El Espectador, Friday, March 13, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The government of Iván Duque, with less than two years in power, is facing an enormous political storm. Meanwhile, the Investigations Branch of the Supreme Court has decided to open a preliminary investigation focused on Senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez.
All of this week, President Iván Duque has been talking about a lot of things: preventive isolation of people entering Colombia from China or Italy, the orange economy and commercial relations with Mexico–the country he visited last March 9–as well as the postponement of the Inter-American Development Bank meeting because of the coronavirus. He said he would like to see more women in leadership positions for International Women’s Day and, and on that same day, he confirmed the capture of the head of financing of a an ELN faction. He declared a health emergency in the country because of the coronavirus. He talked about everything except Ñeñe Hernández.
Beginning last week, the Duque administration is being subjected to the greatest political storm that it has had to face since its beginning. At first, it was because of a recorded telephone conversation between José Guillermo Ñeñe Hernández, a rancher from the Atlantic Coast, and a woman who, said Senator Álvaro Uribe, might be María Claudia Daza, a member of his Legislative Working Unit in Congress. Uribe said this in Twitter: “Just listen to the audio. On her part, it would do serious harm to President Duque and his honesty, and to me, a person who has fought on with so much care.” In a matter of hours, Daza resigned her position.
The conversation turned out to be problematic because, as recorded by the National Police, you could hear Ñeñe Hernández talk about “finding some cash to pass under the table and spread around in the provinces.” Up to now, however, even though several audios intercepting Hernández have come to light, the one with this specific conversation had not. Up to now, there is no definite proof that Daza was the speaker talking to Ñeñe Hernandez in that conversation, which took place on June 3, 2018, or two weeks before the presidential run-off election. “Sacrificing me to the media ( . . . ) only furnishes weapons to the enemies of the cause of Uribism,” said Daza.
Uribism has taken refuge in that thesis. One day after María Claudia Daza’s resignation, the Democratic Center Party issued a press release claiming: “People and organizations, in the majority associated with the Colombian left, in recent months, are carrying out an organized, coordinated, aggressive and persistent strategy against President Duque’s government, against Senator Álvaro Uribe and against the Democratic Center Party, with the support of journalists and communications media.” The Circle of Journalists of Bogotá responded quickly: Those claims affect the “free exercise of journalism.”
That position, however, has had little effect on the revelations that keep coming out day after day in the midst of a scandal that has been baptized as “ñeñepolitica” (ñeñe politics). Right now, the three representatives whose job it is to study the complaint that Congressman David Racero filed against President Duque, based on testimony by Aida Merlano, are analyzing the possibility of adding the complaints that have arisen with regard to Ñeñe Hernández, which would include citing his widow, the former beauty queen María Mónica Urbina, as well as María Claudia Daza and the former prosecutors who learned of this whole business.
A question that keeps hanging in the air, though, is why the Attorney General’s office, as soon as it learned of this conversation, i.e. in 2018, didn’t turn over its contents to competent authorities so that they could investigate whether or not there had been an electoral crime committed. That decision only was made after the scandal exploded last March 5, when the investigating organization sent the information and evidence to the Supreme Court of Justice, to the Accusation Committee of the Chamber of Representatives, and to the National Election Council. A preliminary investigation was also opened into those not protected by privilege and who may have been involved in the matter.
This scandal has shaken everybody. Audios and photos have shown that Hernández was close to the Colombian Army, so close that they provided him with trips in Army planes along with high-ranking officers. For that reason, the Army also had to go public to furnish some explanations, The Army confirmed that, in March of 2019, in a Caravan airship, they transported the commander of the 5th Brigade, General Óscar Rey, and also Hernández from Aguachica to Valledupar. “At that time, Sr. José Guillermo Hernández Aponte was known as a cattleman, coming from a traditional family in César Province.”
What we didn’t hear is that, at that time, the Police and the Attorney General’s Office already had Ñeñe Hernández on a list of suspects in the murder of Óscar Rodríguez Pomar, the son of Carlos Rodríguez, a moneylender on the Coast who also did business with the ranchers. And, worse yet, he was part of the organization chart of the Marquitos Figueroa clan (the terror of La Guajira, allied with Francisco Kiko Gómez) as the political arm and financer in César Province. The murder of Rodríguez was committed in Barranquilla in August of 2011 and, up to now, the authorities can count on at least six witnesses who identify Hernández as being involved in that crime.
It was in the investigation of that murder that the prosecutors decided to listen in on Ñeñe Hernández’ telephone, and heard the conversation with “UF” (unknown female) that now has President Duque in a tight place. That’s because it was Hernández who did a lot of his electioneering on the coast. The version that has come to public view is that, as evidence of his connections with Marquitos Figueroa, Ñeñe Hernandez paid for a hit man to kill Carlos Rodríguez, to whom he owed more than a billion pesos (roughly USD 330,000), but the hit man killed his son by mistake. The rancher’s family, which has kept silent up to now, has a different version.
According to the El Tiempo newspaper, Hernández’ mother, Beatríz Aponte, filed a complaint to the Attorney General’s Office on July 3, 2019.She pointed out that her son had told her that somebody was circulating a USD 150,000 reward for killing him. “He told me that when he got back from Brazil he was going to Bogotá to meet with the Attorney General’s staff and tell them about it and also get a good lawyer,” the woman insisted. But Ñeñe Hernández never came back from Brazil. On May 2, 2019, in a city called Uberaba, thieves who wanted his Rolex murdered him. He died in the same country where Marquitos Figueroa had been captured in October of 2014.
The last time that President Duque made mention of this matter was a week ago, on Friday, March 6. “I never knew that there were investigations regarding Hernández; if there are any, the authorities should explain it and do so right away,” the President said on that day, surrounded by his Interior Minister (Alicia Arango), and his Health Minister (Fernando Ruiz). Duque denied that Ñeñe Hernández had supported his political campaign and emphasized that money would only be received by the campaign manager, Luis Guillermo Echeverry, and denied any close relation with the cattleman: “I never had what you could call a brotherly relationship, as they tried to insinuate.”