The Medellin Mayor’s Office continued Tuesday to accuse mayoral candidate Luis Perez of using criminal gangs to coerce voters, despite an ongoing investigation against Mayor Alonso Salazar for trying to interfere in the elections.
Government Secretary Felipe Palau said at a press conference that criminal groups under the command of Erickson Vargas, alias “Sebastian,” and Maximiliano Bonilla, alias “Valenciano,” are coercing citizens to vote for Perez, a long-time political enemy of Salazar.
According to a press release by the Mayor’s Office, authorities have established “support of these groups for the candidacy of Luis Perez Gutierrez of the Firmes por Medellin movement, and to several candidates for the Medellin council local administrative councils.”
The alleged criminal interference in the elections is primarily taking part in the poor northwest, northeast, west and southwest of the city.
References in a report by the Mayor’s Office, along with photos and statements sent to Salazar by residents indicate Perez’s involvement with the gangs.
Independent observers have also established the interference of criminal gangs in the electoral process of Colombia’s second largest city, but haven’t explicitly pointed at Perez as the culprit.
In his defense, Perez’s campaign was quoted by newspaper El Tiempo as saying that the mayoral candidate “does not know any paramilitary leader… What is happening is that Mayor Alonso Salazar and [Liberal Party candidate Anibal] Gaviria have lost the Mayor [position] and their desperation is leading to attitudes that do not differ much from the guerrillas or paramilitaries.”
Colombia take to the polls on Sunday to vote for mayors, governors, deputies and council members.
Criminal interference in elections in Colombia has been common over the past ten years; hundreds of politicians are investigated for their alleged ties to illegal armed groups like the demobilized paramilitary organization AUC and guerrilla organizations FARC and ELN.