By Aram Aharonian – Jun 7, 2023
Colombian President Gustavo Petro has accused opposition sectors of trying to overthrow him with judicial maneuvers in a strategy similar to the one suffered by his Peruvian counterpart, Pedro Castillo, in December 2022, and to the situation currently faced by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
In the midst of media bombardment, Petro asserted that his electoral campaign did not receive drug money and his government does not make illegal telephone interceptions or tolerate blackmail, after the broadcasting of audios in which Armando Benedetti, who was the Colombian ambassador to Venezuela until last Friday, threatened to reveal alleged million dollar donations by drug cartels to Petro’s electoral campaign.
The audios of the former ambassador, published by Semana magazine in one of its usual sessions of media terrorism, are only the beginning of a scandal on an international scale, with intentions to also drag in the Venezuelan government, particularly following the normalization of relations between the two countries.
Recently in Colombia, there has been an ongoing process for the appointment of a new attorney general who would be selected from a shortlist proposed by the president, which is what the right wing is trying to avoid, Petro says.
On May 14, President Petro expressed his opinion on the developing rumors about an attempted coup d’état against him. Three days before, the former president of the Association of Retired Officers of the Military Forces (ACORE), John Marulanda, claimed that the troops in reserve could help to remove Petro from office.
According to many analysts, US intelligence has been pulling the strings on this coup due to continued losses in Ukraine, China’s consolidation of its position as Latin America’s biggest trade partner, and, despite all the difficulties, Lula’s resolute promotion of BRICS in South America.
The president of the House of Representatives of Colombia, David Racero, announced that the debate on the health, pension, and labor reforms promoted by the government was frozen, and the National Electoral Council opened an investigation regarding the president’s campaign. The coup promoters insist on the need to construct a collective image of corruption in the progressive government of Colombia.
A “light” impeachment (preventing him from implementing his government program and reforms) will lead to the same crisis but in slow motion, which is precisely what the US State Department and the Mexican right-wing are trying to do with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador through lawfare. These efforts are not enough to remove him from office, but they are doing everything to paralyze his government.
That “the people are ready to ignite one of the biggest conflicts of the last 20 years in Colombia” is precisely what is stimulating the concern—the fear of the people, of the popular outburst—which seems to be the end goal of US intelligence maneuvers.
As in Argentina and Mexico, Colombia’s judiciary has come into play to weaken, and perhaps demolish the government of Gustavo Petro. Any excuse is a good one to set in motion a judicial-media framework, now against the first leftist president in the country’s history, who is currently attempting structural reforms, says analyst Pedro Brieger.
Taking advantage of the scandal, the ultra-right-wing former presidential candidate Federico “Fico” Gutiérrez has called for Petro’s resignation, while the government announced that Milton Rengifo Hernández will be the new Colombian ambassador in Venezuela to replace Benedetti.
Gustavo Petro, in an manner very different from that of previous governments—and that of the United States—explained how Latin America has been the region most affected by drug problems created by transnational criminal organizations and high consumer demand in Western countries.
“Studies say that in Latin America, one million people have died as a result of the conflicts caused by the illicit economy, most of them Colombians, most of them humble. The poor people of Latin America fall under homicidal bullets, in invisible wars, but deep, so intense, that have turned our continent into the most violent in the world,” said the President of Colombia.
In the same vein, he stated that what must be thought about is how to shift from one economy to another, referring directly to the replacement of illicit crops.
He said that alternatives must be sought for the peasants who for years survived and continue to survive by planting coca leaf crops, the base of cocaine consumed in the United States. In the international arena, he ratified his idea of transforming the anti-drug policy of the last 30 years.
“We have summoned all the presidents of Latin America to evaluate the impact of what has been called for 50 years the ‘War on Drugs’ policy created by the Nixon administration, in the United States, and dispersed to the whole continent,” he noted.
He added that the new policy should be focused on public health, treating consumers and people with addictions as people with a health condition that should be addressed from the public sector, in addition to prevention, and legalization.
The Amazon forests
During the recent summit of the South American presidents in Brasilia, the president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, agreed with Petro to strengthen the joint program against environmental crimes and organized crime in the Amazon, across the territories of both countries. After the sub-regional summit, the presidents agreed on the need to combat “illegal loggers and miners, land occupations, and drug trafficking in the Amazon region.”
“We are going for an agreement of Amazonian countries to revitalize it. It includes the scientific, political, and military defense of the world’s third climate pillar,” Petro wrote on social media, which the US did not like. The two presidents also discussed measures to “strengthen” the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO), which also includes Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela, to preserve the largest tropical forest on the planet.
Lula will host a summit of Amazonian countries in the city of Belém, capital of Pará, in August, where “the road to revitalization of the rainforest” will be presented, said Petro. Located in the middle of the forest, the city of Belém will also host the COP30 climate conference in 2025.
Alarms have been raised around the world about the deterioration of the Amazon, one of the lungs of the Earth and whose territory is mostly located in Brazil. Following the government of the ultra-right-wing Jair Bolsonaro, noted for his “anti-environmental” policies, Lula assumed his third mandate in January with the promise to strengthen mechanisms for the protection of natural resources and a proposal to eradicate illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030.
Too many questions
However, questions that are now making the rounds include: is this a tipping point for a civil war in Colombia, and will it lead to a Pedro Castillo-type impeachment? An impeachment, if successful, would precipitate a serious crisis that would lead to a reactivation of the war. Perhaps that is what the United States wants.
For some analysts, US intelligence is behind what is happening in Colombia, in pursuit of dealing a blow to progressivism that would at least tarnish Lula’s move promoting the entry of South America into BRICS. In the desperation of the United States to stop China in its backyard, anything goes. No surprise: Benedetti has asked the US State Department for protection.
The right-wing media are already building what they claim to be the biggest political scandal of the last 20 years. But the tension will also have a chapter in the streets.
The timing of this scandal, when central issues for Petro’s government program are at stake, is so opportune that it is difficult to think that it was accidental. It is also worth asking, what was a character like Benedetti, structurally right-wing and skilled at being the center of attention for nothing but his own benefit, doing in Petro’s government? Is it possible to govern on the left with right-wing politicians in key positions?
The US believes it has no choice but to “Africanize” South America: the same thing they are doing in the “Mother Continent” to stop the Chinese.
This is not just any conflict in just any country. It has to be an explosion of megatons, a civil war in Colombia, which would impact the whole continent: Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, and Brazil itself. A serious conflict in Colombia would “justify” the return of the “National Security” doctrine and the leading role of the military in national politics.
Benedetti and Petro’s former chief of staff, Laura Sarabia, are involved in a case of alleged abuse of authority and wiretapping, a fact blown out of proportion by the hegemonic media precisely when the president is seeking Congress’ approval for several health, labor, and pension reforms, within the framework of the social justice program of his government, detested by the right wing and the business community.
The audios published by Semana magazine, condensed in a video of almost half an hour, are an explosive, coarse, and edited compilation of the right hand of President Gustavo Petro during the campaign, and his former ambassador to Venezuela. Benedetti claims to have information on Petro’s campaign financing crimes and threatens to make it public.
Benedetti and Sarabia, who until a few days ago belonged to Petro’s close circle, were removed from the government on Friday, June 2, after a case of illegal eavesdropping and conspiracy emerged, starting this political earthquake in Colombia.
Similarities to Pedro Castillo
According to President Petro, the powers that be are trying to remove him in the same way as Peru’s Pedro Castillo, after retired military officers declared that they would overthrow him as the Peruvian Congress did with Castillo. Petro alluded to the accusations of former Attorney Néstor Humberto Martínez against Peace Commissioner Danilo Rueda. Martínez recently accused Rueda of being condescending towards the National Liberation Army (ELN), in a column published in the newspaper El Tiempo.
Benedetti was key in the victory of the first progressive government in the history of Colombia and introduced Petro to his former personal secretary, Sarabia, who would later become Petro’s chief of staff. Sarabia has claimed that there are malicious actions revealed by a person who sought to harm a government committed to change.
Benedetti, however, tweeted: “I have been a fundamental part of the current political project of President Petro. However, not satisfied with what corresponded to me politically, in an act of weakness and sorrow, I let myself be carried away by anger and drink.”
Petro retweeted that with the message: “Our political rivals have rushed to accuse me in the Commission of Complaints; however, in no interview or audios has it been shown that I have committed a crime. This is a simple attempt at a soft coup to stop the fight against impunity.”
Translation: Orinoco Tribune
Uruguayan journalist and communicologist. Master in Integration. Founder of Telesur. He presides over the Foundation for Latin American Integration (FILA) and directs the Latin American Center for Strategic Analysis (CLAE, www.estrategia.la).