The recent legislative elections in Colombia were marked by high abstentions and a greater than expected number of blank votes. Yet the most troublesome part of the election may have to do with the shady connections amongst some of the legislators.
According to the Fundación Paz y Reconciliación, at least 70 candidates that will join the next Colombian legislature have either direct or indirect links to criminal organizations. As a result the NGO believes that roughly 35% of the next Congress to be sworn in on July 20th will have questionable ties to criminal groups, especially right-wing paramilitaries and neo-paramilitaries.
“The para-politics phenomena is still alive,” said León Valencia, the foundation’s president, in reference to the scandalous revelations first made in 2006 regarding politicians financed and supported by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and their successors.
“We engaged in a serous investigation from November until February of this year and we received plenty of evidence explaining how this phenomena was going to influence the election,” added Valencia.
President Juan Manuel Santos last month kicked out five senior military officers including the chief of the armed forces amidst major allegations of corruption and illegal wiretapping. Yet Paz y Reconciliación claimed that 41 of the supposedly “dirty” candidates belonged to political parties allied to the government that retained a majority of the legislature.
For example, Senator Musa Besaile of the Partido de la U received the third-most votes nationwide even though demobilized AUC commanders claimed that he received campaign funds from them in 2006. Luis Eduardo Diaz Granados Torres of Cambio Radical won a seat in the Chamber of Representatives with help from the corrupt Char political clan in Atlántico state.
Other Congressional Santistas are family members of former politicians convicted in the para-politics scandal such as Andres Felipe Garcia Zucardi, son of a pair of ex-legislators that are currently in prison, and Sandra Villadiego whose husband is parapolítico Miguel Ángel Rangel.
The recently formed Centro Democratico may have captured twenty Senate spots and become the main opposition party but some of their legislators have shady connections according to Paz y Reconciliación. Such is the case of Alfredo Ramos Maya who is the son of Luis Alfredo Ramos Botero, a former Antioquia governor currently jailed and under investigation for possible ties to the AUC. Electoral officials may have barred Pedro Jesus Orjuela Gomez for running for mayor of Arauca due to his links to another governor accused of being helped by the AUC but that didn’t stop him from capturing a seat in the Chamber.
Not mentioned on the Paz y Reconciliación blacklist was Centro Democratico founder and former president Alvaro Uribe who received the most votes among all the legislative candidates. The para-politics scandal erupted during the soon-to-be senator’s time in the presidency and his cousin, former congressman Mario Uribe Escobar, was imprisoned due to his relations with the AUC.
Four years ago, we bemoaned the participation of the Partido de Integración Nacional (PIN) that was the reincarnation of another party whose organizers went to prison due to the para-politics affair. Despite a media firestorm over the group’s paramilitary ties and the imprisonment of other PIN politicos, the party changed its name and several of its members were elected to Congress.
Fernando de la Peña Marquez was elected to the lower house of Congress even though the Colombian Supreme Court is investigating him for possible links to the paramilitaries and convicted money launderer Enilse de Jesús López. Meanwhile future senator Nerthink Mauricio Aguilar is the son of an ex-governor linked to the paramilitary Centro Bolivar bloc.
A few of the politicos on the NGOs’ blacklist like Alfredo Deluque have rejected the accusations against them. Valencia claimed that the Partido de La U politico has received help from a paramilitary commander fighting in La Guajira but Deluque replied, “I have run a transparent campaign.”
Two candidates identified by Paz y Reconciliación prior to the elections for having ties to the leftist FARC guerillas, Hernando Posso Parales y José Francisco Vargas Díaz, lost in their bids for Congress.
Despite the findings of Paz y Reconciliación, a few of the winning candidates have previously worked to combat corruption in Colombian politics. One of the few leftists to win a legislative seat was Claudia Lopez who helped push the Congressional investigation into the para-politics scandal. During her time as Attorney General, Vivían Morales investigated the Agriculture Minister under President Uribe for supposedly misallocating land subsidies to wealthy, politically-connected families.
In a recent interview, she decried the dirty state of Colombian politics that she claims has worsened despite promises of change with the 1991 constitution:
There are many reforms the next Senate needs to take up (such as) guaranteeing the representation of minorities…(and) modifying political parties. Democracy within political parties is nonexistent; the average citizen cannot enter into politics via political movements because the costs are far too high. The people have been left voiceless and excluded by political parties. Thus, the parties themselves must be democratized.A U.S. State Department report released on last month on Colombia’s human rights situation concluded that government corruption was a “serious problem” that as been made worse by “drug-trafficking revenues.”
Update: Colombian political website La Silla Vacia published an article today comparing the 32 parapolíticos of the current legislature with the 32 that will be in the next Congress.
Video Source– AFP via YouTube
Online Sources including Update – Fundación Paz y Reconciliación; notimerica.com; Semana.com; The Latin Americanist; El Tiempo; U.S. State Department; infobae.com; Christian Science Monitor; W Radio; La Silla Vacia