The Colombian president, Gustavo Petro, with only ten months in government, faces a crisis over illegal interceptions and possible abuses of power which has already cost two of his bishops their posts, the chief of staff, Laura Sarabia, and the ambassador to Venezuela, Armando Benedetti.
The alleged theft of a briefcase with money from the house of the senior official, attributed to Marelbys Meza, who worked for her as a babysitter, was the trigger for a series of irregularities that already took its toll on Sarabia, Petro’s right-hand man in his governmentand Benedetti, who was during the electoral campaign.
Petro assured that his campaign did not receive money from the drug trafficker and his government does not make illegal interceptions or accept blackmail, after the alleged threats from one of his former political bishops revealed by a media outlet.
Armando Benedetti, who until Friday was Colombia’s ambassador to Venezuela and one of the people closest to the president, starred in a new episode of the political thriller that shakes the government in the last days.
Magazine Week published some recordings in which Benedetti is allegedly heard angry and threatening the former chief of staff, Laura Sarabia, with revealing illegal financing to the Petro campaign for about 3.5 million dollars and he assures that if they did, they would all go to jail.
“While the investigation is being carried out, my dear and esteemed official and the Venezuelan ambassador withdraw from the Government so that from the power that these charges imply, they cannot even have the distrust that the investigation processes are going to be altered,” Petro said. on Friday at a military promotion ceremony in Bogotá.
“Laura (…) We all sank. Nowe finish you all We’re going to jail (…) With so much shit that I knowWell, we all screw up, if you screw me, I’ll screw you,” say the audios flooded with profanity, attributed to the former ambassador and in which his interlocutor cannot be heard.
“No one from the government cabinet, nor directors or commanders of the public force, nor directors of intelligence apparatuses have ordered telephone interceptions, or illegal raids, nor have blackmail been accepted regarding public positions or contracts, nor have they been received in the campaign money from people linked to drug trafficking,” Petro said on Twitter.
“I do not accept blackmail, nor do I see politics as a space for personal favors,” he added, and expressed his solidarity with Sarabia for receiving “enormous pressure.”
Benedetti was key in the victory of the first leftist government in the country’s history and introduced Petro to his former private secretary, Sarabia, who would later become the president’s right hand.
In a message on Twitter, the former ambassador assured that the audios revealed by Week “they have been manipulated” and asked “excuses to the president” and to Sarabia “for the aggression and malicious attack.”
“I think I understand what is happening to Armando Benedetti’s mind, I accept his apologies, but he must explain his words before the prosecution and the country,” Petro replied.
Theft of money
It all started in January when, according to what Semana magazine published on Saturday, Marelbys Meza was accused of stealing a briefcase with an unspecified amount of money from Sarabia’s house.
According to Meza, when Sarabia found out about the theft, they made her go to a presidential office where she was interrogated andsubmitted to polygraph tests without a warrant.
Until then, the scandal was due to the possible abuse of power by the State to clarify a particular matter, but suddenly the reflectors pointed towards Benedetti, who according to the journalist Daniel Coronell, could be behind Meza’s complaint, in an episode of “fire friend” in the Government.
Benedetti is a controversial former senator who was one of Petro’s first allies outside the left in 2021, when he launched his candidacy, and decisive in his victory, for which became a powerful figure in the government, who appointed him ambassador to Venezuela.
The connection with the ambassador
After Meza’s complaint, Benedetti’s connection to the case emerged, revealed on W Radio by Coronell, according to which the now ambassador and Sarabia, his former official, had clashes over government positions.
According to this version, Benedetti I wanted to leave the embassy in Caracas and he asked Petro for the Ministry of Defense, which was refused by the president, and Sarabia “offered him the Ministry of the Interior or the Chancellery, despite the fact that both positions were already filled.”
Benedetti returned to Bogotá last week to meet with Petro and, while the country awaited the results of that meeting, the magazine change rrevealed that Meza was not only interrogated without a court order but his phone was intercepted by the Police, that used as a front an operation against the criminal gang of the Clan del Golfo in the department of Chocó.
This version was corroborated yesterday by the attorney general, Francisco Barbosa, who said at a press conference that “judicial decisions” will be made in this case in the coming days.
Paradoxically, when Petro was in the opposition, he was a fierce critic of the illegal interceptions carried out during the government of Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010), known in the country as “chuzadas”, for which he reiterated today: “this government is going to repeat the dirt of other governments”.
This scandal, which is full of loose ends, occurs at a time when the Petro government is experiencing low hours, with problems on different fronts.
On the one hand, his social reforms are stopped in Congress and the government coalition has just exploded, to the point that congressmen from the Alianza Verde party yesterday presented a proposal to archive the controversial health reform.
The president also maintains a harsh confrontation with the prosecutor, with the Council of State, with the Attorney General’s Office and even with the press.
In an attempt to tip the balance in his favor, Petro announced that on June 7 he will walk “side by side with the working people” in a mobilization called by workers’ unions in defense of the reforms. That same day Sarabia was summoned by Congress to answer for the case of the nanny, a domestic problem that reached the dimension of a government crisis and cost her the position.
The new setback is particularly thorny for the left in power, calling itself the “government of change” but accused of resorting to old political practices. According to the most recent Invamer survey, the approval of his management it went from 50% in November to 34% in May.
The electoral authority opened a preliminary investigation into the financing of Petro’s campaign.
The Foreign Ministry announced this Monday the new extraordinary ambassador in Venezuela, Milton Rengifo, who was part of the Petro in Bogotá mayor’s office (2012-2015).
Source EFE and AFP