Multi-million subsidies to “promote productivity and competition and reduce inequality” in Colombia’s agriculture have ended up in the pockets of beauty queens, politicians’ family members and wealthy families, weekly Cambio reported Thursday.
According to the magazine, 100 of the 376 projects that applied for subsidy were granted a part of the tax free 72.5 billion peso (US$37.9 million) federal budget, but despite the goal that the subsidy seems to imply, a large number of the recipients were not poor farmers, but wealthy, powerful families, beauty queens and the families of politicians.
Former Miss Colombia and actress Valerie Dominguez, who has a jewelry business, received 306 million pesos for an “irrigation and drainage” project. Former National Queen of the Sea, Ana Maria Davila received 448 million pesos for another “irrigation and drainage” project. Dominguez is the girlfriend and Ana Maria is the sister of Juan Manuel Davila Fernandez de Soto, member of the Davila family, one of the wealthiest and most powerful in the Magdalena department. In total, the family received 2.2 billion pesos, tax free, all for “irrigation and drainage” projects in their home region.
Another recipient is former congressman Luis Eduardo Vives Lacouture, currently on house-arrest after being convicted for enjoying ties to paramilitary death squads and member of a family that own the majority of development projects in the north Colombian banana growing region and has powerful positions within the government; Maria Claudia Lacouture is head of the government’s ‘Colombia es Pasion’ program that is in charge of promoting tourism to Colombia.
“They supported President Uribe in his political campaigns and with these subsidies are paid for their support,” an anonymous local politician told Cambio. The Vives Lacourte family received 5 billion pesos, also for “irrigation and drainage” projects.
Another wealthy family, the Davila Abondanos, whose agricultural company has an estimated income of US$120 million a year, received 463 million pesos in 2008 and will receive another 440 million pesos this year.
Maria Mercedes Sardi de Holguin, cousin of former Interior and Justice Minister Carlos Holguin Sardi, received 200 million poesos for an “irrigation and drainage” project and the son of Alirio Villamizar, arrested over suspicions of bribery, received 496 million pesos.
Former Agriculture Minister and current hopeful for the 2010 presidential elections, Andres Felipe Arias, responsible for the granting of the subsidies, sees no objections in the recipients of the subsidies.
“Projects of both businessmen and farmers’ associations benefited,” he told radio station La W, vowing the procedure had been transparent and stressing that he as Minister never personally was involved in the granting of the particular subsidies.
Current Minisiter of Agriculture, Andres Fernandez, assured the same radio station that the Inspector General’s Office, investigating the cash flow within the Villamizar family, did not see any irregularities in the granting of subsidy.
The Minister added that the Comptroller General’s Office, Colombia’s financial watchdog, also saw no irregularities.