of the conflict in this region of the country.

But this time the warning will be late. According to the last conversation that you had with your mother, on the 10 July you "got into trouble" with your bosses, I have no doubt that this is what has sparked your simulated suicide.

Your name has been turning in my head for a week now, together with expressions such as "exhaustive investigation", "diplomatic immunity", and "strange circumstances".

It breaks my heart, Mario Paciolla. As a member of the Peace Brigades International you saved my life. Now I only have one way to pay off the debt: finding the truth about your death.


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