Caracas, June 1st 2015 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Alleged Colombian paramilitary Leiver Padilla, alias “El Colombia,” arrived in Venezuela on Saturday where he will face trial for the murders of socialist politician Robert Serra (27) and his comrade and political assistant, Maria Herrera (26).
Padilla is considered by Venezuelan authorities to be the head of an eight man group responsible for assassinating the two young political activists on October 1st last year. He was arrested on November 5th 2014 by Colombian authorities in Cartagena after Venezuela issued an Interpol request for his capture. The extradition of the alleged paramilitary, who has dual Venezuela-Colombia nationality, was approved by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, early in May.
“The extradition of Leiver Padilla Mendoza, alias “El Colombia” has been culminated. He sought refuge in another country to evade justice after having committed a punishable act. We give our upmost thanks to the government of the sister Republic of Colombia, and to its authorities and institutions for their cooperation and collaboration in the arrest of Leiva Padilla,” stated Minister of Justice, Peace and the Interior, Gustavo González López, who personally greeted the security delegation tasked with extraditing Leiva in Maiquetia airport.
Increased Paramilitary Activity
In the days following the assassination of Serra and Herrera, the Venezuelan government released CCTV footage of six men entering Serra’s house in the working class barrio of Caracas, La Pastora. Authorities maintain that the group immediately “neutralised” an unsuspecting Herrera, who answered the door, and then proceeded to go upstairs where they violently assassinated Serra before leaving just several minutes later.
The legislator was tied, gagged and stabbed somewhere between twenty to fifty times in the chest and four times in the back. At the time, then-Venezuelan Minister of Justice, Peace and the Interior, Miguel Rodriguez Torres, affirmed that the attack bore all the hallmarks of a politically motivated assassination.
As the country’s youngest ever parliamentarian, Serra began his political career under the guiding hand of former Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, and was pegged by many to become one of the most prominent leaders within the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) government.
In the months prior to his death, he was conducting a parliamentary investigation into the activities of Lorent Saleh, a young rightwing activist arrested in 2014 for allegedly plotting alongside Colombian paramilitaries to carry out a series of terrorist attacks and political murders in Venezuela. Also extradited from Colombia, Saleh is a chief ally of former Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, currently under investigation for his alleged links to paramilitary networks. Uribe had also been accused of being linked to Saleh by Serra less than two weeks before his death.
According to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the murders were planned and financed by an unknown person in Colombia. They have been widely interpreted as an attempt to intimidate those who support the country’s leftwing Bolivarian Revolution.
Many have also cited the crime as a sign of the increasing presence of rightwing paramilitary forces operating in the country.
Demands for justice
Thousands of mourners poured out onto the streets of the capital city for the pair’s funerals in the wake of the murders which sent ripples throughout the country.
Eight months later, many continue to clamour for justice and hope it will be delivered by Padilla’s upcoming trial. Until now, the alleged paramilitary has denied the charges levelled against him and has even claimed to be a “Chavista”. Nonetheless, Venezuelan authorities maintain that it was Padilla who delivered the fatal blow to the parliamentarian.
Key in the upcoming trial, which promises to be kept highly confidential, will be the testimony of Serra’s chief bodyguard, Edwin Torres Camacho. Camacho was arrested soon after the murders and admitted to having been approached by “El Colombia” and paid to betray the socialist legislator.
The confession is one of the strongest pieces of evidence against Padilla, who is also reported by Venezuelan press to have been aided and abetted by his wife and accompanied by his son on the night of the murder.
The high profile case has seen ten other people arrested in connection to the plot and international arrest warrants issued for another three.
Padilla’s capture is perhaps the most significant development in the case so far. His testimony could provide a clue as to the identity of the financial backer in Colombia, responsible for ordering the assassination, as well as shed light on one of the most high profile political assassinations of the last fifteen years in Venezuela.