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How exactly did someone kill a top Paraguayan anti-mafia prosecutor on a beach in Colombia?
New details in the case of Marcelo Pecci point to the extremely long reach of transnational crime in South America
Ahoy land-lubbers!!! And ahoy any seafarers who may be reading this as well!
We are excited to have a special guest for this weeks feature. Long-time friend of the PWS crew, long-time journalist in Colombia and editor-in-chief of Colombia Reports, the biggest English language news site in Colombia, Adriaan Alsema!
Adriaan was actually the inspiration for Pirate Wire Services in it’s most primordial form. We formed a temporary collective to cover ongoing protests realtime in Colombia in 2021. We have been trying to get him to write something for us since forever, and are pleased he finally agreed to share this week’s story, which exposes the timeline of an international murder conspiracy whose Paraguayan victim was on vacation in Colombia.
We happily welcome him aboard, even if it is just for this week!
How exactly did someone kill a top Paraguayan anti-mafia prosecutor on a beach in Colombia?
New details in the case of Marcelo Pecci point to the long reach of transnational crime in South America
In May of last year, Marcelo Pecci, a Paraguayan prosecutor with a long history of cases against organized crime groups, arrived on vacation to the tropical Island of Barú, just off the northern coast of Colombia, along with his wife.
Pecci didn’t know it at the time, but he was being surveilled at the upscale resort where he and his wife were staying by two hitmen who had been hired to kill him. On May 10, 2022, as he sat peacefully on the beach beside his wife, one of the assassins walked up to him and shot him three times point blank with a 9mm pistol before fleeing.
Pecci was declared dead on the scene.
The terrifying episode inspired international headlines. Local police initially blamed rebel group ELN for the killing (a common go-to for Colombian police who have no idea what happened), but national law enforcement quickly discarded the idea. Evidence instead pointed to an international crime group with connections throughout Latin America.
Since the killing, police in Colombia, Venezuela and El Salvador have arrested 10 alleged participants in the plot.
Colombian police as well as the Prosecutor General’s Office claim that associates of the Medellin mafia were the middlemen in recruiting an assassin squad and were responsible for the logistics behind the plan.
Who exactly ordered and financed the hit has yet to be proven, but among other organized crime suspects, experts have pointed to the biggest Cartel in Uruguay, the ‘Primer Cartel Uruguayo’ (PCU), which Uruguayan anti-drug officials have called “the biggest corporation in the country”.
But how did they, or one of Pecci’s many other mafia enemies, organize such a precision hit thousands of kilometers away?
They subcontracted Colombians to do the job for them.
The Colombo-Venezuelan hit squad
This week, one of the main suspects in organizing the logistics for the killing, Colombian national Margareth Chacon, was extradited to Colombia from El Salvador.
Chacon’s extradition to Bogota followed the arrests of her husband, Andres Perez, and her brother-in-law, Ramon Perez.
The Perez brothers plead guilty to homicide after being presented with evidence indicating that they, along with Chacon, coordinated the 10-day operation that ended Pecci’s life. which hired two Venezuelan gunmen to carry out the attack.
Chacon denies any involvement in the assassination plot.
Nine of the members of the Colombo-Venezuelan hit squad are now in jail in Colombia and one in Venezuela.
The intelligence operation
Chacon and the Perez brothers were arrested after a six-month intelligence operation by police intelligence unit DIJIN (Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Interpol under National Police) and the prosecutor’s Technical Investigation Unit.
The three weren’t considered suspects until the arrest of the assassination squad’s alleged logistics chief, Francisco Luis Correa, in June last year.
The Perez brothers knew Correa because they used to be members of the now-defunct paramilitary group “Los Paisas,” according to the prosecution.
Shortly after his arrest, Correa told investigators that Ramon Perez called him about a “job” on April 30 last year, and two days later during a meeting in Medellin, specified that the “job” was killing Pecci.
Perez told Correa that Pecci had to die “because the prosecutor was being a nuisance for their boss” in Paraguay, according to Correa’s testimony. “He imprisoned his brother for four years and the prosecutor was going after his assets and drug trafficking, they told me,” said Correa in testimony published by police.
Following Correa’s accusations, DIJIN had a second look at CCTV footage from Cartagena, which confirmed that Chacon and the Perez brothers were in Cartagena on the day of Pecci’s assassination.
In the meantime, intelligence officials began tracking the movements of Chacon and the Perez brothers.
Records from Colombia’s Migration office registry showed that Chacon had traveled to El Salvador more than 100 times and had traveled to Venezuela and Panama on multiple occasions.
According to DIJIN, Chacon frequently wired money from El Salvador to her husband in Bogota, suggesting that she was facilitating payments from unknown sources.
The leads abroad
The evidence and testimonies against Chacon and the Perez brothers suggest that they are low level employees hired by a drug trafficking network that doesn’t just operate in Paraguay, but throughout Latin America.
But that’s where the trail gets confusing. The Perez brothers have agreed to a plea bargaining deal with Colombian police, details of which are not public record, and exactly who they worked for remains a subject of speculation.
Two days after the assassination, former National Police director Jorge Luis Vargas said that the PCC, an organized crime group from Brazil, was suspected of ordering Pecci’s killing.
In August, President Gustavo Petro said that fugitive Uruguayan drug trafficker Sebastian Marset had ordered the murder.
Marset, an alleged boss of the First Uruguayan Cartel (PCU), rejects this allegation.
Last week, newspaper El Tiempo reported that authorities suspected Miguel Insfran, a fugitive PCU boss from Paraguay.
According to Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, Insfran may currently be in hiding in Colombia’s northern La Guajira province.
Meanwhile, authorities have yet to speculate about the origin of the $320,000 the Perez brothers allegedly gave Correa to finance the assassination.
But one fact is undeniable, an organized criminal network effortlessly eradicated a top anti-mafia prosecutor thousands of kilometers away, using international contacts. And at least for now, they seem to have gotten away with it.
The episode is a terrifying reminder of the power of trans-national criminal groups in the southern hemisphere.
The Big Headlines in LATAM
Colombia’s Ombudsman's Office announced that killings of activists and social leaders in the country reached an all-time high of 215 in 2022, up from 145 the previous year. Violence has worsened in Colombia in recent years, and conflict between armed groups has risen as a result of failed implementation of the peace process with rebel group the FARC.
This phenomenon has led to more killings of community leaders as well as more forced displacements, a number which the UN reports topped 160,000 last year. President Gustavo Petro has promised to resolve this with direct negotiations with the criminal groups themselves, a plan he calls “Total Peace” for Colombia.
Negotiations are ongoing, with formal talks set to resume next week between rebel group ELN and the Colombian government in Mexico City, but as we have reported, Petro has also committed a series of unforced errors that may complicate how negotiations play out in practice.
Peru. Geez. We feel like every newsletter this month says “Peru is a mess”, and well, at the risk of repeating ourselves, Peru is still a mess. Protesters in Lima have threatened to shut down the Camisa Energy Project, which provides 40% of the nation's energy needs, if a political solution to the ongoing crisis is not achieved.
In response, President Dina Boluarte, called for a peace and a “national truce”. In the same speech she called protesters “radicals who have the agenda of narcotraffickers” and reiterated that she will not resign, which has been a demand of the protesters.
We think her ‘negotiation tactics’ could have been better planned, but hey what do we know? More than 50 protesters have been killed by police since protests began last month, 7 have died in traffic accidents related to the national strike and one policeman has been killed.
The Center for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) released their final numbers for 2022, and found that more journalists were killed in Latin America and the Carribean last year than in the war in Ukraine. Haiti and Mexico led the region.
“It’s an incredible number of people … the highest we have ever recorded in the region,” CPJ’s New York-based programme director, Carlos Martínez de la Serna told the Guardian Monday. “And I don’t have any reason to think that this year is going to be different unless we see very radically different approaches [from governments], like creating effective protection mechanisms [for journalists].”
Spanish word of the week:
In lieu of an official Spanish word, this week we would like to present one of the strangest advertisements for a language school that we have ever seen in our lives, which you can find here.
It provides some interesting examples of how literal translations are not always the way to go when developing language skills. It could be considered slightly NSFW though so…
However! For more perhaps, ahem, family-friendly examples of how languages and styles differ, Joshua did a Twitter thread this week comparing the fascinating differing stylistic norms of English language journalism and Spanish language journalism, which, oddly arrives at similar conclusions that one could draw from the above video.