Ship's Log: In Colombia Corruption is So Widespread Even the Fantastic is Mundane
Accusations of campaign 'dark money' illustrate the apathy of a public that has come to expect it
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Bogotá, Colombia— “One day a bag of money arrived at the campaign office. That wasn’t unusual. I always assumed that was just how the operation was financed. This time though, my manager panicked. It turned out the bag was full of counterfeit [U.S.] dollars,” said ‘Julia’, who asked that her real name be withheld for obvious reasons.
At the time, she was working for Activistas del Cambio, an organization of supposed volunteers who campaigned for current President Gustavo Petro, though she says the employees were paid a monthly salary in cash under the table— a practice which is illegal for a political campaign for more reasons than we have space to describe in this brief article.
“So my manager closed the office, booked a hotel room across the street, and asked me to help him destroy it there,” she continued.
“Why in a hotel room?”, I asked her. “Why not in the office?” Julia explained he didn’t want to destroy the bills at the office out of fear that one of the campaign workers might catch him in the act, nor did he want to transport them and risk being randomly stopped by police.
So they cut up all the bills, put the pieces in a bathtub of water, and spent the afternoon grinding the mixture into an unrecognizable paste, which they then threw in a dumpster a few blocks away, she claims.
PWS followed up with two other employees at the Bogotá office of Activistas del Cambio during the campaign. Both claimed they had been paid under the table as part of their duties. Both declined to have their names published for fear of retribution. In a phone call with a representative of Activistas del Cambio, the organization denied these claims, calling them “ridiculous” and “politically driven”.
The counterfeit bills are certainly the most dramatic part of Julia’s story, but they aren’t really the scoop here. The astonishing bit is how a supposed volunteer org such as Activistas del Cambio, illegally hired campaign employees using cash delivered by an unknown source, and how the leader of that org became a political insider for the current President of Colombia.
The story illustrates the murky waters of Colombian politics, which have long been plagued with vote-buying scandals, dark money, deals with criminal elements, nepotism, and corruption— a history that goes back much further than just the current administration.
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