Source Paz en el Terreno
On October 18, 2007 Wilmar Felipe Barona Díaz, who was 20 years old at the time, began working at the headquarters of Smurfit Kappa, Colombia in Yumbo, Valle del Cauca, one of the largest companies in the world, which is dedicated to packaging cardboard. He had an open-ended contract and had worked as a second boiler operator for his entire working life.
Seven years later, on May 8 he sent a letter to Smurfit Kappa’s industrial relations chief announcing his affiliation to Sintracarcol, the company’s workers’ union. The union, created in 1947, aimed to raise the number of unionised members, an objective that only began to be met after 2010 when it became more attractive to workers. Sintracarcol was revitalized thanks to the youngest trade unionists who encouraged the members of the company to support the workers’ union.
Wilmar Felipe started out as a member of the union and progressed to be on the national and sectional board of directors. He also held the position of national treasurer, distinguishing himself as one of the youngest leaders of the union until the day of his death. Shortly before midnight on Saturday, June 3, 2017, after answering a call to his cell phone, Wilmar Felipe left his house on his Yamaha DT125 motorcycle, a high-capacity red vehicle.
Nobody knows anything about the call he received, nor why Wilmar Felipe decided to leave his house. What happened next was even more confusing. Upon leaving his home located in the Saavedra Galindo neighbourhood, near the centre of Cali, he was pursued by the police in a chase that culminated on the bridge of the southeast highway with 23rd Street. There, a police patrol car crashed him against the railings and caused him to fall from the bridge.
According to the Traffic Accident Police Report, a Duster truck with license plate number 27-1801, which was being driven by patrolman Yilson Ariel Perea Perea, crashed head-on into Wilmar Felipe’s motorcycle, as recorded in the report’s observations: “ the motorcycle driver was travelling in the opposite direction and they found themselves facing each other. Apparently, the motorcyclist was running away from several police patrol cars.” The truck was hit on the right front tire, while the motorcycle, which was cornered against the bridge rail, was written-off.
According to a taxi driver close to the family, who was driving nearby at the time, the events did not happen as described in the report. According to the driver, the incident took place in the early minutes of Sunday, June 4, 2017. One of the police patrol cars trapped Wilmar Felipe on the bridge on 23rd Street. He got off his bike and took off his helmet. Another one of the police cars that was in pursuit pushed him against the railings of the bridge. Wilmar Felipe fell head first. The impact of the patrol car and the fall of two meters left him with an exposed fracture in the femur, with a severe head trauma and with the tissue of his left ear torn.
He was helped by paramedics and sent to the Colombia Clinic, where he remained under police guard. A video posted on the Facebook page ‘Viatv press’ caught the attention of Wilmar Felipe’s work colleagues, who were already surprised by his absence. The post, which warned of disturbing images, reported a traffic accident in which the police had crashed into a subject who had allegedly just committed an armed robbery. The alleged criminal was Wilmar Felipe Barona Díaz. The video shows the minutes after the accident during which the paramedic who helps him is heard telling him to stay awake and trying to encourage him.
Meanwhile the person who is recording the video and who is wearing a police uniform, takes two cell phones from Wilmar Felipe’s pockets. “He has nothing, right?”, a patrol man asks his colleagues. The person who is making the video is heard asking the person giving medical assistance to turn the body over to look for his wallet. The paramedic tells him to wait, because of the exposed fracture. The uniformed officer zooms in on Wilmar Felipe’s body and keeps recording. The paramedic keeps saying “wake up, wake up.” Another voice can then be heard, this time asking the officers if they are okay, if the policeman who was driving the patrol car had been injured. “No, no,” they respond.
After almost three minutes, the video concludes. At 3 in the afternoon of that June 4, Karol Vanessa Barona Díaz, sister of the union leader, began looking for her brother as they had heard nothing since midnight. She tried to contact him on his cell phone, but he did not answer. She kept ringing, until a male voice answered from the other end with a cold “Hello”, and before Karol Vanessa could say anything, he hung up. It was the brother-in-law of the leader who finally received information. He called Wilmar Felipe’s cell phone and then answered him on WhatsApp. A man who identified himself as a paramedic told him that Barona Diaz was injured while he was fleeing from the police. According to the man, Wilmar Felipe’s cell phone was destroyed in the accident, so he took out the SIM card and put it into another cell phone with the intention of providing information to those who were looking for it. The man told them where they had sent Wilmar Felipe and was not heard from again.
The family arrived at the Colombia Clinic, where Wilmar Felipe was being guarded by police officers. According to Karol Vanessa, the officers treated her brother like a criminal all the time and had no shame in commenting on the imminent death of the leader, even in front of the whole family. The police said that Wilmar Felipe had no belongings other than his ID and his motorcycle papers, although the video shows that they took two cell phones from Wilmar Felipe. For the leader’s family, the officers acted suspiciously all the time, “As if trying to cover up something,” said his sister. The police never clarified matters for the Barona Diaz family, who continually defended the unionist as he was being accused of being a criminal.
Police Major Jhon Jairo Vargas assured Pazífico Noticias that Barona Díaz had a criminal record and that they began chasing him because the leader had committed an armed robbery, although the authorities did not prove he was armed. There is no evidence in the national police records of Wilmar Felipe having any police record.
At 11 p.m. on June 8, 2017, the Colombia Clinic informed the Barona Díaz family that, due to the expiration of insurance coverage, Wilmar Felipe would be transferred to the less prestigious La Nuestra Clinic. Karol Vanessa found the procedure very strange, and did not sign the transfer consent, so he remained in the clinic.
Although there were reports of some improvement in his condition, on Saturday, June 10, a week after the accident, the union leader died. Yilson Ariel Perea Perea, the officer who was driving the Duster patrol car that ran over Wilmar Felipe, was transferred to another area of Cali and, as of October 2018, has not received any sanctions. Members of Sintracarcol in Yumbo, claim that they have not had problems with the police and that they have never received threats of any kind. Wilmar Felipe is remembered as a good brother, a good son and a good co-worker, who never had trouble with anyone.