Reportage. Revelations in the Colombian newspaper El Espectador suggest that the Italian UN worker died in Colombia after being strangled and then positioned to look like a suicide.

Italian autopsy shows Mario Paciolla may have died of strangulation

Two years after the death of U.N. worker Mario Paciolla, Colombian journalist Claudia Duque has published a new report that makes public some alleged details from the forensic medical examination conducted in Italy on the Italian’s body. The investigation, published in the newspaper El Espectador, says that the wounds on Paciolla’s left wrist were inflicted around the time of death, or even postmortem.

Also, according to information obtained by Duque, the autopsy performed by Dr. Fineschi determined that Mario died by strangulation, and only later was his body hanged from a sheet, in the position in which it was found.

This information, which is not yet official and about which the Paciolla family’s lawyers are urging caution, adds to the long list of inconsistencies and tampering with the crime scene on the part of U.N. officials. The Paciolla family has filed a complaint against Christian Thompson, the head of security for the U.N. team where the Italian worker was employed, his colleague Juan Vásquez García, and the four policemen who allowed the evidence to be contaminated. Thompson himself cleaned up the room where the Italian worker’s body was found and made some items at the scene disappear, including two pots and pans and a mattress soaked in blood.

According to Mario’s father, Pino Paciolla, the complaint “starts from the fact that both the two UN individuals and the four policemen were certainly aware of the protocols to be adopted in the case of a person’s death; it is absolutely not normal to break into a private apartment, clean it up with bleach and throw away everything that could have been used for further investigation into Mario’s death.”

According to Claudia Duque, Mario paid with his life for his commitment to justice in his work as part of the U.N. Mission he was employed by, which is responsible for verifying the implementation of the Peace Accords between FARC and the Colombian government. Internal tensions within the UN Mission, according to Duque, leaked the Italian’s name as one of the authors of a report exposing a killing of minors perpetrated by the Colombian army. The report allegedly ended up in the hands of Senator Roy Barreras, who used it to get then-Defense Minister Guillermo Botero removed. Despite Barreras’s claim that he received the report from senior military officials and not from members of the Mission, Duque claims to have in her possession a number of audio recordings of internal UN meetings that prove otherwise.

Despite the media clamor over the scandal, there has been nothing but silence from the UN Mission’s top official, Carlos Ruiz Massieu. Contacted for an interview, top Mission officials declined to answer specific questions about Thompson’s and the United Nations’ responsibilities in the week between the Italian worker’s dispute with a number of his colleagues on July 10, 2020, and his sudden death five days later.

Through Francesc Claret, head of the special representation office of the Mission’s General Secretariat, they responded to our questions with the following statement: “I would like to assure you that this issue is of great concern to the Mission. Mario Paciolla has been a friend to so many people in the Mission. We will continue to follow any updates regarding the two ongoing investigations in Italy and Colombia, to which we do not have access. The Mission has cooperated fully with both prosecutors’ offices. We all hope that the circumstances of Mario’s death will be clarified as soon as possible. We reiterate our solidarity with the friends and family of Mario Paciolla.”

Meanwhile, the political sea change of the recent elections, which saw the victory of the progressive Pacto Historico alliance, appears to be having repercussions for Colombia’s representatives at the top of the UN as well.

After Gustavo Petro’s victory, Alicia Arango, Uribe’s former secretary and minister of labor under Ivan Duque, resigned her post as Colombian ambassador to the UN in Geneva; her colleague Guillermo Fernández, who represented the country at UN headquarters in New York and was formerly foreign minister during Pastrana’s conservative government, was also dismissed. In his place, the newly elected president entrusted the post to indigenous leader Leonor Zalabata Torres, an Arhuaca activist who has been involved in the defense of Colombia’s native peoples for decades. The hope is that the new political class that has fought for peace and social justice in recent years will put the case among its priorities.

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