The Colombian attorney general’s office announced yesterday that authorities have arrested a hacker suspected of spying on communications belonging to the government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) as they conduct peace talks in Havana.
Andrés Sepúlveda was arrested in a raid on a Bogotá office for allegedly running an illegal spying ring. Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre said that Sepúlveda’s operation was selling information to a third party in an attempt to “sabotage, interfere and affect the peace process in Havana.” Investigators believe that President Juan Manuel Santos’ emails may have been intercepted.
Sepúlveda is linked to the political campaign of Óscar Iván Zuluaga, the Centro Democrático (Democratic Center) candidate who is running against Santos in Colombia’s May 25 presidential election. Zuluaga acknowledged yesterday that Sepúlveda has been providing social network and security services for his campaign since February, but insisted that the spying ring had nothing to do with his campaign.
A prior spying scandal unveiled in February also targeted the peace talks in Havana, but Montealegre said that the latest scandal was not linked to Operation “Andrómeda,” in which members of the Colombian military set up a special intelligence unit to spy on the government, the FARC, and journalists’ communications.
The raid comes days after Santos’ chief campaign strategist, J. J. Rendon, resigned amid allegations that he received $12 million from drug kingpins in exchange for mediating a negotiated surrender.
Upcoming presidential elections and ongoing peace negotiations demonstrate Colombia’s consolidation of rule and law and democracy.
President Juan Manuel Santos is seeking re-election, and free and fair elections have been a mainstay in the country since 1957—one of the longest stretches in Latin America. Moreover, the peace process, underway since October 2012, is a notable program which has attracted the attention and support of the international community.
Yet while the exercise of democracy and the progress towards a lasting peace are clearly some of the main stories in Colombia, they have overshadowed the country’s economic performance during the past decade. According to Capital Economics, a London-based economic research group, Colombia has surpassed Argentina to become the third-largest economy in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico.
Colombia has enjoyed stable GDP growth (estimated at between 4 and 5 percent in 2014), diversification of exports, strong fiscal position, and lower unemployment. Poverty has declined with it, and a strong middle class has emerged. Colombia’s economic growth is notable in a country that is climbing out of an internal armed conflict.
With production rates continuing at their current level Colombia will run out of oil within 6.9 years unless new, major oil fields are found. As of 2013, the country had 2.3 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves, ranking fifth after Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, and Argentina in total reserves in South America.
Most of these reserves are allocated to the export market, which is currently the fourth most significant in Latin America. Export growth has been nothing short of staggering in the last nine years and since 2004 Colombia has fed its oil exports by increasing production by 79 percent (equivalent to 400 thousand barrels per day).
This year’s target is 1.2 million barrels per day and will again predominately feed into the export market–a fact supported by the production-to-(national) consumption ratio published by The Oil & Gas Journal last year, which indicates that for every 3.31 barrels produced, only one stays in Colombia.
Unlike Venezuela—which, even at a production rate of 2.7 million barrels per day, has enough oil to last for more than 250 years, according to the June 2013 BP Statistical Review of World Energy - Colombia’s current level of export surplus means that its oil wells will run dry in only six years. If daily production increases to the target of 1.2 million barrels with current reserves—as predicted by Ecopetrol, the largest oil company in Colombia—then six years will be more like five and half. Furthermore, the Colombian government’s mining and energy planning unit, the Unidad de Planeamiento Minero Energético (Mining Energy Planning Unit—UPME), states that Colombia will be a net oil importer within two election campaigns.
The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) condemned the removal of leftist Mayor of Bogotá Gustavo Petro from office Thursday, saying it will have a negative impact on the peace negotiations.
Last December, Petro, a former member of the demobilized guerrilla group Movimiento 19 de Abril (19th of April Movement—M-19), was removed as mayor and banned from holding office for 15 years by Colombian Attorney General Alejandro Ordoñez, for alleged mismanagement of the garbage collection system. A backlash of protests and lawsuits filed by Petro's supporters suspended his removal until Wednesday, when the Council of State reviewed and rejected the lawsuits and President Juan Manuel Santos approved Petro’s removal.
Iván Márquez, the FARC’s second in command, said that the decision to oust Petro affects the trust that has been built between the FARC and the government throughout the peace talks, and casts doubt on the promise of political participation for demobilized guerrillas.
Petro accused Santos of staging a coup on the city and showing his inability to achieve peace. Márquez stated that it will be impossible to achieve an agreement with the Colombian government if it continues to make decisions that undermine Colombian democracy, like the forced removal of a popularly elected official. “We can very respectfully say that the mafia of the right has taken the power,” Márquez added.
Las campañas electorales en Colombia parecen calcadas una de la otra: los partidos políticos quedan expuestos en la picota pública por avalar a personajes sospechosos; los grandes barones electorales o sus herederos vuelven al curul; las regiones escasamente proponen caras nuevas; y aquellas colectividades que por no alcanzar el umbral requerido de votos en los anteriores comicios perdieron la personería jurídica, respaldan movimientos ciudadanos avalados por firmas, pocas veces nacidos de una genuina intención ciudadana, y en cambio, con una fuerte maquinaria de los políticos tradicionales detrás.
Si las cosas continúan así, tras la jornada electoral a la que Colombia asiste este domingo 9 de marzo para elegir 262 parlamentarios entre Cámara y Senado, el Congreso no tendrá mucha renovación. Salvo a la inquietud de saber finalmente cuántas curules obtendrá la lista cerrada del partido Centro Democrático, encabezada por el ex presidente Álvaro Uribe (entre 15 y 36, según el grado de optimismo y cálculo político de uribistas o antiuribistas), el camino carece de sorpresas.
Nadie duda la llegada de Uribe al Senado y el escenario de álgido debate que este promete en el Congreso. Después de todo, muchos de sus más grandes contradictores estarán allí esperando cuestionarlo por temas tan álgidos como las chuzadas del DAS, la persecución política y judicial de oponentes políticos y periodistas, y las acusaciones públicas que el ex mandatario solía hacer contra sus opositores. En esta lista, figuran senadores que seguro serán repitentes como los del Polo Democratico—Jorge Robledo e Iván Cepeda, los del Cambio Radical como Germán Varon, y los nuevos aspirantes como la investigadora Claudia López de la Alianza Verde, reconocida por su papel en la revelación de los más oscuros pasajes de la parapolítica en Colombia. Habrá que ver si sólo el voto de opinión—es decir, sin la maquinaria clásica que amarra el sufragio en Colombia—le permite a ella y a otros partidos chicos alcanzar el umbral de 450 mil votos para poder participar en estos debates.
Que en Colombia hay enemigos del proceso de paz que adelanta el Gobierno con las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) en la Habana no es nuevo ni sorprende. Hay fuerzas partidarias que le apuestan a las conversaciones de paz, tanto como aquellas que nunca estuvieron de acuerdo con que se comenzaran, el uribismo en particular. Este es el resultado de haber priorizado una salida militar sin éxito durante 50 años de conflicto armado.
Sin embargo, a los colombianos les cuesta confiar en una guerrilla a la que por años se le ha culpado por todos los males del país, especialmente después del fracaso de los diálogos del Caguán, en los que las FARC se fortalecieron militarmente al tener una zona de 42.000 km2 donde eran “Dios y Ley” durante el gobierno de Andrés Pastrana.
De estar en desacuerdo, a sabotear el proceso, hay un trecho enorme. Más aún si el sabotaje incluye una de las herramientas más nocivas contra la privacidad y el ejercicio de la oposición política en Colombia: las llamadas “chuzadas.” Recordado como uno de los grandes lunares del gobierno de Álvaro Uribe, que finalmente obligó a su sucesor Juan Manuel Santos a liquidar el controvertido Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS), el caso reveló que ese organismo de inteligencia interceptaba ilegalmente las comunicaciones de periodistas, activistas de derechos humanos, jueces, magistrados y políticos de la oposición, con el objetivo de enlodar sus nombres, abrir expedientes falsos e incluso encomendar fuerzas paramilitares para asesinarlos.
La historia de Colombia es prueba de que el ejercicio de la oposición política en el país es peligroso. Ahora en la era de Santos aparece de nuevo este fantasma, descubierto gracias a las revelaciones del portal Semana.com.
Two top Colombian intelligence officers were dismissed on Tuesday after allegations that the Colombian military was spying on government peace negotiators.
General Mauricio Zúñiga, chief of army intelligence, and General Jorge Andres Zuluaga, director of the army’s national intelligence center, were dismissed from their positions after an investigation by the Colombian newsmagazine Semana found an undercover intelligence-gathering site set up by an army team in Bogotá. According to the investigation, the army recruited hackers to break into the email accounts and text messages of government officials associated with the peace talks in Havana.
Army General Juan Pablo Rodríguez said in an interview that the military knew about the site, which was one of their “many intelligence gathering activities.” However, Rodríguez said that the military never approved of spying on government officials.
President Juan Manuel Santos has ordered an in-depth investigation. He said that military spying on the country’s own citizens and officials is unacceptable, and questioned whether the incident is linked to plans to sabotage the peace negotiations.
This is not the first time that Colombia’s security forces have been linked to illegal spying and wiretapping. During the administration of former President Álvaro Uribe, the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (Administrative Department of Security—DAS), the country’s main intelligence service, faced allegations of illegally wiretapping public figures and collaborating with paramilitary groups. After Santos’ election, the DAS was dismantled and several of its agents were prosecuted.
Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón accepted an offer on Wednesday made by President Juan Manuel Santos and Chancellor María Ángela Holguín to become the Colombian ambassador to Brazil. Garzón had recently been linked to a position as provisional mayor of Bogota, to replace embattled Mayor Gustavo Petro. But in an open letter, Garzón negated the possibility, the stating that “neither the president has suggested it to me, nor would I accept.”
Garzon’s appointment comes only one day after a Colombian court ruled to suspend Petro’s removal from his position as mayor of Bogota. In early December, Petro was ordered removed from office by Attorney General Alejandro Ordóñez under accusations of mismanaging a garbage collection system, and banned from holding public office for a period of 15 years. Thousands of Petro supporters rallied to support the mayor, who is permitted to stay in office until the end of the appeal process, and on Tuesday courts put the ruling on hold. Vice President Garzón has openly supported both the investigation into Petro’s alleged crimes, as well as the mayor’s right to due process.
As part of his new agenda as the ambassador to Brazil, Garzón will meet with the President of the Federación de Fútbol Colombiano, Luis Bedoya, to discuss Colombia’s participation in the World Cup, as well as Brazilian business owners. Garzón will continue in his current position as vice president until August 7, 2014.
Likely top stories this week: Former President Michelle Bachelet wins Chile’s presidential elections; Protesters rally in support of ousted Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro; USAID plans to pull out of Ecuador by September 2014; the FARC’s 30-day ceasefire goes into effect; a study finds that Mexico leads the world in kidnappings.
Michelle Bachelet Wins Chilean Elections: Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet won Sunday's runoff election to become president of Chile again, easily defeating conservative opponent Evelyn Matthei with 62 percent of the vote. Matthei, meanwhile, captured only 37 percent of the vote—the poorest showing by the Chilean Right in two decades. Bachelet served as president from 2006 to 2010 and left office with an 84 percent approval rating, and will be sworn in in March 2014.
Thousands of Colombians March For Mayor Petro: Supporters of Bogotá's recently-dismissed mayor, Gustavo Petro, rallied in the streets last Friday to protest Petro's removal from office. On December 9, Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez accused Petro of mismanagement of Bogotá's trash collection system and barred him from holding political office for 15 years. Protesters say that Ordóñez, who is not an elected official and is an ally of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, has no authority to remove Petro from office.
USAID Makes Plans to Leave Ecuador: The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is expected to pull its $32 million aid program out of Ecuador by September 2014, according to a letter written Thursday by USAID Mission Director Christopher Cushing. The move comes six months after Bolivian President Evo Morales ordered USAID to leave his country. USAID has not been successful at renegotiating its contract with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, and Correa has said he suspects the organization of meddling in his country's affairs.
FARC Ceasefire Begins: A 30-day ceasefire by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) began on Sunday as the rebels continue peace negotiations with the Colombian government in Havana. The ceasefire was declared on December 8 after a rebel bomb in the department of Cauca killed nine people. However, the rebels have said that the removal from office of Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro, a former M-19 guerrilla, will have an impact on the peace process. The Colombian government, meanwhile, will continue its operations against the FARC.
Mexcio Leads the World in Kidnappings: The new RiskMap 2014 report from the security company Control Risks found that Mexico had more kidnappings-for-ransom than anywhere else in the world this year, followed by India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Venezuela. Twenty percent of all kidnappings that happened in the world this year occurred in Mexico, according to the report.
The mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, was removed from office Monday and banned from holding public office again for 15 years in a decision handed down by Colombian Attorney General Alejandro Ordóñez. Ordóñez found that Petro “improvised” and mismanaged a garbage collection system implemented last year, replacing private garbage collection companies with city entities that had "no experience, knowledge or capacity" in trash pickup services. An investigation was launched in January after Petro’s system resulted in “a grave emergency” that left tons of garbage unattended for days.
Petro, a leftist politician with former ties to the guerrilla group M-19 that demobilized in 1989, has called for peaceful protest against the decision which he considers a coup and plans to appeal the decision. Thousands of protesters gathered at Bogotá’s Bolivar Square after the decision was announced, claiming that the attorney general should not have the power to remove a democratically-elected official and that the ban is a political tactic against Petro’s progressive government. The mayor’s term is not supposed to end until 2016.
This is not the first time that the attorney general leaves Bogotá without a leader. Petro’s predecessor, Samuel Moreno Rojas, was also sanctioned for lack of public projects oversight in May of 2011, though he wasn’t banned from office. The ruling may threaten Colombia’s ongoing peace talks with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), which promises to integrate demobilized rebels into electoral politics.