Nicaraguan official found dead in NYC

September 23, 2010 8:30:20 PM PDT
A Nicaraguan diplomat was found dead Thursday with his throat slashed in his blood-spattered apartment and a knife by his side, hours before he was to attend the United Nations General Assembly's annual meeting, officials said.

They carried the body of Cesar Mercado from his Bronx apartment Thursday night.

He was a career diplomat, who met a violent end.

Investigators combed over his car, looking for any hint about what happened.

Friends are reeling from the shock.

"Stunned, devastated, from a personal perspective as well," said Kirk Jaminez, the victim's friend.

34-year-old Cesar Mercado was the consulate Nicaragua and had lived in the United States for eight years, working with the United Nations along with other diplomatic functions for Nicaragua.

Thursday, his driver found his body inside his apartment with his throat slashed.

The bloody knife was found on the floor nearby.

Detectives have launched a massive investigation.

"Somebody slitting his throat, that's crazy," said one resident.

"If something happened like that with this guy, so maybe he do something wrong, you know what I mean," said another resident.

Those who knew him say he was a community activist who tried to help Latinos at home and in the U.S.

"He was very in tune with the community such as outreach, he would help the homeless, he would do whatever he can, and it's unfortunate what took place," Jaminez said.

Fellow Nicaraguan diplomats said we have absolutely no clue what would be the reasons for what would apparently be a horrendous murder, but forensics will tell the story."

Indeed, some are worried that the murder was random.

"We need more police around so the people will feel safe," said a resident.

"I'm a little scared because, you know, nobody is safe around here," said a woman.

Police were investigating, and no suspects were immediately identified. Investigators were looking into Mercado's recent contacts, his relationships and where he had been during the days leading up to the slaying. A motive remained unclear.

"He had no enemies. He was loved by everyone who knew him," a friend, Amparo Amador, said in Spanish. "When I first heard of his death, I thought he must've died from natural causes because there would be no way he could be killed."

Mercado, 34, came to the U.S. in 2001 to work as an assistant in the office of Nicaragua's ambassador to the United Nations, the friend said. He was single, and his family was in Nicaragua.

He eventually took on the duties of consul general, working with passports and immigration visas.

Amador said he was like a son to her. Recently, she'd urged him to go to the doctor because he looked thin, and he was diagnosed with diabetes. The two danced at a wedding of another friend in Brooklyn last week, she said.

"He was the perfect guy. The best person, just wonderful," she said. "I feel as if one of my children has died."

Leaders from 192 nations were in town for the General Assembly, including Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who is a fierce critic of the United States and a defender of North Korea and Iran.

President Barack Obama addressed the General Assembly on Thursday.

Nicaraguan Vice President Jaime Morales said U.S. Ambassador Robert Callahan assured him that the FBI would do everything possible to investigate.

The assistant to the ambassador said the Nicaraguan mission in New York couldn't immediately release any information.

Mercado lived on the top floor of a six-story apartment building in a working-class section of the Bronx. Police barred reporters from entering the building Thursday. Residents said they didn't hear anything out of the ordinary Wednesday night, but some said it's often noisy in the building at night.

A crowd gathered outside the building Thursday. Police had cordoned off the entrance, though some neighbors peered out from their apartment windows down at the scrum of reporters below. An SUV with consul plates and a Nicaraguan flag dangling from the rearview mirror was parked down the street.

Sharon Fonseca, who's from Nicaragua and lives nearby, said she went to see what was going on after a friend told her about Mercado's death. She said she had met him at the consulate in Manhattan, where he helped her get a passport.

"He was a nice person," she said. "He took care of me personally."

Mexican Consul Ruben Beltran, a leader of the Association of Latin American Consuls, said the organization will ask authorities for a prompt investigation.

"The Latin American community in New York has lost an active consul, who will be missed by his friends, colleagues and countrymen," the association said in a statement.

Beltran said he remembered Mercado's solidarity.

"There is concern among the community of Latin American consuls," he said. "He was an active colleague; he always came to the important events. He was a generous, friendly, straightforward person, a good colleague."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)