Tag Archives: corruption in colombia

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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Scandals on the Colombian Presidential Campaign Trail

Scandals and inappropriate behaviour everywhere you turn on the campaign trail for the presidential elections.

The order of the candidates is in no way significant or relevant to my own politics, just how each event came to me and an attempt to cut away at the crap published in our daily press. There has been no mention of manifestos, just a dirty tricks campaign which has taken away from legitimate political debate.


from the page Mamertos mamertos everywhere on facebook

Oscar Ivan Zuluaga: Democratic Center Party (Not center and not democratic) 

  • Zuluaga and Uribe wiretap and hack emails belonging to people on the negotiating team in Cuba.
  • Hacking is discovered and the dynamic duo deny everything.
  • The video of Zuluaga conversing with hacker Andres Sepulveda is released by Semana.
  • Zuluaga resists wide-ranging calls for his resignation
  • Uribe and Zuluaga claim that the video is a montage
  • A photo is revealed of Uribe with La Gata

President Santos: Social Party of National Unity (Anti social and disconnected)

  • Mayor Petro is ousted, signed off by President and then reinstated by the President
  • Santos receives Petro’s backing (?)
  • JJ Rendon resigns as a “campaign strategist” for President Santos after revelations of having received US$12 million to act as a go between for drug lords and the government to negotiate terms for their surrender.
  • Vice presidential running mate German Vargas Lleras calls a heckler “Gamin” in Arauca.
  • President Santos is accused of having paid for votes in recent congressional elections in the form of handing out state funds for infrastructure projects. This is referred to here as la mermelada.
  • A photo emerges of President Santos in the company of the hacker Andres Sepulveda
  • The Farmers strike
  • The Teachers strike

Clara Lopez: The Alternative Democratic Pole (it really doesn’t translate does it?)

  • Claims to have dated Uribe in college. Her ratings climb (?)

Enrique Peñalosa: the Green Party (while he may have “greener” credentials, it’s not a Green Party as you would think in the European sense)

  • Seen to be an early contender, his campaign is nothing.
  • No one knows who he is and what he stands for

Marta Lucía Ramírez: Conservative Party (yes it is)

  • Victim of a montage
marta lucia ramirez

Marta Lucia Ramirez becomes a victim of a montage, the most notable point of her run at the presidency

So, there you have it. That’s the story of the Colombian Presidential elections in 2014 in less than 500 words. Tragic really. The date is almost upon us, what will happen on May 25 after voting is closed at 4pm? What of the peace dialogues? What of tax increases, education, health, the palaver that is Bogotá? Colombia lends herself to an unconventional revolution. The front-runners in this election race as we know it (since polls close here a week before the event) look about as useful as wet cake.


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International Smear Campaign on Medellin?

In March 2013 the Colombian second city of Medellin was being lauded and garlanded due to her recent accolade as “the world’s most innovative city”. Eight months later and it is as if the city of eternal springtime is suffering at the hands of an international smear campaign led by the world’s media. What has caused this backlash? And why now?

Botero's Bird of Peace

Botero’s Bird of Peace

I first arrived in Medellin in 2005 enticed by rumors of a turnaround in the city’s fortunes and armed with a couple of commissions from the international media. I was based mainly in Lima at the time and upon reaching Medellin, I felt as if I had cast aside the shroud of the low hanging winter neblina of the pacific coast and replaced it with Antioquian sunshine and verdant Aburra valley walls. I recall it being August, Colombia Moda was in full swing and beautiful women were everywhere I looked. The stylishly built brick apartment blocks in El Poblado seemed so much more sophisticated and well-planned in comparison to the mega-constructions taking place along the sandstone cliffs of Miraflores. Above all, the city offered something of a refreshing feeling as a counterbalance to the chaos and choked streets of Bogota.

Fast forward the image a decade more or less and I’m living in Bogota – a city not without her problems – but I wouldn’t change my living situation at all. I am the first to criticize the corruption and mismanagement in the capital and as an adopted “capitalino” it began to irk me when so much positive press continued to seep out into the international media about the Antioquian success story. But then, I would check my jealousy and prejudice towards Medellin, this is Colombia and we should be working together towards progress and a brighter future. If Medellin wins an award it is a decoration worthy of all Colombia and we should embrace it.

So what is happening?

Well, it’s inevitable really. The façade of the “world’s most innovative city” and the construction of an escalator to link the more humble “communas” to the city do not a success story make. And now the dust has settled on the positivity coming out of Antioquia, the silly season in the press is over as we move into the final trimester of 2013 and meatier more substantial stories are being sought out by editors.

The Independent ran with a heinous story on the “auctioning” of young girls to Medellin’s cartels and this piece has been picked up by the Daily Mail and translated by Semana magazine. There was also another photo reportage run this month on the slums of Medellin. And now, after the events of the weekend, Medellin is once again in the headlines.

Courtesy of RCNradio, the Space Building in Medelling, showing the collapsed Tower 6

Courtesy of RCNradio, the Space Building in Medellin showing the collapsed Tower 6

On Saturday night a most horrendous and unpleasant news story began to hit the twittersphere. A “luxury” apartment block had collapsed in El Poblado. At first there was nothing on the principal news outlets of RCN and Caracol and outraged paisas voiced their indignation on the lack of national coverage of the event as it was unfolding. Over the puente long weekend, there was talk of almost nothing else. Even Colombia’s unlikely comeback in Barranquilla against Chile to draw 3-3 and qualify for the World Cup Finals for the first time in 16 years was overshadowed. As I write, rescue workers continue to sieve through a substantial mountain of rubble from Tower 6 of the Space development to search for 10 missing persons (mainly construction workers ordered to continue to work on site to presumably place futile band aids on major foundational flaws) and reports are coming out that Tower 5’s collapse is imminent.

hiking in bogota, forest in bogota, bogota

pine forest in Bogota

The news is on, I’m in my sitting room in Bogota along the Carrera 7 and from here my windows overlook the cerros orientales, the defining topographical feature of the capital. Supposedly the same construction firm responsible for the Space complex in Medellin has countless projects here in Bogota. My eyes run along the pine covered mountains and then the scars where sections have been cut away for luxury apartments built on precariously unstable terrain. What is going on? I’m sure I’ve read that the cerros orientales are protected and no further construction is permitted here. And it is the same in Medellin’s El Poblado district. You don’t need to be an architect or an engineer to know that the terrain is unsuitable for such towering monoliths on valley walls and atop earthquake zones.

Sierras del Este development in Bogota

Sierras del Este development in Bogota

The first buildings which spring to mind for criticism here in Bogota must be the Sierras del Este located in Chapinero smack bang in front of the Universidad Manuel Beltran. Supposedly, and I cannot confirm this, the firm involved was granted permission to build one tower. As you drive past on the Avenida Circunvalar, you’ll see three towers. How did the company in question skirt this building “technicality”? Well, by constructing an elevated walkway between the towers whereby they could legally challenge any claim that they had built three towers and prove the edifice to be just one.

This is not a smear campaign on Medellin. This is the result of too much positive press on a city. This is what happens once you are in the headlines; people start to question the truth behind the stories. Medellin is worthy of praise, but now, the backlash is offering a possibility to set some serious errors straight.

The Space Building before the collapse, taken from AirBnB.com

The Space Building before the collapse, taken from AirBnB.com

What has been the fallout of this terrible and unraveling situation in Medellin? Only this morning watching RCN news, there are not only reports from the Space complex, but also stories of people being evacuated hurriedly from a building block in Barranquilla and images of houses with structural flaws in Risaralda.

The problem is being broadcast and discussed and this is necessary, but it is also being diluted. We are well aware of the geological problems which strangle infrastructure in Colombia. The Ministerio de Vivienda is said to be launching an investigation into the tragedy of the Space building, but, it must go further than this. I for one fear that we’ll end up seeing the conviction and resulting imprisonment of a mid-level engineer as a guilty party for cutting corners in the construction of the apartments in question. There must be a top level criminal inquiry and heads must roll. Not only should the housing ministry be involved but also the planning office and all of the officials who supported and approved this construction. Apparently, structural flaws were reported some three years ago and yet the building continued. I just want to yell: “follow the money trail!”

This is white collar crime and there is a phenomenal opportunity here to trace corruption right to the very top. Lives have been lost, families and homes destroyed, one hopes that the visibility of this tragedy will maintain alive both the inquiry and scandal and it won’t become another benchmark of the failures of the Colombian justice system where the common man receives nothing and the ruling classes get away unblemished.

Naively perhaps I strongly believe that all building work under construction by the firm responsible for Space should be halted and inspected. But then, that’s just me.

On a personal note, I take this issue of planning permission very seriously since owning and restoring colonial buildings in Mompós, we are very careful to follow the laws to infinitesimal details to ensure the architectural integrity of the national heritage and the town. There are others who have failed to do so and we are now witness to inquiries by the Ministry of Culture into said restorations. Again, the money trail is being pursued; so watch this blog for further information for news if and when the truth outs.

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How Corrupt is Colombia?

How corrupt is Colombia? It’s almost a throwaway question. Those of us living here are continually hearing about the corruption in the country and how it continues to stifle growth, businesses, progress, public works, politics, in fact just about every facet of Colombian life. Transparency International, the worldwide body promoting transparency, accountability and integrity at all levels and across all sectors of society has released its yearly report entitled the Global Corruption Barometer.

How does Colombia fare?

Frankly, all things considered, not very well.

With the world’s most innovative city in Medellin, with a President who set out to tackle corruption as one of the key policies of his government, with Bogota’s mayor elected on nothing more than an anti-corruption ticket, you might be forgiven for expecting more from Colombia.

As Kevin Howlett of Colombia Politics said: “That things are getting worse should sound alarm bells in the presidential palace. Juan Manuel Santos has staked much of his reputation on pulling the nation up by its bootstraps, forcing it to eat at the table with the big boys. He wants Colombia to be seen as a member of an emerging elite.”

corruption in the Judiciary

corruption in the Judiciary

As much as I want to make a constructive criticism so that perhaps there is a way forward, I truly believe that corruption is so deeply engrained into the fabric of Colombian society that it’s just a matter of fact reality.

I cannot speak for others; I can only mention the corruption that I have encountered in Colombia in my 7 year tenure.

corruption in the Military

corruption in the Military

  • Renewing my business license in the Oficina de Planeacion in Mompos, I was asked “how much I generally paid” for the document. This document is free.
  • Pulled over in my car near to Plato, Magdalena, I was subjected to a rigorous search when the police officer found nothing awry with my paperwork. He suggested quite openly that we could speed up the process by a “colaboracion”.
  • I have watched taxi drivers on numerous occasions on the route between Magangue and Cartagena had over their license with bills folded into the slip.
  • On the road between Mompos and El Banco, failing to have the receipts of purchase for two bedside table lamps bought in Bogota, the police required a “fine”.
  • I am continually being informed that the reasons for the delay in the paving of the “national highway” between Mompos and El Banco is because the money has been robbed by consecutive building firms contracted to do the work.
  • In an interview with a politician representing the department of Guaviare, he informed me that he could acquire lands “on the cheap” so that we could plant African palm.

Now, all of these sound petty, and it will have not have escaped your notice that the towns of Cartagena, El Banco, Magangue, Mompos and Plato are all in the Costa. I know that the Caribbean region is corrupt just as I know that there is corruption in Bogota and in Cali and in Manizales. It just happens that I spend a great deal of time in the Caribbean and so my experiences are geographically focused.

corruption in political parties

corruption in political parties

But, just imagine all of these petty little acts of corruption taking place on a national scale. The mind boggles at the amounts of money that must change hands. And this is pesky corruption, nothing like the alleged actions of disgraced former Bogota Mayor Samuel Moreno and others in real positions of power.

say no to corruption

say no to corruption

Hardly the type of information and negative publicity that the Government bodies involved in promoting and attracting international investment to Colombia wish you to see.   


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