Connect to share and comment

Women seek political place of jailed menfolk

In Colombia's scandal-ridden politics, female relatives of jailed politicians are now standing for office.

"Now as I'm starting out, it's clear that my plan is a plan supported by my father, a person who has a very important leadership role here in Casanare, however the work of the future will show what I can do, as a person and as a professional,” she said on a Casanare radio station. She told the radio host she was prepared for national politics because she had worked over a year in a parlamentarian’s office. She was particularly well-poised to take on international affairs, she added, because she had studied in Paris for a year.

Many candidates of parapolitica families insist that they should be judged on their own merits and free of association from the criminal allegations hitting their close relatives. Their critics say they are propped up by a political machinery that has secured its power through vote-buying, corrupt deals and the support of criminal networks who have used intimidation and violence in the past to guarantee their allies political seats.

Candidates referred to here as the “inheritors of parapolitics” are expected to continue the same style of political governance — and alliances — as their predecessors.

“It’s a concern because the interest of criminal groups is to keep on counting on this political support and to have a door to the government that can give them exceptions for their crimes” said Monica Pachon, director of Visible Congress, a project of the University of the Andes in Bogota that seeks to make public legislative behavior.

The candidacy of Teresa Garcia, a former consul to Germany now running for the senate, embodies the concern of those worried about how these elections may keep alive the legacy of parapolitics.

Her brother, Alvaro Garcia, was a Senator before he was jailed for parapolitics. Last month, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison for homicide, criminal conspiracy, embezzlement and his role in a 2000 massacre in Macayepo. The courts found that he had helped create and finance paramilitary groups in the department of Sucre.

Garcia built a political structure in his department of Sucre from town counselors to mayors and deputies that gave paramilitary forces control over politics in the region. Now, with many Sucre politicians jailed for parapolitics, Teresa Garcia is trying to step up to the plate.

She described herself as “a candidate with an impeccable resumé in the public and private sector which has permitted me to ... carry forth the representation of our project,” she said in a press statement last month.

The women candidates of parapolitica families are by no means limited to the young, inexperienced and unlikely. Several are active politicians with considerable experience who are not only burdened with the normal pressures for re-election; with their men in jail,  maintaining the family political dynasty falls squarely on them.

There’s Doris Vega, a two-term Assembly member in the department of Santander who is married to the founder of Convergencia Ciudadania, a political party that transmuted into a new party because most of its leadership, including Vega’s husband, is now in jail on parapolitics charges.

Imagine the pressure for re-election on Senator Piedad Zuccardi to carry her family’s torch of political power: she is not only the wife of a former senator sentenced for corruption in the parapolitics scandal, but the sister-in-law of the above-mentioned Alvaro Garcia, found guilty for colluding with paramilitary groups and homicide.

Some parties’ candidate lists are so stacked with the relatives of politicians implicated in parapolitics, the Election Observation Mission has requested that they reconsider their slates, and suggested that family members of parapoliticians should not aspire to hold seats in Congress.

On Sunday, it will be up to the public to decide which candidates are worthy.

Oscar Sevillano, a parapolitics investigator with the Corporation New Rainbow, a center for investigation of the armed conflict, says that despite voters’ complaints of political corruption, their support of parapolitica families gives way to this behaviour — and gives hope to armed and criminal groups. “It’s serious that the electorate has not learned from past elections,” said Sevillano. “Power doesn’t stop in jail.”