Ex-President Álvaro Uribe speaking at an anti-corruption march on April 1

As Colombia works towards implementing an ambitious peace deal and fighting new and old criminal groups, extreme levels of corruption within its own government are an often overlooked but crucial threat to battling poverty, drugs and violence during this historic window of opportunity for change.

Corruption in Colombia may be worth as $14 billion, Comptroller General Edgardo Maya Villazón announced at a recent anti-corruption forum organized by El Tiempo (see video below).

"The issue of corruption delegitimizes democracy … and has been estimated at 30 to 40 million pesos," or about $10 to 14 billion, Maya Villazón said, without specifying a time period for the estimate.

Maya Villazón added that the two government anti-graft bodies, the Comptroller General's Office and the Inspector General's Office, along with the Attorney General's Office "are not sufficient" in fighting corruption, for which there had to be a "commitment from the state and a commitment from society."

On April 1, former president and current Senator Álvaro Uribe called a march against corruption calling for the removal of current President Juan Manuel Santos. The march was attended by prominent opposition activists, including Jhon Jairo Velásquez, alias "Popeye," a former hitman for Pablo Escobar's Medellín Cartel.

Comptroller General Edgardo Maya Villazón speaking at an anti-corruption forum in April 2017.

InSight Crime Analysis

Colombia's headlines have recently been filled with the national reverberations of the multi-country corruption scandal surrounding Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht. In recent weeks, allegations involving the far-reaching bribery network created by the company have tarnished the 2014 presidential campaigns of current head of state Santos as well as his runner-up Óscar Iván Zuluaga, whose run for office was backed by Senator Uribe.

This is but the latest illustration of the Colombian state's erosion by criminal schemes at all levels, which have long benefitted organized crime groups and elites alike. Now, fighting this affliction will be of renewed importance as the government implements a seminal peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC). As part of the agreement, the state has promised to occupy the power vacuum in regions formerly controlled by the insurgency, as well as carry out an ambitious rural development campaign aimed at weakening criminal economies in the countryside.

But many fear that the billions of dollars in international aid that will support the peace deal risk being squandered by the typical corruption networks formed by businessmen, politicians, contractors and criminal groups. Indeed, FARC members demobilizing in rural camps have claimed that the government has completed little to none of the preparation for the camps while food stuffs are exorbitantly priced, allegedly as a result of corrupt contracting schemes.

17-04-07-Col-ZVTN1

 

A February 2017 shot of an empty plot of land where a FARC demobilization camp should have been set up, supposedly by the government.

Whether this is true or not, it reflects -- and fuels -- much of the public's distrust that government officials will prioritize the country's poorest. And this skepticism could reduce the incentive for citizens to embrace future government initiatives, such as a vital projects to substitute coca cultivations with legal crops.

Corruption of local authorities also strengthens criminal groups' ability to operate within a community and, at times, supplant legitimate governance. As criminal groups move in to former FARC strongholds, this reality will continue to undermine the state's ability to recover such territories and tens of thousands of families involved in their illegal economies.

Decisive action and the empowerment of the Colombian public, in the form of citizen oversight bodies, for instance, may offer some solutions.

As Comptroller General Maya Villazón stated at the forum: the population must "rise up against the misuse of public funds … tumble the pillars so that the entire [system] collapses and something new can be built."

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...