Veteran political campaigner Luis Perez has never been far from controversy. In the 2011 elections Perez failed in his fourth bid to become the mayor of Medellin, losing to political rival Anibal Gaviria by less than 3% of the votes, while gaining a criminal investigation for his alleged ties to criminal groups.
After holding various public positions, Perez launched his first attempt to occupy the mayor’s office in 1997, standing as an official Liberal Party candidate. Despite losing to Juan Gomez Martinez by some 70,000 votes, he stood again in 2000. Universally backed by all factions of the divided Liberal Party, Perez won although he could not manage a majority in a three way race.
Perez’s 2001-2004 term as mayor is remembered more for allegations of corruption, authoritarianism and favoring paramilitaries than for groundbreaking public works projects such as the first Metrocable line or the EPM library. With Medellin ravaged by the conflict between various paramilitary and guerrilla groups, Perez’s flagship policy was the militarization of the troubled area Comuna 13. The policy attracted fierce criticism from social organizations over the excessive use of force and for establishing a military garrison instead of police – a move they claimed favored paramilitaries closely connected to the military.
Perez’s time as mayor also earned him the nickname Luis the 15th for his alleged habit of creaming 15% of any public works contracts. Although the accusations of corruption were never proven, Perez’s reputation was further tarnished by revelations in Cambio magazine that he spent thousands of dollars of public money on a luxury trip to La Guajira accompanied by three young women, ostensibly on public business.
In 2007, Perez fought a bitter and ultimately losing campaign against current Medellin Mayor Alonso Salazar. Backed by then-President Alvaro Uribe, Perez allied himself with Rocio Arias, who was later convicted for links to paramilitaries. In an election characterized by mud-slinging and accusations, Perez was heavily criticized for issuing “social I.O.Us”- documents promising deprived neighborhoods he would construct local parks or soccer pitches if the neighborhood voted for him.
Perez stood with no official party endorsement in the 2011 race for Medellin mayor. The Liberal Party, the U Party and Cambio Radical refused to endorse him, while all he could muster from the Conservative Party was the unofficial backing of senior figures. However, he does count on the support of controversial political fixer JJ Rendon, who has a reputation for dirty tricks campaigning. The Venezuelan, a veteran of Santos’ presidential election campaign, has denied he has been contracted to manage Perez’s campaign, claiming he is only offering a “moral commitment.”
The Perez campaign has been hit by high profile allegations of paramilitary connections. After Caracol Radio revealed witness testimonies of paramilitary collusion, Mayor Salazar reignited their rivalry by confirming the allegations and claiming Perez also has the backing of paramilitaries and criminal gangs in the current election. Salazar also accused Perez of being behind a smear campaign claiming the mayor owed his 2007 victory to paramilitary backing. Perez has denied all charges.
Perez came from behind in the current race and was running neck and neck with Anibal Gaviria in recent polls. Although his ratings have dipped since the parapolitics scandal broke, remained within striking distance of his rival and a return to the mayor’s office.
Gaviria won 37.66% of the votes, trailed immediately by Perez with 34.94%.
Two days before the October 30 elections, Medellin prosecutors announced they had opened a preliminary investigation against Perez for his alleged dealings with illegal armed groups.