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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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A Journey to unknown Colombia for the FARC’s X Conference

While all eyes may be on the vote on October 2 when the registered voting public in Colombia will – hopefully – turn out for Si or No on the peace agreements, it’s key to remember that the Government requires only 13 percent of the total (some 4,5 million votes) to achieve their goal of pushing through the accords, my personal concern is not the plebiscite referendum itself but the following 180 days and beyond.

Plebiscite vote in Colombia

Plebiscite vote in Colombia

FARC guerrillas will begin to demobilize after October 2 and will start to move to zones of concentration around the country where they will start the disarming process and then six months later, are presumably, in the eyes of the Government, ready for civilian life once again. They will receive a subsidy for two years but what happens when this source of income comes to an end?

Colombia has to construct an economy capable of generating adequate incomes for those who demobilize, firstly from the FARC and then presumably from the Armed Forces as there has to be some sort of military reform. It’s a crucial question. If incomes are not created, those who have demobilized face the tempting prospect of returning to arms to earn their money illegally. This is potentially worse than the actual armed conflict in Colombia since there will be no formal chain of command and no central control as there is now.

The majority of the guerrillas are from the countryside. Can we assume that most of them will want to return to the countryside and an agricultural existence? Will agriculture, small-scale cattle farming and so on be sufficiently economically viable to generate decent incomes? If they are small-scale farmers, their ability to negotiate with major industry players will be limited. Are the mechanisms in place to permit a commercialization of their products at reasonable prices?

Is the Colombian State truly invested and interested in helping them organize cooperatives so that there are channels for the distribution of their products? When and how and from where will the will and money come to build the byways and highways needed so that these people can transport their products? Will there be the technological assistance to permit innovation in this industry?

It’s a huge challenge ahead for the Government and the Banco de la Republica.

Farc conference

Farc flag

The FARC's X Conference

The FARC’s X Conference


On that note…..

However… it appears that the FARC conference has created a High Season for the Zona Roja

I will be travelling down to Caqueta and the Llanos de Yari along with perhaps 200 other journalists, both national and international, to the FARC’s X Conference.

So, I have a request for my readers and for the listeners of the Colombia Calling podcast as I will be recording Episode 156 from the camp alongside the guerrillas: 

Do you have any direct questions which you would like me to put to members of the FARC guerrillas during my time there at the conference?

Write the questions in the comments box below this post.

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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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The Colombia Calling Magazine: Help Make it a Reality

Help Me Launch the “Colombia Calling Magazine”

colombia calling campaign on indiegogo

colombia calling campaign on indiegogo

The Colombia Calling magazine!


Colombia Calling is collaborating with Indiegogo to conduct an experiment in community-funded publishing to bring you the final word on this country in an annual periodical all about Colombia.

You may have already tuned in to the weekly podcast Colombia Calling on iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud (143 episodes and counting!) – hopefully you have – and now you are up to speed and informed out Colombia…but yearning for some hard copy quality? Dare I say it, a collector’s item.

The story so far

Colombia Calling radio is climbing the charts on iTunes

Colombia Calling radio is climbing the charts on iTunes

Almost out of the blue, in 2013, I was approached by the Overseas Radio Network to host a weekly podcast. After careful consideration, I decided to pursue this challenge and over time and with dedication have built up a loyal and growing audience of expats in Colombia, people wanting to learn more about Colombia (beyond what is covered in the mainstream press) and the Colombian diaspora. In fact the weekly haul of downloads is upwards of 8000 listeners now. I am flattered and in awe of these people who tune in week in week out.

Without You listeners, I am nothing.
On the podcast the aim has been to provide better information about Colombia, getting beneath the surface and trying to provide a balanced if not fair image of this country which has given me so much. One week I’ll be interviewing experts in the food world, the next week a former kidnapee, then having a forum on Bogotá’s graffiti scene before then discussing the prison system in the country. It’s a bit of everything and that’s why it may be the most complete “podcast magazine” on Colombia.

For some time now I have been thinking of how to increase the awareness of the Colombia Calling brand, how to thank my listeners and at the same time pay due respects to longform and quality journalism about Colombia. For a complex and misunderstood country such as Colombia, accurate and quality writing is required.

The answer, after careful consultation with various parties, was to create a annual magazine dedicated to art, culture, news, photography and what is going on in Colombia. It will be in English as Colombia Calling is in English but the idea is that Colombia wins, in providing the lens for great reportage about the country.

Colombia Calling magazine is destined to be a beautifully produced guide to contemporary Colombia. This 80 page magazine will introduce the reader to some of a new and exciting cadre of unknown writers/ journalists/ photographers and artists plying their trade here in Colombia.

The magazine will feature detailed high quality images, dozens of illustrations, longform journalism and original artwork. And we will pay our contributors respectfully what is owed to them for their trade.

As well you know, this is all or nothing. If we don’t receive the minimum $15,000 by the end of the 60 day campaign, the project doesn’t happen and you aren’t charged.

By participating you take an active part in the publishing process and help define the trajectory of a niche cultural project such as this.


And please help by letting others know on Twitter and Facebook

Thank you in advance for your support.

Warm greetings from Bogotá, Colombia

Richard McColl

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