Putumayo electoral observer Eladio Yascual Imbaquin called website La Silla Vacia two weeks ago. He said that he had proof against the mayor-elect in the town of Mocoa, but was not comfortable speaking about the matter over the phone. He promised to send documents with the information to the website’s office. The papers arrived on Monday, a day after Eladio was murdered.
In the letter, dated November 3rd, he wrote, “We, the citizens of Mocoa, want to set the very first precedent in Putumayo, and overall in Mocoa, that justice does exist in Colombia; it does exist and it exists for all the distant towns as well, this is an S.O.S. from all of Putumayo.”
Eladio was a farmer and professor in a local school, who had studied marine biology and that had dedicated his last years advocating for various social causes.
Before his death, Eladio investigated irregularities committed by the recently elected mayor in Mocoa, Elver Porfidio Ceron. According to the Solicitor General a witness in the case informed them that after Ceron auctioned the Mocoa’s merchant plaza he splurged the money to his pleasure. If the lot was worth 950 million pesos, the witness informed that for establishing the contact between the Mayor and the businessman Jesus Lopez Casanova, he would receive 40 million, Ceron 60 million and 50 million to be divided amongst members of the city council who approved the contract.
“The negotiation went as planned and my client paid for the land and the rest of the perks demanded by the mayor”, says the witness, Carlos Alberto Cordoba.
After 12 years, Eladio Yascual, a native of the southwestern department of Nariño, found the courage to speak truth to power and expose the illegitimate election of Ceron as Mayor of Mocoa. Days later he was murdered in front of his wife one kilometer from the provincial capital. They were having a barbeque near Pepino River, when two armed men approached him and shot him thirteen times.
The first questions that arose concerned whether Eladio’s death had to do with his duties as regional coordinator for the Electoral Observation Mission, or if his death was a consequence of other activities he had outside of the civic corporation. In the following days, much attention has been directed at the investigation of the mayor elect of Mocoa, Porfirio Ceron, yet no official statements have been made. However, Eladio’s fight went much further than bringing just one corrupt politician to justice; he wanted to go after the entire corroded power structure in Putumayo.
Aside from being the regional coordinator of the Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) for Putumayo since 2009, Eladio was a life long educator, activist and community leader. More concretely, he was the spokesperson for the ANUC and the Kamsá indigenous community. This community is strongly opposed to the Mocoa – San Francisco highway construction, approved last august by the national administration. Another indigenous leader from the region, Igidio Muchanisoy, was assassinated Sunday, November 20th, after attending a forum held by the National Observatory for Peace the two days prior.
At the forum for peace in Mocoa, Eladio fervently denounced the mining policies that are being adopted and strongly opposed the construction of the Mocoa–San Francisco road. Eladio’s death is the first time any member of the MOE has been assassinated; more so, this tragic day was the first time an observer was target of any type of attack.
However, it wasn’t his duties under the Electoral Observation Mission that led to his death. MOE strictly binds their coordinator to a confidentiality clause, which precludes any political or social denouncement or statement while in representation of the civic organization. Since MOE is a Bogota-centered organization that manages a network of over 450 Colombian local organizations in the exercise of election monitoring, as well as political research and analysis, the local organizations have the autonomy to make any statement they seem fit when they are not acting under the Mission. Eladio respected very much the objective nature of MOE and followed their code of ethics religiously, as all the other 35 coordinators did.
Though all the details have yet to come, Eladio’s death was a common death, here in Colombia, as was that of Igidio Muchanisoy, and the other hundreds of cases of political violence this year.
CINEP, a Jesuit organization, stated in its last report on political violence from January to June 2011 that there had been a total of 655 cases, 201 of those cold-blooded assassinations.
With great sadness, I think the streets of heavens will be too crowded with angels this Christmas, but every time we believe we have met our capacity to overcome, we need only think of the many true democrats such as Eladio Yascual and Igidio Muchanisoy who never surrendered their convictions, but rather preferred to put their lives on the line for them first.