Colombia: Incarceration of Bogota’s Former Mayor Stirs Debate

Colombian politicians have given the media much to talk about in the last couple of weeks. Aside from the uproar that Congressman Juan Manuel Corzo sparked over his “fuel subsidy,” now Samuel Moreno Rojas, the former mayor of Bogotá who was banned from running for office [es] as of May, has been sent to prison [es] while facing accusations of embellishment, fraud, and extortion after some irregularities found in contracts for the third phase of Transmilenio, Bogotá’s bus rapid transit. While his trial on corruption charges is pending, President Juan Manuel Santos appointed Claudia López Obregón as mayor-in-charge until a new major is elected in October.

Samuel Moreno.

Samuel Moreno. Photo from campuspartycolombia on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Moreno clinched the country’s second most important executive office by pledging the construction of a long-awaited metro system, hence granting his former left-leaning political party, the Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA in Spanish), a second administration in a row. But the so-called contracting carousel given to the Nule Group [es] forced PDA to expel Moreno and apologize [es] to those who voted for him, stating that “sadly, the Mayor drifted away from the unity’s ideal, and he didn’t rule according to the party’s pragmatic vote and orientations.”

It is not the first time the Morenos have been involved in political scandals. The mayor’s grandfather, Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, took over the presidency in the mid-50s through the only military coup in Colombia’s modern history and whose then-political party turned out to be one of the most fearful insurgent groups, the M-19, after losing the 1970 presidential bid. Today, Moreno’s brother, Ivan, is also facing charges [es] under the contracting carousel, as well as his mother, Maria Eugenia “La Capitana” Rojas [es].

Indeed, their political stripe and current bribing scandal captivated several bloggers’ attention. La Silla Vacía [es] (The empty chair), for example, looks at the Morenos’ timeline in politics and their declining reputation:

La gran fuerza que lograron los Moreno Rojas que comenzó en la presidencia de Ernesto Samper, después de 1994, se fue cayendo poco a poco. Así como, según lo dice Alberto Donadío en su libro el ‘Uñilargo’, el general Gustavo Rojas Pinilla mantuvo su poderío gracias a la corrupción, sus nietos hoy están en la cárcel por esas mismas costumbres”.

The great strength that the Morenos attained at the onset of the Ernesto Samper administration, after 1994, started waning little by little. That’s how, as Alberto Donadio states in his book Uñilargo, the Gen. Gustavo Rojas Pinilla kept his power thanks to corruption, the same reason his grandchildren ended up in jail today.

The Economist, in one its blog, explains that the political party Moreno once belonged to needs new alternatives:

Legal left-wing parties have never had it easy in Colombia, which has been fighting a Marxist insurgency for nearly five decades…Until the Democratic Alternative Pole comes together or is replaced by a new democratic alternative party, its supporters’ views will not be sufficiently represented in Colombian politics.

Americas Quarterly says this bribery scandal has meant enormous expenses for the city:

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.\

Forsale Inmobiliaria [es], citing newspaper El Espectador, underscores that former Mayor Moreno believed such accusations are based on rumors:

Afirmó que tan sólo sabe que hay una investigación abierta y ‘esto hasta ahora está empezando’. En el mismo sentido, aseguró que el viernes en la diligencia en la Fiscalía desvirtuó con documentos, acciones y hechos lo que se ha dicho

He affirmed that he only knows there’s an open investigation and ‘this is just the beginning.’ On the same subject, he affirmed to debunk all accusations Friday at the Attorney General’s office with documents, actions, and facts.

Cheers and jeers reached their juncture on social media platforms. On Facebook, for example, there’s a group called “We Support Samuel Moreno Rojas: Our Mayor” [es], and one of its members, Gloria Cecilia Caviedes, says the following:

Sigo creyendo que SAMUEL es inocente es un montaje lo que hicieron. Los bandidos son los NULE para no devolver la plata y quedar como los buenos. elprocurador está con ellos y la fiscalia. Que intereses ahi alli [sic]

I still believe Samuel is innocent and that he’s being framed. The NULE (brothers) are a handful of crooks who don’t want to return the money and paint themselves as good people. The attorney general is siding with them. What kind of interest lies there?

On the same network there is a page titled “To Repeal Samuel Moreno’s Administration – Join!” [es]. A post addresses that Moreno’s dual citizenship (he was born in Miami) is a two-edge sword, thus the need to keep him within Colombian borders to face the charges against him:

Como Samuel Moreno nació en Miami y tiene doble nacionalidad es mejor no dejarlo arrimar al aeropuerto.

Since Samuel Moreno was born in Miami and has dual nationality, it’s best not to let him get closer to the airport

On Twitter, El Espectador (@elespectador) shares a link that shows images of the place Moreno will be put under custody, located in a somewhat comfortable place inside the Carabineer School in Bogotá:

Aquí dormirá Samuel Moreno en condición de detenido

This is where Samuel Moreno will stay as a prisoner

Financial newspaper Portafolio (@Portafolioco) echoes the judge’s decree that led to Moreno’s apprehension:

El juez que dictó la medida dijo que el ex alcalde de #Bogotá es “un peligro para la sociedad”.

The judged that ruled Moreno’s arrest says the former major of #Bogotá poses a ‘threat to society’ #samuelmoreno

Juan Nicolás Riveros (@NicolasRiverosG) predicts that the PDA candidate to the Mayoralty, Gustavo Petro, could very much resemble Samuel Moreno administratively speaking:

si Samuel Moreno fue malo imaginen la alcaldia de @petrogustavo yo no quiero vivir en una ciudad que no quiere progresar, por eso voto @enriquepenalosa

If Samuel Moreno was lousy, imagine what @petrogustavo can do from the Town Hall, I don’t want to live in a city that doesn’t want to make strides, that's why I vote for @enriquepenalosa

Meanwhile, other users like Luis Heredia (@luishere) defend the PDA candidate by comparing Petro with Moreno:

La diferencia entre Samuel Moreno y @petrogustavo es que el segundo tiene buenas intenciones.

The difference between Samuel Moreno and @petrogustavo is that the latter has good intentions

Humor always makes its way on Twitter, and a tweet by @bacteriaopina describes a scenario where Moreno seems to be negotiating something with the Attorney General, in reference to the contracting carousel:

Fiscalia pide carcel para Samuel Moreno y Samuel Moreno pide el 6%

The Attorney General asks for Moreno’s incarceration and Samuel Moreno asks for 6 percent

And Cristian Patarroyo’s tweet (@cpatarroyo) also makes use of sarcasm:

Solo espero que Samuel Moreno no arme otro carrusel, con los caballos de la Escuela de Carabineros.

I only hope that Samuel Moreno doesn’t come up with another carousel…using the horses from the Carabineer School

Finally, other Twitter users seem to adopt a more neutral standpoint. Paula Cantor Guzman (@paulacantorg) raises the following questions with their respective hashtags:

Pregunta a los ofendidos: Cuanto exactamente se robó Samuel Moreno? o al menos de que contratos? #samuel#objetividad

Question to the offended: How much exactly did Samuel Moreno steal? Or, at least, form which contracts? #samuel #objectivity

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