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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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“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop” ― Confucius

45 days remaining a still some way to go…but, it’s all good and I am feeling positive about the Colombia Calling Magazine campaign. Just as the podcast has grown, so too will the support for the magazine.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop” ― Confucius

There are 19 backers on board and 45 days remaining to reach the goal.

If we do a little maths and think that on the Colombia Calling FB page there are 1,141 Likes and that each week the podcast receives somewhere upwards of 8000 downloads…we must be doing something right to attract all of these participants and listeners. If each of the people following us on FB contributed just $13 each we would come in above our required goal of $15000 to make the magazine a reality. If each listener from the 8000 downloaders were to donate just $1.50, we would make it easily.

It’s worth thinking about. What does this correspond to in daily life?

twitter truths

twitter truths

So, let me extend this plea to those of you out there to back long-form quality journalism for Colombia.

This is your opportunity to help others learn about the real Colombia, hear it from the people on the ground and the experts in their field, enjoy photographs and artwork from professionals. Colombia Calling will be the best in the business in English all about this country we love called Colombia.

Why can I make the Colombia Calling Magazine a reality and a success? I am a long-time resident here, I have made Colombia my home, I am the principal author to the latest Bradt Guide to Colombia, the principal author of the Michelin Guide to Colombia, have worked as a blogger for ProColombia, I am an editor and author of the non-fiction work: “Was Gabo an Irishman”, a foreign correspondent for the international press for Colombia, know what it is like to start a business from scratch and create an economic stimulus in a town (La Casa Amarilla Hotel in Mompos), have interviewed and have access to decision makers, am a Conflict Resolution Specialist and am currently studying for a PhD here in Colombia.

If the goal of $15,000 is not reached, the magazine will not be created.

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Support the Independent Media: Colombia Calling Magazine

18 backers on board!

It’s a case of slow and steady, and here I am hoping that slow and steady wins the race or at least reaches the campaign goal.

I am writing this as we sit on the eve of historic events in Colombia, events which will have far-reaching consequences and significance not only for Colombia but for region as a whole. Read the following article if you have not already heard about today’s announements out of Cuba where the peace negotiations are taking place with the FARC guerrillas.

Cease-fire reached to end Colombia’s decades-long war

Wouldn’t you prefer to be reading a long-form article about the complexities in Colombia written by a conflict resolution specialist or perhaps someone who has spent time on the ground as an official civilian witness? Wouldn’t you like to hear from Colombians and or expats resident in this country about how a peace agreement with the FARC might affect the economy, tourism and various businesses? What of life in the cities, how would this react to a peace in the countryside? How will the urban art world react? How will the opposition political parties respond?

There is almost too much to consider and this is what I guarantee we’ll be reporting on in the Colombia Calling magazine. Being an annual publication, there’ll be the opportunity to really investigate and respond to the burning questions.

Episode 144 of the @ColombiaCalling podcast deals with many of these issues and more in an insightful and exclusive first interview given to the press by Miguel Samper, the Director of the National Land Agency in Colombia. By getting an interview with the son of former President Ernesto Samper, Colombia Calling proved once again that it is a legitimate news source in the country. Tune in and you too can listen to the discussions we enjoyed around the topics of land reform and transitional justice.

So please, spread the word and make a contribution if you can. Support independent media in Colombia. 

Remember, this is all or nothing. If we don’t receive the minimum of $15,000 by the end of the 60-day campaign, the project doesn’t happen and you aren’t charged. Pledge on Indiegogo.

Thank you!

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Celebrate! Colombia Calling Hits New Heights

Some weeks ago, I wrote about how happy and satisfied I was with my niche market podcast Colombia Calling radio, but, I have to share the incredible news. My podcast magazine about and for Colombia is making waves.

Colombia Calling radio up the charts on Stitcher

Colombia Calling radio up the charts on Stitcher

On the strength of excellent interviews and increased listenership this little show is up to No.22 on the “World and International” chart on Stitcher. That’s above the Voice of America, Sky News Extreme and the Londonist, all of which are incredible shows, which makes this chart appearance feel almost implausible.

So, building on the feel good factor and some shameless self-promotion, I started looking around on the other podcast platform where Colombia Calling radio is featured and was thrilled to find that the show is at No.144 overall on iTunes. And, additionally Episode 135 with Wally Broderick about Colombia’s Prison System is ranked at No.177 on the iTunes charts.


Episode 135 Colombia Calling radio

   Episode 135 Colombia Calling radio

It goes without saying that none of this at all would be possible without all of you out there who tune in, click on, subscribe, recommend interviewees, are interviewees and spread the word to others. I am truly humbled.

Thank you.


Follow us on twitter: @ColombiaCalling 

Check out our dedicated website: www.colombiacallingradio.com 



Colombia Calling radio is144 on iTunes

Colombia Calling radio is No.144 on iTunes

Perhaps you’ll enjoy this post: COLOMBIA CALLING: 130 EPISODES AND COUNTING…


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