Bogota, Colombia – Unlawful wiretapping, stolen money, expletive-laden leaked audio messages, allegations of marketing campaign finance violations and two of his closest political allies sacked — the previous week has been a tough one for Colombian President Gustavo Petro.
The Petro administration is engulfed in a fancy political disaster, sparked by a scandal involving two key members of the president’s inside circle: his chief of employees, Laura Sarabia, and the Colombian ambassador to Venezuela, Armando Benedetti, who previously served as Petro’s presidential marketing campaign supervisor.
On Friday, each Sarabia and Benedetti had been dismissed from Petro’s administration after the legal professional basic’s workplace had launched an investigation into their actions on Thursday. Each events deny any wrongdoing.
The scandal started with studies in Semana journal final month that Sarabia accused her baby’s nanny of stealing $7,000 in money from her house, so she allegedly subjected the nanny to a polygraph check.
Colombia’s legal professional basic additionally indicated that the nanny’s cellphone had been wiretapped by Colombian police, with Sarabia suspected of orchestrating the unlawful monitoring.
Benedetti, who employed the identical nanny, alleged that Sarabia sought his assist to maintain the story from reaching the press. Sarabia, in the meantime, accused Benedetti of leaking the story, following a confrontation over his request for a brand new authorities place.
However the scandal solely escalated from there.
Explosive leaked audio messages
On Sunday night, Semana printed a collection of expletive-laden audio messages that Benedetti allegedly despatched Sarabia, who spent years serving as Benedetti’s private secretary previous to becoming a member of the Petro administration. Semana didn’t reveal the way it acquired the leaked messages.
Within the tirade, the previous ambassador threatens to disclose incriminating proof about Petro’s presidential marketing campaign — which he led final 12 months. Benedetti is heard making reference to an alleged $3.4m that he claims Petro’s marketing campaign acquired below questionable circumstances.
“It’s a actuality of Colombian politics that elections, notably within the coastal area, have historically been tormented by corruption of the kind that’s talked about within the tapes,” Elizabeth Dickinson, a senior analyst for Colombia on the Worldwide Disaster Group suppose tank, advised Al Jazeera.
“It could not be a shock to anybody if these allegations, or some model of them, become right.”
To this point, no proof has both corroborated nor discredited Benedetti’s claims. Colombian authorities, nevertheless, introduced they may launch an investigation into the funding of Petro’s presidential marketing campaign.
Within the leaked audio, Benedetti complains of being politically sidelined by Petro. He insults each Sarabia and the president, points threats and likens the federal government to the Titanic.
“I wasn’t threatening you, however I’m threatening you now, son of a bitch, each you and the president, understood? If you’d like me to threaten you, I’ll come out and reveal all the pieces that I do know, which is sufficient to finish your world and mine,” Benedetti allegedly says in one of many messages.
“We’ll all go down. We’ll all be executed. We’ll go to jail.”
Shortly after Semana revealed the leaked messages, Benedetti claimed the audio had been “manipulated”. On Monday afternoon, he wrote in a since-deleted tweet that “it was evident that there’s a marketing campaign to discredit” him.
By the night although, he modified his story, posting on Twitter that he had acted out of “weak point and disappointment”. He added that he had gotten “carried away by rage and drink”.
Petro responded in a tweet that Benedetti “should clarify himself earlier than the legal professional basic and the nation”. He denied any members of his administration ordered unlawful wiretapping or accepted marketing campaign funds from illicit sources.
However Benedetti’s leaked audio messages have thrust Petro’s authorities right into a disaster.
“This scandal comes on the worst attainable time for the federal government,” Sergio Guzman, a political analyst and director of the Colombia Danger Evaluation consultancy group, advised Al Jazeera.
“The best injury that this scandal has on the federal government is reputational. It will make conventional political events and elites hesitant to interact in deal-making with the federal government.”
On Monday, Congress halted its scheduled debates on the administration’s proposed social reforms whereas proof was collected about Benedetti’s claims of marketing campaign finance irregularities.
It was one more setback for Petro’s bold home agenda. The well being, labour and tax reforms he has proposed have been stalled for months in Congress.
And his authorities — lower than a 12 months outdated — has attracted scrutiny for different indicators of instability. To this point this 12 months, Petro has requested his total cupboard to resign, misplaced key ministerial figures and struggled to safe peace offers with the nation’s armed teams.
“Petro goes to have to spend so much of political capital that he doesn’t have to be able to repair this,” Dickinson stated.
“That’s going to remove from the agenda on the reforms he’s making an attempt to move, on peace — which is already dealing with quite a lot of questions.”
In response to the heavy criticism he acquired on account of the scandal, Petro tweeted on Monday night that his “political opponents” had been making an attempt to hold out a “smooth coup” towards his administration.
Petro’s recognition has drastically slumped from 50 % in November to 34 %, based on a latest ballot.
Each Dickinson and Guzman consider Petro is now on skinny ice, and with a lot of his four-year time period nonetheless forward of him, they speculate his broad ambitions for political change will probably be more durable to attain due to the scandal.
“It’s going to extend the [country’s] ungovernability as a result of it’s caught up on this foolish disaster when in actual fact there are actual issues that it ought to be specializing in,” Dickinson stated.
“This isn’t about two people or about Petro. It’s about the truth that that is going to have a dramatic impression on the precise lives of Colombians who’re ready for options from this authorities,” she added.
These Colombians embrace Cristian Gil, a public servant from the province of Santander. When Petro assumed energy in August, Gil was sceptical of the brand new president’s capacity to ship on his marketing campaign guarantees.
But, Gil hoped that Petro might assist bridge the political divide with the coalition authorities he fashioned upon inauguration.
“At one level, I did hope that he might assist reconcile some variations, however what I now concern is that he’ll begin to shut his circle and begin to take away these individuals who may assist him see among the errors he can commit,” Gil stated.
“It might find yourself being a authorities with out a lot change.”