A mayor from northern Colombia was suspended on Wednesday while authorities investigate his alleged involvement in the assassination of a local community leader that triggered a national outcry.
The suspension followed allegations that Fabio Otero, the mayor of Tierralta, Cordoba, used both riot police and a paramilitary group to vacate a plot owned by his father that had been occupied by homeless locals.
Three community members, including community leader Maria del Pilar Hurtado, were subsequently assassinated by paramilitaries.
Otero was temporarily removed from office to prevent the mayor from intervening in the investigation over “the possibility that the leader is influencing the administration, presumably with the aim of recovering one of the occupied plots that would be property of his father.”
The mayor, whose father has been convicted of dispossessing land from farmers displaced by paramilitary violence, has been accused by a local human rights defender of having used the local police and a paramilitary group to evict victims of displacement from his father’s private property three weeks before the murder of Del Pilar.
One day after the failed eviction, the late community leader appeared on a death threat signed by paramilitary group AGC. Before Del Pilar, two other community members who had appeared on the death threat had already been assassinated.
Following Del Pilar’s murder, Otero and his government secretary, Willington Ortiz, initially denied that the victim was a community leader or had been threatened.
But under tremendous public pressure, the Prosecutor General’s Office in Bogota sent a special investigation unit to Tierralta to investigate the homicide after which the Inspector General ordered a disciplinary investigation into possible misconduct of the mayor and his security secretary.