A forthcoming report by a prominent Colombian NGO says at least 140 candidates running for political office in Colombia have criminal ties -- including links to paramilitary and organized crime groups -- a troubling indication of the enduring bonds between politicians and criminal organizations in the country.
A summary of the report, written by a researcher for the Colombian non-governmental organization Peace and Reconciliation and published in El Espectador, categorizes the candidates with criminal links into four groups: 1) candidates with ties to paramilitary groups; 2) candidates with ties to organized crime groups; 3) incumbents convicted or under investigation for mismanagement of public funds or other violations of the law; 4) candidates linked to government contractors involved in the embezzlement of public funds. (See here -- pdf -- the full list of the 140 candidates) Colombia's local and regional elections will be held in October.
The report found the candidates were distributed among 19 departments across Colombia, with Sucre (30) and Antioquia (26) registering the highest number of political hopefuls with criminal ties. (See El Espectador's graph below) Seventy-eight percent of these candidates have a high probability of winning office, the report says. The author of the report, Ariel Avila Martinez, told InSight Crime this figure was calculated using preliminary poll results and taking into account some candidates are running uncontested.
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According to the report, some of the candidates with paramilitary ties are running in the same electoral districts where they have previously served public office. Several current candidates in the northern department of Magdalena, for example, were reportedly signers of the so-called Chivolo Pact, a political agreement signed in 2000 between numerous politicians in the region and a paramilitary faction led by Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias "Jorge 40."
Paramilitary - political connections, like those fostered by Jorge 40, were the basis of the so-called "parapolitics" scandals that led to the incarceration of dozens of politicians in the mid-2000s.
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According to Avila Martinez, the report's findings indicate Colombia's paramilitary networks never fully went away in some of the areas that suffered the highest levels of violence and displacement as a result of the country's armed conflict.
?The political structures [in these areas] have remained the same," he told InSight Crime. "These are candidates that were politicians during the expansion of paramilitary [groups]. They left the public scene for seven or eight years. Some went to jail and others disappeared. And now they are returning to the elections.?
The return to elected office of former politicians allegedly involved in the country's parapolitics scandals could have ripple effects on other issues. It would be a setback, Avila Martinez says, for land restitution efforts and other reparations processes related to Colombia's armed conflict.