(Montevideo, 5. Juni 2023, the daily).- Colombian President Gustavo Petro is facing his first major political crisis since taking office in August last year. On June 2, Petro ordered the sacking of two of his closest confidants, former cabinet chef Laura Sarabia and Colombian ambassador to Venezuela Armando Benedetti. Both are involved in a confusing intrigue that also involved a woman named Marelbys Meza, who used to be a housemaid for both of them.
According to the Colombian press, Meza was allegedly involved after a suitcase was stolen $7,000 cash, who was stolen from Sarabia’s house, was interrogated with a polygraph. The interrogation took place in an annex of the presidential office, the Casa de Nariño. It was reported that their phone calls were tapped after police produced a false report linking them to drug dealers, according to prosecutor Francisco Barbosa, an opponent of Petro. President Petro has condemned this illegal practice – he himself was a victim of illegal wiretapping in the past and therefore decided to oust Sarabia and Benedetti while a multi-level investigation was launched.
“What if someone says who deposited the money here?”
But by the evening of June 4, the conflict was intensifying. The conservative weekly Semana has a number of audio recordings published, in which Benedetti, one of the main organizers of Petro’s election campaign, speaks harshly about Sarabia, who was his personal secretary for several years. In part of the footage, Benetetti claimed to have information about crimes committed in connection with campaign finance and threatened to make it public. “What if someone says who deposited the money here on the coast?” Benedetti said in an audio recording.
Shortly thereafter, Petro spoke at length on his Twitter account and rejected all alleged irregularities. “I do not condone blackmail and do not see politics as a space for personal favors. I’m only here to achieve more social justice in my country. That’s what drives me. If there are people who follow a different logic than the government, it is better if they part with it,” said Colombia’s left-wing prime minister.
However, on suspicion of illegal campaign financing, the Election Observation Mission on June 5 called on prosecutors and the National Electoral Council to “launch the appropriate criminal and administrative investigations to determine who is responsible for the origin and volume of resources used for the election campaign is,” according to the daily newspaper El Tiempo.
Shortly thereafter, the National Electoral Council decided to summon Sarabia and Benedetti. With their testimonies, they are asked to state “what they know about the financing of the first two rounds of the Historic Pact Coalition presidential campaign and to comment on all relevant circumstances”.
exposed to reform debates
The case also has implications at the parliamentary level. Faced with the political crisis in the country, the President of the Chamber of Deputies, David Racero of the Historic Pact, announced that he would “freeze discussions on reforms”. It is about the government’s health, labor and pension reform proposals that are being discussed in Congress and for which the government currently does not have a majority.
This should be the case for so long, according to Racero sea the La Silla Vacía website, “until we are able to have a dialogue and restore the governing coalition to hold important discussions for the country that cannot be influenced by external factors”.
Translation: Paulina Cwiartka