Colombia’s congressional elections saw 69 candidates believed to have ties with illegal groups win seats, showing how criminal and armed groups continue to influence the country’s political system years after the breaking of the “parapolitics” scandal
From a list of 131 candidates questioned for criminal ties compiled by investigative group the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, 33 of these were elected to the Senate and 36 to the Chamber of Representatives. Two of the candidates, both from the U Party of President Juan Manuel Santos, received the third and fourth most votes in the country, reported Caracol.
The 69 candidates have either been investigated for direct ties with criminal groups, or are connected to former politicians accused or convicted of “parapolitics,” — links with paramilitary groups. Two candidates — Jose Alfredo Gnecco Zuleta (pdf) and Antenor Duran — were allegedly supported by Juan Francisco “Kiko” Gomez Cerchar, the former governor of La Guajira who was arrested last year for multiple homicides and ties to the paramilitary successor groups known as the BACRIM (from the abbreviation of the Spanish for “criminal bands”).
Thirty five candidates in the elections have been the subject of preliminary investigations by the Supreme Court of Justice for paramilitary links, of which 26 were elected, reported Verdad Abierta.
Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who has been accused on numerous occasions of colluding with paramilitaries and drug traffickers, also gained a seat in the Senate, and saw his new party making sweeping gains in the Senate and the House.
The results of the elections are a reminder the influence of criminal and armed groups persists in Colombian politics years after the official demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary umbrella group. The AUC claimed to hold sway over a third of congress and its influence allegedly reached into the president’s office. Over 50 politicians have been convicted for colluding with the AUC, over a hundred have been investigated and close to a thousand politicians were named as accomplices by demobilizing paramilitaries. As illustrated by the latest elections, some of these corrupt networks persist today.
The neo-paramilitary descendents of these groups, the BACRIM, do not have the same capacity to infiltrate politics on a national level. However, as the latest results show with the election of two candidates linked to a governor jailed for BACRIM ties, these groups retain the capacity to influence politics on a local level.
The extent of the continued influence of armed and criminal groups was demonstrated in the run-up to the elections, when the Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) registered 260 municipalities at risk of both electoral fraud and violence. The Colombian ombudsman’s office received over 5,000 reports of threats against voters in the 10 days prior to elections, on the part of both criminal groups and the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Meanwhile, Uribe’s success may spell bad news for the ongoing peace process with the FARC. Uribe is the fiercest critic of the process, and will now be attacking it from a position as leader of a strong opposition, while President Santos’ pro-peace coalition has been severely weakened.