Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

COLOMBIA: Minister Attributes Fall to “Witch hunt”

por Yadira Ferrer BOGOTA, Mar 17 1997 (IPS) - Colombia’s former defence minister Guillermo Gonzalez said Monday his resignation was due to the “witch hunt” unleashed in the nation.

Gonzalez, who became the second minister to resign on narcomoney accusations under the Ernesto Samper adminstration, saying his departure was as a result of “a situation in a country which creates scandals where it shouldn’t.”

According to him, his long political career and his loyalty “to State interests” could not be tarnished by the “unforuitous fact” that eight years ago a “negligible sum” had been invested in his election campaign by drug traffickers.

The first to leave his post last August, was another defence minister, Fernando Botero, who worked as head of Samper’s election campaign in 1994, which had been partially funded by 6.6 million dollars of drug money.

Botero, who has already served a year and a half in prison, admitted he had been aware of the Cali Cartel donation, but Gonzalez said the facts were “different” in his case.

Gonzalez is being persued by the Attorney General’s office for having received a cheque for 3,000 dollars from the presumed drug dealer, Justo Pastor Perafan, currently on the run.

In 1989, Perafan was “a man who frequented all the highest circles of Colombian society,” working in business and unknown as a drug dealer, said Gonzalez.

The minister, who was at the time an ambassador, had even helped place one of Perafan’s sons in a Swiss school.

“It is a favour an ambassador is continually asked to do,” he said.

The relationship between Gonzalez and Perafan had been noted by US ambassador to Colombia, Myles Frechette, and also by other military leaders, who found the cheque merely confirmed their suspicions.

Colombia was denied US certification for its anti-drug efforts in February for precisely the infiltration of narcofunds in the politics of the country.

Gonzalez expressed his “total disposition” to having his public and private lives investigated, adding he had resigned because “this is the best way to allow the institutions of justice to work fully,” denying that pressure from the military leaders had forced him out.

Indeed, the military had not been keen on him from the outset, and commander of the armed forces Harold Bedoya had said before his election that “someone with no black marks against their name” should be chosen, stressing the importance of a clean record.

Samper, who became aware of the “narcocheque” last Friday, stated his support for the minister, but adding that his resignation “was the most suitable decision in order to preserve the international credibility of Colombia in the war on drugs.”

Gustavo Tobon, leader of the National Federation of Metallurgical Companies, said the distancing of Gonzalez was inevitable in a government “which has gone from crisis to crisis and with enormous governability problems.”

Senator Luis Giraldo, of the governing Liberal Party (PL) read Gonzalez’s decision as “a true lesson for Samper, because when remaining in the post could damage the country a resignation should be presented.”

Giraldo is one of the PL “antisamper” faction, who have repeatedly called for Samper to stand down.

Samper was investigated for narcotraffic links by Congress last year and absolved, however, the same investigations are still dealing with allegations against former defence minister Rodrigo Pardo, and communications minister Juan Turbay, as well as the current interior postholder, Horacio Serpa.

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