U.S cites “credible” concerns of irregular financing of Petro’s 2022 campaign

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Gustavo Petro votes in Bogotá/Colombia Humana.

The U.S State Department believes there is “credible” evidence regarding the irregular financing of President Petro’s 2022 campaign. Highlighting the situation in Colombia in its 2023 Human Rights Report, the U.S State Department also noted abuses by illegal armed groups against civilians during Petro’s first full-year in office.

Deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel, presenting the report, used the word “credible” when asked by a Colombian journalist if the U.S Government had evidence of alleged irregular payments that may have infiltrated President Gustavo Petro’s 2022 election campaign.

During a media briefing, Patel noted that the alleged irregular payments also included corruption allegations against members of Congress and senior government figures. “What I can affirm about the entries in the (2023) human rights report is that we deemed them ‘credible,'” he said.

The section on Corruption in Government specifies investigations by the Attorney General’s Office into irregular payments allegedly accepted by President Petro’s son and brother, some of which purportedly financed his 2022 campaign. The report notes that “prosecutors investigating members of congress and senior government officials reported that since January, they had initiated 12 new investigations of nine former senators and three former house representatives, 36 investigations of 39 former governors, 94 investigations of 25 governors, and four investigations of former mayors.”

The report also highlights threats faced by journalists reporting on corruption. “From January 1 to August 31, there were 410 incidents of violence and harassment against journalists, including threats, physical aggression, and harassment. These threats were made by both governmental and nongovernmental actors,” claims the State Department.

Moreover, the document outlines cases of arbitrary executions, including extrajudicial killings, and instances of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment by government security forces and armed groups. It identifies “significant” human rights concerns, including reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings, torture, arbitrary arrests or detention, and abuses in conflict situations.

The report also denounces severe restrictions on freedom of expression and media freedom, including the use or threat of criminal libel laws to curb expression, and crimes targeting racial and ethnic groups, including Afro-Colombian and Indigenous peoples.

The U.S State Department did acknowledge the Government of Gustavo Petro’s efforts to identify and penalize officials implicated in human rights violations, but that revenues from “transnational organized crime, including drug trafficking and illegal gold mining” have exacerbated corruption at a government-level.

Key highlights from the report include the involvement of nonstate armed groups, including U.S.-designated terrorist organizations such as dissidents of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), in committing abuses. These groups are cited as significant perpetrators of human rights violations, including unlawful killings, kidnapping, human trafficking, bombings, and threats against various groups.

Reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings, by the government or its agents are mentioned. Data from NGOs like Temblores and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) underscore the gravity of these allegations: “According to the Attorney General’s Office, in cases related to the more than 1,000 killings of human rights defenders from January 2016 to August 2023, the government had obtained 166 convictions.”

Violence against demobilized former FARC combatants persists in regions controlled by illegal armed groups despite the 2016 peace accord. Observers have documented numerous killings, attempted homicides, and cases of missing former combatants since the accord’s signing.

Incidents of violence and harassment against journalists, reported by the journalists’ NGO Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP), indicate ongoing threats from both governmental and nongovernmental actors.

The report also notes the high numbers of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), totaling approximately 6.7 million, largely due to armed conflict and violence in rural areas.

Given that the U.S State Department specifically mentioned Petro’s eldest son, Nicolás Petro, in its 2023 report, the Colombian Foreign Ministry issued Washington a diplomatic note of protest. “Colombia rejects the expressions and assessments of Mr. Vedant Patel, which deviate from the actual content presented in the report. Furthermore, his statements ignore and disrespect the Colombian institutions’ adherence to the principle of due process and their commitment to the fight against corruption and impunity,” reads the statement from Cancilleria.

The Colombian Government goes on to point out “the importance of the principle of reciprocity that governs the relations between both countries, including respect for the autonomy in the actions and functions of the governmental institutions of each State.” Colombia’s Ambassador to the Unites States, Luis Guillermo Murillo justified the letter of protest, stating: “We have not made any statement about the investigations of President Joe Biden’s son. If the United States respects our institutions, it should not do that.”