Judge reinstates mayor implicated in social leader’s murder that shook Colombia

President Ivan Duque (L) and Tierralta Mayor Fabio Otero (C) (Image: Twitter)

A judge revoked the suspension of a mayor from northern Colombia who is investigated in relation the the murder of a community leader that triggered mass protests last week.

The Inspector General’s Office suspended Mayor Fabio Otero of Tierralta, a town in the Cordoba province, to prevent him from possibly destroying evidence of suspected ties between his administration and a paramilitary group.

Otero became the center of international attention after the assassination in his town of Maria del Pilar Hurtado, one of the leaders of a community that was involved in a land dispute with the mayor’s father, a convicted land thief.

The murder that made something snap in Colombia

Cordoba justice’s mysterious ways

The mayor successfully appealed the decision in Monteria, the capital of Cordoba, claiming the watchdog had failed to timely notify him that he was under investigation.

The investigation was announced publicly, but the letter that formally notified the mayor did not arrive at the Tierralta city hall until a few days after his announced suspension.

Consequently, Otero argued that the regional inspector had tarnished his good name, ignored due process and violated his political rights.

The judge went even further and controversially ruled that the Inspector General’s Office didn’t have the authority to suspend the mayor because he wasn’t suspected of corruption, which is true; Otero and his security secretary have been accused of using the police and a paramilitary death squad to vacate a plot owned by the mayor’s family and lying about the victim’s role as community leader.

Colombia’s authorities caught in a web of lies after community leader’s assassination

Investigations continue

A special prosecution unit is investigating the homicide on Del Pilar, who was murdered in front of her child three as announced in a death threat that appeared in Tierralta one day after the failed eviction.

This unit was flown in from Bogota after a video showing the victim’s son screaming and crying next to his mother’s lifeless body went viral on social media, triggered an unprecedented wave of indignation and spontaneous street protests.

A woman in Medellin wears a sign saying “Maria del Pilar Hurtado, we will not forget your name.” (Image: Mimi Yagoub)

Peace movement Defendamos la Paz convoked a march in rejection to the more than 480 social leaders like Del Pilar who have been assassinated since 2016, the year in which a peace deal between former President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC guerrillas set a peace process in motion.

President Ivan Duque, a political ally of Otero, was sent running when he tried to take part in the march in Cartagena, one of more than 50 that were held throughout Colombia.

The Duque administration and the president’s political patron, former President Alvaro Uribe, have been accused of inciting much of the violence targeting human rights defenders and community leaders.

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