Funding for the implementation of Colombia's peace process with the FARC guerrilla group has come under increased scrutiny recently, with a series of accusations and investigations into alleged corruption threatening to undermine not just the government's credibility but perhaps the historic peace deal itself.
The Colombian government on April 10 announced the dismissal of Gloria Ospina, the director of the Colombia Peace Fund (Fondo Colombiano de Paz – FCP), the agency responsible for managing the majority of the funding dedicated to the implementation of the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).
The decision went public shortly after the embassies of Norway, Sweden and Switzerland sent a letter to the Colombian government expressing concern over a lack of transparency in the Sustainable Colombia Fund (Fondo Colombia Sostenible – FCS), which is one of five funds that make up the FCP. The European countries had pledged to provide the fund with more than $200 million.
In the letter, the embassies mentioned “general unease regarding the comprehensive management of the Sustainable Colombia Fund,” and listed a series of concerns beyond transparency, including the slow pace of project development.
The memorandum also questioned the government about the departure of FCS Director Marcela Huertas, who had expressed her dissatisfaction with the fund’s “operational efficiency.”
In addition to the $200 million, the FCS has been approved for a $100 million credit, of which the Colombian government says it has only received $38.4 million. Meanwhile, the entity managing the fund has not recorded any expenditures.
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Another letter, this time from the Colombian Attorney General’s Office to President Juan Manuel Santos, warned of a lack of transparency in both fund and contract management, evasion of legal controls and the existence of an illicit network of intermediaries that allegedly interfered with how and to whom projects were awarded. These intermediaries could have obtained access to privileged funding information.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, in exchange for help obtaining contracts for projects related to peace deal implementation, the criminal structure was planning to demand kickbacks of up to 20 percent of the contracts' value. Members of the network allegedly made contact with healthcare and agriculture service providers as well as infrastructure and residential construction companies to pitch them the scheme.
While authorities have not revealed the full extent of the network or the names of the individuals involved, they announced that investigations are ongoing against FCP officials and even some local mayors.
The developing scandal has revealed that Ospina’s current partner received approximately $5,000 for consulting services he provided for the creation of the Post-Conflict Information Integration System (Sistema Integrado de Información para el Posconflicto – SIIPO), an open-access online platform yet to become operational that is intended to house information on contracts, cashflow, salaries and any other data related to monetary investments in the peace process.
The contract, which had a price tag of $500,000, ended up being awarded to the software development firm Synersis S.A.S., which, according to a report by Semana, has ties to the couple.
Ospina’s appointment as head of the FCP had been questioned from the beginning due to her proximity to Post-Conflict Minister Rafael Pardo, on whose campaign she worked during his bid for the presidency in 2009.
Mere hours after the announcement of Ospina’s ouster, the Colombian government announced the arrest and possible extradition to the United States of Seuxis Hernández Solarte, alias “Jésus Santrich,” a key negotiator during the FARC peace talks in Havana who is accused by US authorities of involvement in cocaine trafficking.
According to El Tiempo, the Attorney General’s Office investigation that led to Santrich’s capture stemmed from a series of telephone calls intercepted as part of investigations into the awarding of peace process-related contracts for healthcare services for demobilized FARC members.
InSight Crime Analysis
The accusations of government corruption in the management of public funds coupled with cocaine trafficking charges against a key FARC negotiator are a clear demonstration that neither the government nor the demobilized guerrilla group is fully capable of complying with the provisions of the agreement reached in 2016.
The current crisis surrounding the implementation of the peace deal has once again laid bare the fact that the government and the FARC continue to be haunted by the ghosts of their past.
During the peace talks, the Colombian government agreed to withdraw the arrest warrants and extradition requests issued against some of the guerrilla group’s leaders, and they in turn agreed to halt their criminal activities.
Although President Santos commented on Santrich’s capture that, in accordance with the peace deal, “he will be under ordinary jurisdiction for new crimes committed,” the ex-guerrilla leader’s attorney said he will submit a formal request to be tried under the transitional justice system called the Special Peace Jurisdiction (Jurisdicción Especial de Paz – JEP).
But a JEP trial for Santrich could create its own difficulties and increase uncertainty surrounding the legal situation of the former FARC leader. JEP Executive Secretary Néstor Raúl Correa recently resigned his post, allegedly amid internal conflicts over administrative matters.
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Although the Colombian government announced it will investigate the FCP, statements from Vice President Óscar Naranjo seem to brush off the notion that there were irregularities in the fund's activities.
"Not a single peso or dollar from the fund has been spent, so there can be no embezzlement or poor implementation," he said in comments reported by Blu Radio.
Incidentally, the concerns mentioned by the FCP donors regarding allocation, corruption and lack of transparency and efficiency are currently plaguing other government programs. And in the past, they have raised serious doubts about the effective implementation of the peace process.
By the middle of this year, the Colombian government will end the food subsidy program for demobilized FARC members. Meanwhile, in line with the peace deal, programs providing alternative sources of income, such as those promoted by the FCS, should already be in effect.
According to El Espectador, at least 10 FCS projects -- ranging from reforestation and the creation of renewable energy plants to agricultural programs such as illicit crop substitution initiatives -- are ready to be implemented, but concrete plans for their execution have not yet materialized.
InSight Crime field research has found a widespread belief among demobilized FARC members in Training and Reincorporation Spaces throughout the country that the peace process funds are mismanaged. Many also complain of shortcomings in project implementation.
Coca farmers nationwide have similar complaints regarding crop substitution programs and have accused the government of noncompliance with the peace agreement.
With so much uncertainty already stirring, the capture and possible extradition of one of the FARC’s longest-standing and most influential leaders adds more fuel to the fire. Both factors could drive already high dissidence levels to greater heights and encourage the formation of new ex-combatant groups.
*With information from the Colombian Organized Crime Observatory