It was their last day in the Caribbean, the sixth after arriving in Colombia on their honeymoon and the happiest for the newlywed couple: they had just announced to the world that they would be parents.
But in less than two hours, that happiness was transformed into pain and death. At 10.30am on May 10, Paraguay’s anti-drug prosecutor Marcelo Pecci collapsed on the white sand of Barú beach, on a paradisiacal island 45 minutes from the Colombian city of Cartagena. Moments earlier, two hitmen had showed up on a jet ski and approached the beach of Decameron Hotel, where Pecci and his wife, Claudia Aguilera, were staying.
“One of the men got out and without saying a word he shot Marcelo twice, one shot hit him in the face and another in the back,” Aguilera told the newspaper El Tiempo. The hitmen then fled in the same jet ski. A hotel security guard was also shot at, although he was not injured.
Tourists on this normally quiet beach crowded around Pecci’s body and some tried to lift him onto a stretcher, but the prosecutor was already dead. Sobbing, Aguilera knelt next to her husband’s body. The happiness of their recent marriage – they exchanged vows on April 30 in Asunción, Paraguay – of the honeymoon and of the pregnancy announcement had vanished in the space of seconds.
The murder has shocked Paraguay and Colombia, where police officials from both countries, together with US authorities, are now trying to find the international networks that participated in the murder. Pecci was a prosecutor specializing in drug trafficking and the driving force behind the investigations of major cases of money laundering and organized crime in Paraguay. He had recently participated in the operation Ultranza Py against drug trafficking in that country.
“It is difficult to establish a link as to why, although everything points to the fact that he harmed the interests of the criminal cocaine-trafficking market that operates from Paraguay and uses the entire Paraguay-Paraná waterway to take the drug out through the ports of Buenos Aires or Montevideo on its way to European, Australian and Asian markets. It is the strongest hypothesis as to why he was murdered,” Juan Martens Molas, a doctor of criminology and director of the Comparative Institute of Social and Criminal Sciences Inecip, explained to EL PAÍS.
But narco-politics, which has also become a reality in Paraguay, is another factor to keep in mind, explains the expert. “It is very difficult to find a case where a politician is not involved. Several cases that Pecci was handling also involved politicians who are in prison.”
On Tuesday afternoon the Colombian police revealed a photograph of a man with a hat, glasses and dressed in black, who was described as one of the alleged murderers. The image was taken in a place near the hotel beach, said the director of the Colombian National Police, General Jorge Vargas. “It is very important to locate this person,” said the general, announcing a reward of up to 500 million Colombian pesos ($12,000) to anyone who can provide information about the assassins.
Some Colombian media outlets have published testimonies by the people who rented out the jet ski to the assassins. According to La W, they paid $50 to use the vehicle for 30 minutes, but returned it 15 minutes later. Others claim that the gunmen traveled on the same plane as the couple. But no Colombian authority has confirmed those versions.
Pecci was traveling without security and, according to the Colombian Police, they did not know of his presence in the country. His widow said he had received no threats. The couple had arrived in Colombia on May 5 and went for a stroll through the historic center of Cartagena, amazed by the beauty of the city. On May 6 they went to Barú. Aguilera’s series of messages about the happiness that overwhelmed them broke the hearts of thousands of people in Colombia and Paraguay. On Monday, she published the following message on social media: “The last sunset in Barú, but we will have millions more together.”
“And why did you choose Colombia?” asked the attorney general of Paraguay, Sandra Quiñónez, to her friend and teammate Marcelo Pecci shortly before he went off on his honeymoon. He was exultant, he had just told Quiñónez, before telling anyone else, that he and Aguilera would be parents. “He told me that he was attracted to the Caribbean route,” said Quinónez, speaking through tears.
For Martens Molas, the fact that the homicide occurred in Colombia could be circumstantial or a way for criminal groups to say “we have the power to impose ourselves here or there.” “It also indicates the transnationality of these groups, their international connections.”