A WikiLeaks cable revealed that the Organization of American States’ (OAS) considered the Agro Ingreso Seguro (AIS) scandal a “political red herring,” claiming the program was actually a “success,” while the Colombian Ministry of Agriculture attempted to scapegoat the OAS.
The cable, dated January 22, 2010, documents how the Inter-American Institute for Agricultural Cooperation (IICA), a branch of the OAS, defended itself against the implications of involvement in the AIS subsidies scandal, in which funds intended to help development of poor farmers ended up instead in the hands of rich landowners and families.
Under the sub-heading “We’re just technocrats following orders,” the IICA defended their function as being “to evaluate the technical viability of agricultural development project proposals, specifically those related to drainage and irrigation.”
Moreover they argued that “the [Government of Colombia] GOC-established rules of the program prevented IICA from rejecting projects based on the recipients being from prominent, wealthy families, or the subdivision of land parcels for the purpose of qualifying for more subsidies.”
The IICA, complaining that they may be forced to flee the country for fear of unjust persecution by the government, pointed the finger instead at the Ministry of Agriculture, which apparently had “plenty of oversight over the program, and in fact made the final decision on recipients.”
The IICA went even further by maintaining the integrity and functionality of the AIS program, as “funds were disbursed directly to the contractors doing the irrigation work, not to the beneficiaries and there has been no evidence that money authorized for the projects was diverted to other purposes. For this reason, IICA considers the AIS program a success, the ensuing scandal a political red herring, and the Ministry’s current attacks on IICA a product of Arias and current Minister Andres Fernandez painting themselves into a political corner.”
The OAS group accused then-Minister Fernandez of requesting the IICA to provide a “sacrificial employee” for the Ministry to blame the scandal on, which they subsequently refused.
Former Agriculture Minister Andres Felipe Arias continues to be the subject of ongoing investigations regarding the AIS scandal. His assets were seized in February, while he may await his trial from a prison cell after the prosecutor general requested it on Monday.
Arias, whose 2010 presidential campaign was irreparably damaged by the scandal, has consistently protested that he is innocent, claiming that “my behavior has always been transparent, honorable and guided by law.” Moreover, he accused the authorities of pressuring several of his imprisoned former colleagues to testify against him.
The administration of former President Alvaro Uribe had attempted to remove the immunity of the IICA members working in Colombia in order to prosecute them, causing a rift with the OAS, while the inspector general and prosecutor general both reiterated this request to investigate the IICA in October 2010.
For their part, the U.S. analysis of the situation in the cable seems to exonerate the IICA from serious wrongdoing, noting that the “IICA complied with the technical aspects of its contract, and probably could not have known that AIS funds were going to prominent families, against the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. As such, claims of IICA malfeasance appear specious.”
The U.S. concludes that the abuse of the system is “most likely a result of the faulty design of the AIS program.”