Valdivieso, Alfonso

Valdivieso, Alfonso
▪ 1996

      For two decades life in Colombia had been carried out in the ever-present shadow of the violence and corruption engendered by narcotics trafficking. The infamous Medellín and Cali drug cartels exerted their influence over every element of society, corrupting individuals and institutions alike through a combination of bribery and threats. No area seemed secure from the malignant power of the drug lords, so it was perhaps no great surprise when in 1995 revelations emerged that the 1994 election of Pres. Ernesto Samper Pizano had been aided by money funneled to him from the Cali cartel. What was surprising were the efforts of the nation's top prosecutor, Attorney General Alfonso Valdivieso, in uncovering the scandal and the courage and determination he showed in bringing charges against some of the most powerful men in the country despite the threat of assassination.

      In 1994 a tape recording of a telephone conversation between members of the Cali cartel discussing financial contributions to Samper's election coffers was made public. Samper and his defense minister and former campaign manager, Fernando Botero Zea, admitted that financial support had been offered, but they denied that any money had been received. On June 21, 1995, however, following a government crackdown on narcotics traffickers, the fugitive Cali leaders announced that they had information linking the government to the cartel. The next day Valdivieso announced that his office was beginning a large-scale investigation.

      By August, Valdivieso's investigation had implicated members of Samper's administration. Santiago Medina, the former campaign treasurer of Samper's Liberal Party, had admitted receiving about $6 million from the Cali cartel. Following his arrest in July, Medina had implicated Botero and Samper himself in the conspiracy, claiming that they had authorized him to accept money from the cartel and that the funds were kept in a secret bank account in New York City. Following Medina's revelations, Valdivieso focused his investigation on Samper's administration, authorizing the Supreme Court to review the evidence against Botero, who then resigned from his office.

      Samper continued to deny his involvement in the scandal, but to many his protestations seemed suspect. He previously had asserted that his administration was innocent of any wrongdoing; he now claimed that he had no personal knowledge of any drug money being accepted. By year's end Botero had been charged with illicit enrichment and falsification of documents, while a congressional committee halted the investigation of Samper on drug charges, which could have led to his impeachment. Valdivieso's actions were viewed as a courageous step in a nation where official corruption and narcotics trafficking had long been accepted as a fact of life. (JOHN H. MATHEWS)

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Universalium. 2010.

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