In an interview published in Colombian newspaper El Tiempo on Monday, political scientist and director of Colombian non-governmental organization Corporacion Arco Iris, Leon Valencia, talked about the the recent congressional elections and its demonstration that para-politics continues to live on and thrive in Colombia.
According to Valencia, the Party for National Integration (PIN) represents the boldest example of para-politics in Colombian democracy. Valencia explained that the PIN was able to receive nearly one million votes and eight congressional seats by consolidating the constituencies of smaller parties previously implicated and associated with para-politics.
“The PIN was created from the convergence of political parties Convergencia Ciudadana, Colombia Viva, Colombia Democratica, and a part of the Pertura Liberal party, who four years ago, was the most important para-political party.”
To Valencia, the connection between the PIN and paramilitaries is “very well documented”, explaining that it was not only their “academic investigations that showed all of the smaller [and previously implicated] parties joined to form the PIN, but also the findings that were established by the Supreme Court of Justice and Prosecution, which showed that those parties were highly connected to para-politics.”
PIN’s success, Valencia went on to explain, is attributed to its ability to invest in the “phenomen of inheritance”, in which a family member or close contact of an implicated politician inherits the support base, financing, and thus the votes of that implicated and sometimes jailed politicians, spring-boarding them to office from relative obscurity.
Valencia goes on to cite President Alvaro Uribe‘s words, who called the candidates in question “heirs of the spoils. They are relatives to the crime, not from their last names. For example, Teresita Garcia Romero inherited the entire political structure of Álvaro García Romero. She inherited not only his constituents, but also the money of the campaign.”
Teresa Romero is the sister of Alvaro Romero, who was sentenced to 40 years in jail in February for paramilitary ties, embezzlement and his role in a massacre of innocent civilians.
Several other PIN members share similar stories to Teresa. Hector Lopez, the son of businesswoman Enilce Lopez, alias “The Cat” is currently under house arrest and being investigated for money laundering and supporting paramilitaries, and Nerthink Aguilar, who has no prior political experience, but is the son of a retired Army colonel being investigated for business links with paramilitaries, are just two examples.
It is not only the PIN that has Valencia worried. According to the political scientist, “there will be 22 or 23 Senators who are affiliated with para-politics,” of which, he explains, “eight are from the PIN, eight are from the Partido de la U, five are from the Conservative Party, one is from the Liberal Party, and one is from Cambio Radical.”
Valencia went on to place blame of the para-politics on President Alvaro Uribe and his congress, which he claimed, “could have stopped the phenomenon, but didn’t.”
To Valencia, the Colombian media and judicial system have done a good job fighting para-politics, but the mechanisms they used and the sanctions that resulted from these institutions yielded merely social condemnations and jail sentences, which, in the end, could not effectively stop the para-political movement from penetrating the Colombian political system.
Instead, what is necessary, according to Valencia, is “political sanctioning” against those implicated, which he claims is “more important than the penal and social sanctions.”
An effective political sanctioning mechanism to curb the phenomena of para-politics, Valencia went on to explain, would include first, that “those involved in judicial cases leave Congress. Second, that they are not able to replace themselves with other members from their parties. Third, that their family members can not run to replace them. And fourth, that the most implicated political parties, those that have the majority of their members implicated with para-politics, are dissolved.”
These political sanctioning mechanisms, Valencia explained, were previously introduced into Congress, but failed to gain enough support to be passed and implemented.