The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) spent over half a million dollars funding an Afro-Colombian caucus dominated by politicians accused of ties to illegal armed groups or of corruption, according to diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks.
The cables reveal USAID began financing the caucus in 2006 to encourage political representation of the Afro-Colombian community and promote legislation addressing the discrimination and inequalities that many Afro-Colombians face.
The caucus consisted of ten politicians from across the country representing nine different political parties.
Of those ten, three have now been convicted for their links to paramilitary groups, including infamous Cali politico Juan Carlos Martinez, currently in prison because of his connections to extradited AUC leader H.H, and Odin Sanchez and Edgar Torres, convicted of receiving funding from paramilitary chief “El Aleman”. Another senator, Hemel Hurtado has been questioned over his links to Martinez.
Three more caucus politicians have been embroiled in corruption scandals. Representative Silfredo Morales, who is identified in the cables as the coordinator of the caucus, is currently serving a six-year prison sentence for corrupt contracting when he was mayor of Maria la Baja. Former senator Rufino Cordoba is being investigated for allegedly embezzling money from the National Narcotics Office (DNE), while Julio Gallardo was denounced by local press for distributing DNE funds to family members.
According to one 2009 cable, “Afro-Colombian activists voiced concern that the various criminal investigations against Caucus members have undermined its credibility.” The cable details how one Afro-Colombian activist told U.S. contacts the Caucus members “do not come from community organizations, but bought their seats through corruption and clientalist (sic) politics.” It also relates how an Afro-Colombian congressman did not want to join the caucus because of its members’ “spotty reputation.”
The cable also states the group accomplished little, saying “the Caucus has succeeded in highlighting Afro-Colombian issues, but has not been effective in pushing a distinct, Afro-Colombian legislative agenda due to political, personal and regional differences.”
Nevertheless, USAID continued to fund the caucus through the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), although, the 2009 cable states, “public support has become much more low profile since the start of the investigations.”
According to the 2007 cable, USAID got involved in Afro-Colombian affairs because “a century-and-a-half of state neglect has marginalized the majority of Afro-Colombians and created substantial deficits in income, health and education” while Afro-Colombian organizations “lack political muscle and do not share a common agenda.”
The cable adds that “Afro-Colombians tell us it sometimes seems that the USG (US government) cares more about their issues than the GoC (government of Colombia) does.
Colombia Reports contacted USAID and the U.S. Embassy but was told, “we do not comment on the substance of leaked classified documents.”