Tag Archives: corruption

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.


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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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Bogota, a Capital City in Beta Mode

According to reports published in Colombia’s national newspaper El Tiempo, the Copeton, an emblem, measuring but 14cm in length, of the capital city Bogota is fleeing for more tranquil climes. Noise levels, so harmful to the Zonotrichia capensis or Rufous-collared sparrow are soaring out of control into a cacophony of car horns, sirens and jackhammers. The price of progress.

And it’s not surprising really as Bogota has been up on bricks for over two years now with suspended and delayed essential road works, poorly planned constructions and cases of rampant corruption and political inefficiency compounding pre-existing headaches.  Trying to get anywhere in the city has become a time consuming, stressful and costly business not to mention at times unsafe.

Such ills that plague Bogota are well documented, delinquency, reduced sense of security, mass forced migrations or IDPs (Internally Displaced People) escaping the conflict in the countryside, pollution, and of course all of the aforementioned do not make for an ideal window on the country.

So maybe the Copeton has a point.

But to be so negative about Bogota is not to do this city justice. Homicides are down, the city has made a turnaround from the dark days of yesteryear in the 1980s and early 1990s when politicians here presided over what was effectively very nearly a failed state, controlled in its entirety by all powerful drug cartels and leftist guerrilla groups.

And in recent years despite the city’s best efforts, Colombia has been hammered by weather patterns that have left the country on its knees due to flooding and the resulting problems arising from high water levels and poor planning.  In short the capital city has suffered a miasma of suspect decisions and natural disasters.

That we are even discussing problems such as intrusive noise levels and pollution is a positive slant for Colombia for these can be deemed as first world problems. Bogota has progressed, as I mentioned before, the murder rate has dropped significantly and the city does not even appear in the top 50 most violent cities as evaluated by the Citizen Council for Public Safety.

So now, we can say that Bogota, with an ex M19 guerrilla in power in the form of Gustavo Petro as mayor, major increases in both domestic and foreign investment and in tourism, is finding its feet and flourishing.

I would say that an apt description for today’s Bogota is that of a city that is in Beta mode. There are clearly still bugs at present in the software and the cycle of phases of development ranging from the city’s initial development to its eventual release as a progressive and inclusive capital are still found wanting. Of course, my Bogota is a different reality to that of many others. I speak of a Bogota that extends north from the centro in the colonial Candelaria where the seat of Government and Congress are situated. To head south below the Calle de los Comuneros is to enter another world as yet untouched by such progress.

And while new efforts to modernize the city are applied, such as the recent decree to outlaw horse drawn carts or zorreros from Bogota’s streets by the end of 2012 – these humble hard working folk provide an excellent service in recycling and waste removal – progress comes at a price. It appears that southern Bogota, below the Plaza de Bolivar, and satellite barrios and zones such as Bosa, Soacha and Usme feel less integrated and less catered for as the rest of the city lurches forward with macro projects that include integrated transit plans and mega constructions such as the new Hilton and JW Marriott hotels in the well-healed and leafy barrio of Rosales.

So where is the happy medium and to where is our friendly feathered Rufous-collared Sparrow fleeing to? Certainly his flight is irreparable damage to Bogota’s environmental heritage but a city in progress represents something else, something recognized by the Spanish poet Luis Cernuda of the famed Generation of 1927 when his country was in the throes of the Civil War. I remember studying at university Cernuda’s verse that dealt almost exclusively with the unbridgeable gap between the harsh reality and a personal world of ideal aspirations. Bogota is this, for a city under construction that can visualize its future is far more interesting and beautiful than the finished article.


Hopefully the absence of the Copeton is but a brief sojourn in the moorlands of the nearby National Park of Sumapaz and a new Bogota, one that is environmentally friendly and socially inclusive can rise up from the tatters of what was left by the last administration. For Bogotanos, theirs is a discombobulated capital city, staggering to its feet and showing the green shoots of economic and social growth.

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