Tag Archives: alvaro uribe

Colombia’s Carousel of Corruption

I wanted to call this Colombia’s merry-go-round of corruption, but I found it to be too well-meaning and therefore taking away from the seriousness of the issue. Colombia is currently in the grips of startling revelations of illegal pay-outs, under the table payments, obscure campaign contributions and all linking to some of the most “respectable” and “connected” families in the country. So, where to begin in explaining this carousel of corruption?


Colombia’s Carousel of Corruption. No doubt I will have overlooked people and entities, but this gives you an idea of the complications to be faced here.


Bringing down a government in Brazil, implicating premiers, presidents (they’re coming for you Alejandro Toledo!) and all sorts of executives across the Americas and beyond, the scandals now surrounding Odebrecht have reached epic proportions. In Colombia alone pay-outs thus far revealed have taken down the former Minister of Transport Daniel Garcia Moreno (allegedly having received US$6.5 million) and politician Otto Bula (hailing from Cordoba Bula took over Mario Uribe’s seat, the latter being jailed for parapolitica. Bula is also signalled as being the “Ejecutivo de Cobros” by US authorities for the Oficina de Envigado. Bula’s empire extends through Cordoba, Sucre and into the Montes de María).

Only this last week accusations were flung at both President Juan Manuel Santos and his opponent in the 2014 elections Oscar Ivan Zuluaga of having received funds from Odebrecht towards their campaigns.  President Santos has ordered a speedy investigation and Zuluaga’s floundering political career seems to be in a serious free fall. Abandoned seemingly by his mentor, former President Alvaro Uribe, Zuluaga is reaching out for support everywhere.

But Odebrecht’s tentacles reach even further in Colombia. Their sister company, Navalena, opened up to oversee the project to make the Magdalena River navigable once again, has been up to no good as well. Having received a loan from Colombia’s Banco Agrario to the sum of COP 120,000 million (in 2015 when it was known that Odebrecht was in serious trouble) there are links in this carousel of corruption which should effectively rock the Colombian establishment to the core. This being Colombia, and you’ll excuse my cynicism, the issue will probably just mysteriously go away. But, it’s worth noting that the Minister for Agriculture Aurelio Iragorri and the Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas are on the board of directors.


President Santos

President Santos in Mompos

Having been accused of allegedly receiving up to as much as one million dollars in his presidential campaign kitty from Odebrecht, President Santos is moving fast to quell all rumours. Whether he knew of the income remains to be seen, but, we must all never overlook the fact that the Ruta del Sol, the expansion of the Reficar Refinery in Cartagena (it has been said that Colombians are paying for this refinery 4 times over given the swindling which occurred), the dredging of the Magdalena River and more have all taken place under his watch. These are his politicians/ cabinet who are involved. As time rolls on it will become increasingly difficult for President Santos to remain untainted from this corruption fallout.


Alvaro Uribe Velez

That Uribe’s Centro Democratico party is calling for a law regarding corruption does seem laughable and set the twitter-sphere alight. One wonders how the former president and now Senator can divert attentions away from the business ventures belonging to his sons (Tomas and Geronimo, both named in the Panama Papers, both directors of off-shore panama-based companies, joint owners of a “free zone” outside of Bogotá – granted this status by the then Minister for finance Oscar Ivan Zuluaga and on a piece of land where current Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa is suggesting be linked to his expansion of Bogotá….you see where this is going right?).

Daniel Samper Ospina on twitter

There is so much to say about the carousel of corruption when Uribe’s name is mentioned that it almost becomes difficult to define how everything is connected. It was Uribe’s Minister of Transport who took the bribes, it was his Director of INVIAS (the Colombian infrastructure agency) Daniel Garcia Arizabaleta who oversaw the Odebrecht bid on the Ruta del Sol contract and of course his protégé who received monies, allegedly, in his campaign fund. Not to mention the “hacker-gate” scandals to name another issue.


Otto Bula

Otto Bula, taken from semana.com

This jewel of a man is connected to everything it seems. Bula was ushered in to Mario Uribe’s political seat in Cordoba (Mario Uribe is cousin to Alvaro Uribe) when the latter was jailed for seven years for parapolitica. Supposedly Bula received US$4.6 million from Odebrecht to pay off people and entities so as to win the Brazilian firm the contract for the Gamarra to Ocaña stretch of the Ruta del Sol. But, as if the aforementioned scandals weren’t already enough. Bula is implicated in the land grabs and forced displacement of entire communities in Cordoba, Sucre and the Montes de Maria. He has also been accused by the US Attorney General’s office as being the “Ejecutivo de Cobros” for the much feared Oficina de Envigado overseen by the equally terrifying Don Berna and Jose Bayron Piedrahita. Now, monies from Odebrecht supposedly passed through Bula and on to Zuluaga through an address owned by the Oficina de Envigado. I am certain that there is more to be revealed surrounding Bula in the future.

Tune in to my podcast on “Corruption in Colombia

All of this and we haven’t even touched on the Nulle family!

I think that most Bogotanos sighed deep relief once the three Nulle’s were sentenced to jail on corruption charges. We all remember the tragedy for the city that was the Calle 26. The Nulle’s were in the running for a great deal of contracts and we can just thank our lucky stars that these did not come about. Now, we know that the Nulles also had a meeting in 2008 with the Tomas and Geronimo Uribe in Panama…and who else was in attendance? André Rabello the director of Odebrecht in Panama. The Nulle family has close Barranquillero links to the Char family as well. And on the links grow.

If I were relating all of this verbally to you I would now be short of breath. But, what you can see is that the same names keep on popping up. This is without mentioning the Ardila Lulle empire which includes RCN television, NTC television, RCN Radio, Postobón drinks, Atlético Nacional football team in Medellin and Skinco Colombit S.A to name but a small percentage. Postobon is named as having made payments to the AUC paramilitaries and supposedly these links do not end here.


This was my first effort at the carousel of corruption flow chart!

We have not yet addressed the farce of the “Deprimido de la 94” and why this single work of construction initiated in 2009 has not been completed. We have been unable to address the issue of Mayor Enrique Peñalosa’s links with Transmilenio buses and his brother’s influence on Bogotá’s bollards. And then there’s the issue of the Universidad de Cesar which seems to be enjoying a permanent teacher’s strike…and yet the educators here are allegedly cashing cheques for 12 to 14 million pesos a month, or at least this is a rumour I have heard.


Oh Colombia! El pais del sagrado corazon, where the carousel of corruption keeps on spinning.


For more information about Colombia, be sure to tune in to the Colombia Calling weekly podcast available to download and stream online at iTunes, Stitcher and Soundcloud


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Political Intrigue and my Wedding Anniversary

The dust has settled, the ubiquitous floral bouquet is collecting lint in our sitting room overlooking Bogota’s Avenida Septima, the Ferrero Rochers have been consumed and when all is said and done this entry should really be entitled “My Wedding Anniversary and some Political Intrigue” since that’s the way it happened.

Cepeda, Obdulio, Benedetti and Santos

Cepeda, Obdulio, Benedetti and Santos

For this our second anniversary, as is becoming a tradition, I decided to make dinner reservations at a venue ordinarily off the charts in terms of budget. It’s a special occasion. What the hell? The result was that depending on your point of view, we could have been dining in a) the safest, most well-guarded restaurant in the capital, or b) potentially the most dangerous or under threat restaurant in Bogota.

As we settled in, feeling a little at odds with the relaxed high rollers all about us we were not prepared for what came next. In the immediate vicinity there was the vallenato singer and the surgically enhanced lofty blonde teetering on her high heels accompanying him, both seemingly intent on drinking the contents of the bar alone without any form of food to accompany their costly night out. The American businessman lodged in a nearby international chain hotel with attractive company. The table to the left was accommodating a couple of recent graduates, elegantly dressed, parents and boyfriends in tow.

dining companions

dining companions

But, it was the table to the right of ours which is the subject of this update. As we respectfully followed the usher to our reservation Alba asked: “is that group of politicians?” It was indeed nothing new there. One continually rubs shoulders with politicians here and the telltale gridlock of armored 4x4s is a dead giveaway as to the type of clientele found within.

Hendricks gin was offered. Then a tasty looking whiskey was unsheathed. Armando Benedetti, Efrain Cepeda and Jose Obdulio Gaviria all seemed pretty cozy. Hors d’oeuvres were on the way, but then, so was someone else.

“Buenas noches Vice Presidente”.

I cocked my head expecting to see Angelino Garzon and entourage. No. But, I was far from disappointed. In strode Francisco “Pacho” Santos Calderón.

The Santos family is not blessed in the stature department, but, Pacho Santos’ presence was felt. This was no ordinary meeting. You have two-time former President Alvaro Uribe’s strategist in the form of Jose Obdulio, there is the President of the Conservative Party in Efrain Cepeda, the President of the Senate Armando Benedetti and then cousin to the actual president, former vice president and presidential hopeful for 2014-2018 Francisco Santos.

Quite an affable meeting

Quite an affable meeting

My wife understood that I was incredibly excited to be seated right next to these notable politicians and soon, our conversation moved to politics – rather than anniversary musings – as seemed appropriate. Our dinner, turkey, pork, goat’s cheese salad, asparagus and a decent Bordeaux all faded in importance as we both tried our best at eavesdropping.

From start to finish Pacho Santos did not stop talking. Conversations began with phrases such as: “Lo que no entiende Juan Manuel Santos…”

There was conversation about the FARC delegates in Cuba engaged in peace dialogues with the Colombian state. Mentions of how these guerrillas are not interested in peace and how they have evolved over time. But, perhaps most interesting was the talk of elections and Alvaro Uribe’s plans. Perhaps you’ve read it in the mainstream press, or maybe it’s something observers of the Colombian political landscape can surmise, but we snooped it here straight from the source in Rosales, Bogota last night.

According to conversations last night, former President Alvaro Uribe will be running for senate and is set to be elected by a vast margin apparently. One has to wonder and question the logic behind this snippet of hearsay and those more in tune with the machinations and chicanery of politics in Colombia will be able to direct me on this one. If Uribe becomes a Senator he loses his presidential amnesty/ protection status. In theory, he could be investigated and then presumably should any court have the know-how and courage, the former President could be found guilty.

Anyway, the conversation continued, whiskey was enjoyed and a straw poll taken of theoretical presidential candidates and their actual standings. 1. Juan Manuel Santos 2. German Vargas Lleras 3. Alvaro Uribe.

So, what brought these political machines together over spirits and laughter? Yesterday’s article in national newspaper El Espectador goes some way towards explaining the event. There have been calls to unite the various factions of conservatives to present a very real possibility of winning the next elections. In particular if Juan Manuel Santos is unable to persuade the FARC secretariat to agree to peace. This was a meeting of ideals and strategy.

And the question you’re all asking…who paid? As far as I could see it was Jose Obdulio. If this was the case, this presumably means that the money originated from the coffers of the Uribista political engine.

Were I a bureau chief for Reuters, AP or another newswire, I would be dining out every night in the hope of overhearing such nuggets of information.

And my anniversary? Great meal, wonderful company and plenty of conversation. Two phenomenal years so far.


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Alvaro Uribe: the Complex Role of a Former President

Alvaro Uribe needs to settle down comfortably into his velvety sitting room slippers, dedicate his time to critiquing leather-bound copies of political discourse, walking his dogs on the finca(s) and lending his valid opinion to the center pages of illustrious publications belonging to international right wing think tanks.

Alvaro Uribe Velez

Alvaro Uribe Velez

This image, almost a pastoral one, of Colombia’s former president is about as realistic as cold fusion. The ex-president himself has displayed his reluctance to fade away into a John Major-esque existence of cucumber sandwiches, village cricket matches and lucrative public speaking engagements through his determined, often damaging and vitriolic outbursts over whatever media may lend him the soapbox.

Often described as “bookish” in the international press, presumably due to his stature, economist’s build, statistician’s haircut, scholarly reading glasses and in that he couldn’t have been a farther cry from the supposed vanities and imagined joie de vivre so readily embraced by the boulevardier that was his predecessor Andres Pastrana, Alvaro Uribe changed Colombia.

Wherever you find yourself politically, on the right or the left, you cannot dispute this last point. Colombia has been immeasurably improved by the double tenure (2002-2010) of Alvaro Uribe. But, just as a tide retreats after a storm, the flotsam and jetsam of human existence has also left behind the detritus of a politically stagnant mandate bereft of ideas.

Another of Alvaro Uribe's tweets

Another of Alvaro Uribe’s tweets

President Uribe’s time had expired long before the elections in which Juan Manuel Santos was swept into office. Accusations of links to paramilitary groups and drugs cartels, illegal wiretapping and the parapolitica scandal not to mention the notable disregard for human rights had all dented Uribe’s political machinery. While still popular at home in Colombia, his international prestige began to wane.

Now, in this his most recent outburst (at the time of writing), to reveal on twitter (twitter! Where he has more than 2 million followers to his account) the infinitesimally delicate issue of the exact coordinates of the operation to transport several high ranking members of the FARC Guerrillas from the depths of Colombia’s jungles to Havana to partake in the peace dialogues, he has jeopardized further his role in the nation’s discourse. Even Uribistas question his credibility.

Does Alvaro Uribe not wish for peace in Colombia?

Of course he does. The weekly news magazine Semana has paraphrased sections of his memoirs “No Hay Causa Perdida” (No Lost Causes) in their edition 1615 where he clearly states that peace is his objective.

harsh and unsympathetic words over twitter

harsh and unsympathetic words over twitter

Then why does he feel the need to be a spoiler of the current process? We can abide his vernacular referring to the FARC as “terrorists” and so on, as this has always been his wont. In fact, this is what we desire from Alvaro Uribe. We need him as a counterweight, as an unusual political bugbear on the right. But, if there is any advice that one can offer Mr. Uribe, it is that he needs to know when to reign in the bitterness as he is in dire risk of alienating his core supporter base and causing many to reassess their views and opinions of his noteworthy achievements.

With reference to this last point, it is also incredibly timely to mention that Alvaro Uribe is not the only former president openly criticizing President Juan Manuel Santos. Uribe’s predecessor Andres Pastrana is also lining up to take lily-livered swipes as well. And while there is no doubting that Colombia would not have reached this phase of dialogues with the FARC were it not for the efforts of Pastrana in San Vicente del Caguan (1999-2002, and lest you forget, the FARC were winning the conflict at this stage) and the eight years of bombing runs employed by Alvaro Uribe, the commentary rings a familiar tune.

There is, however, a grave difference between the elucidations of Pastrana and Uribe. Pastrana’s meandering folktales allude only to himself, and of course, this was his political line as well, while, Uribe seems out to destroy. There is a war of political vanities and legacies on the line and neither stands to benefit should this process for peace with the FARC result as successful.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos

Said President Santos during the march for peace last week: “It’s normal that Colombians would be skeptical after so many deceptions. But the truth is the process is going well.

“It’s a difficult and complex process,” he said, adding that peace could come in months if the current pace of talks is maintained.

Enabling peace with the FARC is not peace in Colombia, we know this, but it’s a huge step in the right direction. We don’t want Uribe to be muzzled as his opinion and calumnious assessments are of huge importance. However, the former president must understand that the political landscape within Colombia has evolved beyond that of the period of his tenure.

Colombia’s bookish former president has secured his ism, that of “uribismo” (the Colombian version of Thatcherism – and just as divisive) and must retire from the trenches as he is no longer suited to the needs of modern day political discourse. But, he must remain a vital part of the political landscape, and this is inescapable.

Can we expect him to heed any levelheaded words of advice?

Of course not.

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Magangue, Bolivar: Home to La Gata

As the second largest economic centre in the department of Bolivar, Magangue is a bustling, chaotic, stifling and confusing city on the banks of the Magdalena River. Economically important for the fluvial connections into the wetlands of the Mojana and the Depresion Momposina, Magangue bears the traditional hallmarks of a port town.

The port of Magangue

The port of Magangue

I have passed through Magangue on many occasions en route to Mompos but have only had to stay the night twice. I did see a blog once where a traveller wishing to come to the Casa Amarilla had to stay the night and ended up here.

My room was cheap, small and functional, far different from the aforementioned. I did not want to be in Magangue but since Satena had unhelpfully changed their timetables for flights from Bogota to Corozal, there was no way I was going to make the connections via, air, collectivo, chalupa and then further collectivo to Mompos.

But, what I really wanted to mention was something that stopped me cold in my tracks as we hurtled towards Magangue in the journey from the airport. On the outskirts, there was a huge billboard claiming the innocence of the region’s most famous and still living capa (feminine of capo), La Gata or Enilse López Romero.

the Billboard proclaiming the innocence of Enilse Lopez

the Billboard proclaiming the innocence of Enilse Lopez

The billboard declares the innocence of Enilse Lopez of all accusations and makes the claim that Magangue, Cartagena and the department of Bolivar support her. The image pictured here is from the same billboard which appeared at the same time in the area of the Mercado de Bazurto in Cartagena. And recently in both Magangue and Cartagena there were marches in support of Lopez.

Born in the town of Naranjal in Sucre in 1953 there is some confusion as to how “La Gata” started out. Wikipedia (always a bastion of reliability) suggests that she read the tarot for some before moving into gambling and informal money lending. From here things become clearer and the magazine La Silla Vacia has her with increased financial interests through the region and indeed with strong links through friendship and business with the infamous  Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha ‘El Mexicano’.

Her husband and father were kidnapped by the FARC and her three brothers were killed by the guerrilla group. There are significant references to her connections to paramilitary leaders Salvatore Mancuso and Carlos Castaño.

zipping in to Magangue

zipping in to Magangue

Lopez donated 100 million pesos to Alvaro Uribe’s first presidential campaign.

Gustavo Petro, before he became Mayor of Bogota, revealed this fact.

There are claims that the Lopez family possesses some 65 properties and more than 150 bank accounts. In all truth the list of possible offenses purported to have been authorized or overseen by La Gata and her entourage runs incredibly long. There is just so much money, power and influence involved that La Gata just seems to keep on getting away with it all apart from the supposed order for the killing of a toll booth worker Amaury Fabián Ochoa in 2000 near to Carmen de Bolivar for his alleged links to the FARC.

This blog was never meant to turn out this way, perhaps draw some light for those travelers coming through Magangue to Mompos, so that they know a little about the contemporary history of the place and don’t just wistfully or whimsically pass on through on a backpacking jaunt.

Politics is bought here in Colombia, how an earth can someone who has been convicted, is under house arrest for 40 odd years command everything? Who oversees the march and the erection of the billboards in Cartagena and Magangue? Where is the rule of “legitimate” law?

March in support of La Gata in Magangue

March in support of La Gata in Magangue

For now Enilse Lopez is under house arrest in Magangue. Rumour has it she was looking for a safe house in Mompos. Other sources say that the DEA is possibly going to request her extradition to the USA. But, I suggest it to you that whatever order comes through, she’ll find a way to slip around it…most probably due to her widely reported health problems.

Magangue, Bolivar: Home to La Gata

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