One year ago, Gustavo Petro, a former senator and presidential candidate, called a press conference along with his friend Carlos Vicente de Roux (a member of Bogotá’s city Council) and Senator Luis Carlos Avellaneda. At this conference, Petro and his friends presented the results of an inquiry, conducted by themselves, on what by that time was already known as the “Cartel of Contracts,” a multi-million dollar racket involving the infamous Nule Group, a network of corporations that had been awarded important contracts in Bogotá. Gustavo Petro and his friends, all of them members of Polo Democrático, Colombia’s biggest left-leaning party, demanded the prosecution of two prominent members of their own party: Samuel Moreno, the mayor of Bogotá, and his brother Iván, a senator.
From the beginning, this request faced a hostile reaction from the ruling group in their party. Partly due to ideological paranoia, Senator Jorge Robledo, for example, labeled the accusations as a far-right conspiracy.
Gustavo Petro will be the next mayor of Bogotá after winning 32 percent of the vote in yesterday’s election. Elected to the Senate in 2006, Petro of the Movimiento Progresista (Progressive Movement) party ran on a platform of zero corruption. Enrique Peñalosa conceded after losing to Petro by 7 percentage points; he won 25 percent of total votes.
Peñalosa, mayor from 1998 to 2001, oversaw development of a rapid transit system during his mandate that has earned praise from urban planners and other Latin American mayors. Peñalosa also enjoyed the support during his campaign of former President Alvaro Uribe. Petro, an ex-guerrilla of the M-19 movement that disbanded in the 1980s, finished fourth in Colombia’s 2010 presidential election.
In a victory speech, Petro promised his governing attitude would embrace dialogue. He also told Colombian daily El Tiempo that his administration would transfer decision-making power “to the citizenry, by means of the budget and democratic participation.”
Petro’s message against corruption firmly resonates with bogotanos, particularly as Bogotá’s former mayor, Samuel Moreno, awaits a verdict after being indicted by Colombia’s inspector general last month on charges of fraudulent contracting, embezzlement and extortion regarding public works projects. Petro was instrumental in uncovering the scandal earlier this year.
Aside from voting in in the capital district, Colombians went to the polls yesterday to vote for 32 governorships and 1,100 mayoralties and municipal council seats. Petro takes office in January.
Samuel Moreno Rojas—Bogotá’s mayor suspended by the Procuraduría in early May—was charged on Monday of fraudulent contracting, embezzlement and extortion in connection to corruption around public works projects. Prosecutor Ricardo Gonzalez asked the judge to keep Moreno in jail until trial out of fear that he may try to go to the United States (he was born in Miami) to avoid appearing in court. If indicted, Moreno could face at least six years in prison.
"I have not been an author, participant or decision maker in any criminal behavior," Moreno said during the hearing in response to evidence alleging that he promised millions of dollars in public contracts to businessmen in exchange for supporting his political campaign in 2007. The so-called carrusel de la contratación (contracting carrousel) makes reference to a corruption scandal over infrastructure works in the city that were mostly given to the Nule brothers.
The carrousel involves key actors from different sectors, including former Senator Iván Moreno Rojas, Samuel’s brother, who was arrested in April this year after the Supreme Court started an investigation into his connections with the embezzlement. In February, Attorney General Viviane Morales charged Bogotá Comptroller Miguel Ángel Moralesrussi, former Director of the Urban Development Institute (IDU) Liliana Pardo and former Congressman Germán Olano with embezzlement, misappropriation and bribery.
This is the most expensive corruption scandal in the history of Bogotá. The attorney general estimates, for example, that transferring the Transmilenio contract from Transvial to Vías Bogotá, which was done under the authorization of the IDU and benefited the Nule brothers, cost the city approximately $119 million. Among other things, this has resulted in delays in expected road maintenance and other transportation improvement projects scheduled for 2009 have yet to start.
One month after Moreno was suspended, Clara López Obregón—president of the Democratic Pole party—was appointed to fill the vacancy by President Juan Manuel Santos.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Conservatives Trounce Opposition in Canadian Elections
Canada’s May 2 elections gave a boost to the Conservative Party, which now holds a parliamentary majority for the first time since Prime Minister Stephen Harper took office five years ago. The New Democratic Party surpassed the Liberals to become the official opposition party for the first time. The Liberal Party lost big, saying goodbye to half its seats and causing Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to step down. TPM’s Eric Kleefold points to the party’s inability to evolve to voter demands, writing: “[I]n the last few years, when it was again clearly necessary to shift leftward and impress progressive voters, the party instead picked the decidedly centrist Ignatieff as leader, sealing their fate to be squeezed out between the right and left.”
Read an AS/COA News Analysis about the May 2 Canadian elections.
Peru’s Next President to Inherit Natural Resource Conflicts
Whoever wins Peru’s presidential runoff election on June 5 will have to deal with some 200 natural resource conflicts, according to the country’s human rights office. Most of the tensions stem from the $40 billion in largely foreign funds for mining and energy projects that local residents believe will pollute their communities and sap their water supplies while doing little to halt inequality, Reuters reports.
Bogota Mayor Suspended over Corruption Allegations
Mayor Samuel Moreno of Colombia’s capital Bogota received a three-month suspension from his duties after the Attorney General’s office opened an investigation into his administration of public contracts. Members of Moreno’s party, the left-leaning Polo Democrático Alternativo, also suspended him while the investigation proceeds; some members of the party have called for his resignation.
Samuel Moreno, mayor of Bogotá, and his predecessor Luis Eduardo Garzón are under investigation by Sandra Morelli, Colombia’s Controller General, for corruption in the awarding of contracts for Bogotá’s TransMilenio public transit system. Ms. Morelli moved Tuesday to freeze the financial assets of both the incumbent and ex-mayor.
The TransMilenio dilemma began when Mr. Garzón paid Grupo Nule, a Colombian contracting firm, approximately $36 million in late 2007 to construct a route from downtown Bogotá to El Dorado International Airport, which serves the Colombian capital. Grupo Nule did not adhere to mandated specifications for the project’s insurance policy and subsequently went bankrupt in 2010 during Mr. Moreno’s administration, leaving the Colombian taxpayers with the roughly $104 million bill.
Mr. Garzón is being investigated in part because Grupo Nule was paid only three days before the end of his mayoral term, which has raised suspicion. The Controller General’s investigation includes Moreno for what it quotes as “passive behavior” in not proactively monitoring irregularities that arose during the TransMilenio project that was mostly engineered during his term.
Mr. Moreno has professed his innocence and has thus far rebuffed calls to step down from office.
Samuel Moreno, the mayor of Bogotá, pledged today that his city plans to have a 15-mile (24-kilometer) long metro system in operation by 2015—a key component to forming a more integrated public transportation system in a city with over 7 million inhabitants. The estimated cost for the work to be designed by the Spanish consortium Sener-Transporte Metropolitano de Barcelona (TMB) is $2 billion with 70 percent financed by the state and 30 percent by the city.
Plans for the metro system have been in the works since 1999, but were put on hold in 2002 for political and financial issues.
The metro “will define the future of urban development in this city over the next 50 years,” proclaimed Moreno, who has held the mayor’s seat since 2007. Moreno ran for mayor with the promise of a metro system, which he describes as the fastest, safest and least contaminating of all public transportation systems.
The metro system will complement Bogota’s TransMilenio project, which has been hailed as one of the most progressive and successful urban infrastructure projects in Latin America. TransMilenio serves over 1 million persons daily.