By Camilo Enciso[1], SEMANA, April 22, 2020

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The social, family, political, economic, and power structures of the parapolítica are alive and well in Colombia. And they rub elbows without shame with those who ought to be helping take those structures apart. They changed their names and their parties, but the system, the machinery, remain.

During the last two years, the Minister of the Treasury, Alberto Carrasquilla, has been meeting behind closed doors with numerous politicians found guilty of connections with paramilitary organizations or guilty of corruption. An investigation being carried out by the AntiCorruption Institute in the framework of its CabilVeo project, demonstrates that. The project seeks to cast light on the activities that business interests, members of Congress, or private citizens are using to influence decisions by the national government.

The former Senator Arleth Casado de López and her husband, formerly Liberal Party Senator Juan Manuel López Cabrales, met with the Minister on August 27 and November 16 of 2018 and on January 18, 2019. On March 5, 2019 López Cabrales went by himself. José Luis Pinedo, Member of Congress from the Cambio Radical (Radical Change) Party went to the Minister’s office on October 4, 2018, and May 14 and 29, June 26, and September 11 of 2019. Pinedo was there twice with his father, former Senator Miguel Pinedo Vidal. The latter went alone to one more meeting on January 22, 2019. Jesús Bernal, former Senator from the Polo Party, went along with his daughter Nataly Bernal.

There’s more. Former Senator Alfredo Ramos also visited the Minister on October 5, 2018, as well as Piedad Zuccardi, former Senator and wife of Juancho García, former Member of Congress from Cartagena, found guilty of corruption; Luis Eduardo Vives Lacouture, former Senator for the Convergencia Ciudadana (Citizens Convergence) Party, on October 25, 2018 and February 5, 2019. That day he was accompanied by his son Nicolás Vives González; and former Member of Congress Julio Manzur, former Conservative Party Senator from Córdoba, who was there on December 10, 2019, along with his son, Wadith Alberto Manzur, Conservative Party Member of Congress from Córdoba.

It’s a curious practice for Members of Congress to bring their wives, fathers, and children to meetings with a government Minister!

What do all these visitors have in common? Almost all of them were found guilty or are being investigated for their connections with the paramilitaries, who supported them in the congressional elections of 2002 and 2006. In 2008, Vives Lacouture and López Cabrales were sentenced by the Supreme Court of Justice to seven years in prison. In 2012 Miguel Pinedo joined the same club of condemned parapolíticos.

The other visitors referred to also come with colorful and “blue-blooded” records. In 2007, the Supreme Court of Justice undertook an investigation of Julio Manzur. Eleven years later they still had not made a final decision. Such inaction continues to raise suspicion, in the light of Musa Besayle’s confession, in which he admitted having paid more than two billion pesos (roughly USD 680,000) so that the Court would pigeonhole his case until the statute of limitations had run out. But in 2018 Manzur requested admission to the JEP and he was admitted in 2019.

Another one of the visitors was Luis Alfredo Ramos, who also has a case in the Supreme Court of Justice. Apparently they are studying a written decision sentencing him to nine years in prison for his connections with the paramilitaries, according to a story in El Espectador a year ago. Piedad Zuccardi is also being investigated for parapolitica. Finally, Bernal Amorocho was sentenced in April 2012 for aggravated breach of trust and charged with having financed his election campaign with money from the Agriculture Fund.

And a little extra: since his return to power, Minister Carrasquilla has met six times with Mario Aranguren, who was sentenced to eleven years in prison for leaking financial information of several Justices of the Supreme Court of Justice to the DAS[2] while the Court was investigating the parapolitica cases. Aranguren was Director of an intelligence agency, the UIAF (Unit of Financial Information and Analysis), and a subordinate of Carrasquilla himself, who was then-President Álvaro Uribe’s Minister of the Treasury at that time. Another curious coincidence, of the many that unite the Minister of the Treasury and his notable visitors.

We don’t know the purpose, reach, or content of the meetings mentioned here. What we do know is that the Minister ought to explain it to the country: Who requested these appointments? What was discussed? What role did the convicted parapoliticos and the Members of Congress play in the meetings? Do you have a friendship relation with those parapoliticos? If not, what interest or project were those people putting together in your office? In their own names or representing someone?

Today we are going to reveal more details on this investigation, just as soon as the Minister and the others implicated answer these questions for the Semana and Ariel Avila team.

At a time when hundreds of leaders are being murdered in the countryside by the heirs of the paramilitaries, we urge the Minister to explain the moral and ethical yardstick he is using to decide whom to meet with. It’s imperative that he explain whether his meetings with the people from the Pact of Ralito[3] took place at his request, or whether they were responding to the governing party’s policy or to the government itself.

The meetings that we complain of here prove that the investigations and sentences of the parapoliticos were a legal event, but not an event that was capable of transforming the political and social system. Those social, family, political, economic, and power structures are still alive in Colombia. And they are shamelessly rubbing elbows with the people who ought to be part of taking them down. They changed the names and the parties, but the system, the machinery, remain.

P.S. CabilVeo is at an embryonic state, but it is now beginning to dig up results, as this column reflects.

[1] Camilo Enciso is the Director of the International Institute on Anti-Corruption Studies in Bogotá. He served as Colombia’s Secretary of Transparency from 2014 to 2017.

[2] DAS, Colombia’s Administrative Department of Security. The agency was found to have violated the law and it was dissolved in 2011.

[3] The Pact of Ralito was a secret agreement made in 2002 between the paramilitaries and various politicians who had supported them. Its text was revealed in 2007.

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