5 May 2008


Barrancabermeja ex-mayor turns himself in to answer charges of masterminding journalist's murder

Incident details

José Emeterio Rivas


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(FLIP/IFEX) - On 30 April 2008, Julio César Ardila Torres - the former mayor of Barrancabermeja, a oil port city in the department of Santander - turned himself in to the authorities. He is accused by the Prosecutor General's Office (Fiscalía) of masterminding the April 2003 murder of journalist José Emeterio Rivas.

Ardila Torres appeared in the Second Criminal Court (Juzgado Segundo Penal) of the departmental capital, Bucaramanga, to answer to the charges.

The ex-mayor said, "I did not make any pact with paramilitary groups, nor did I meet with them. People are forgetting that I was once the public ombudsman for Magdalena Medio, and would be incapable of having anyone killed."

However, investigations have implicated the former mayor and two of his officials in the killing.

In July 2003, the investigation indicated that the then-mayor was the alleged mastermind of the murder, but on 25 October that year the warrant for his arrest was revoked. However, in the light of later statements to the Prosecutor General's Office by former paramilitary group member Reiner Enrique Brocate, allegedly now demobilized, a new warrant for Ardila Torres's arrest was subsequently issued.

According to Brocate's testimony, the ex-mayor met with Pablo Emilio Quintero, a.k.a. "Bedoya", a member of a paramilitary group, to plan Rivas's murder. In June 2007, "Bedoya" confessed to the murder before a judge of the Medellín "Justice and Peace Unit". (The "Justice and Peace Units" are units of the Prosecutor General's Office, set up to conduct the hearings and trials under the special "Justice and Peace" process through which members of paramilitary groups are offered substantial sentence reductions in return for confessing to their crimes and agreeing to demobilise.)

At that time, "Bedoya" said that the murder was ordered by "Felipe Candado", one of the commanders of the Bolívar Central Block of the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, which at that time controlled the region. "Felipe Candado" is said to have died in an accident in 2005.

Following that, on the night of 12 September 2007, Juan Pablo Ariza and Abelardo Rueda Tobón, former officials in Ardila Torres's administration, were captured in Barrancabermeja and charged with aggravated homicide and conspiracy to commit a crime, in relation to Rivas's murder.

Ariza and Rueda had been arrested on 11 July 2003, when the Prosecutor General's Office issued warrants for their detention for the same crimes. However, on 20 October 2003 the arrest warrant was revoked. A new warrant for their arrest was issued on the morning of 12 September 2007.

Rivas was a commentator well-known in the region for his work at the Barrancabermeja-based Calor Estereo radio station. Prior to his murder, the station had been sharply criticising the local city administration, including some of Ardila Torres's actions that allegedly favoured the Bolívar Central Block. Rivas was 44, married and father of two children.

FLIP asks the Prosecutor General's Office to move swiftly to conduct the appropriate investigations of Rivas's murder and to determine clearly who was behind it.

Updates the Rivas case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/86242



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