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Drug Scandal Implicates Colombian President


October 1995

In the wake of a massive indictment in Miami of suspected Cali cartel figures and their defense attorneys, and the arrest of some of the cartel's leaders in Colombia, the scandal of Colombia's drug culture has reached the highest levels.

President Ernesto Samper's former campaign treasurer Santiago Medina made allegations in the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo that Samper accepted a $6.1 million donation from the Cali cartel during his 1994 election bid (Douglas Farah, "Noted Ex-Defense Minister Surrenders in Colombia's Drug Money Scandal," Washington Post, August 16, 1995, p. A24; Associated Press, "Testimony Alleges Tie Between Colombian Leader, Drug Money," Washington Post, August 4, 1995, p. A29).

The allegations seem to support claims made by Andres Pastrana, Samper's opponent in the 1994 campaign, since May 1994. Pastrana had released what have been dubbed the "narco-cassettes," in which Samper campaign officials are heard discussing contributions from Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez-Orejuela.

Defense Minister Fernando Botero, who in 1994 was Samper's campaign director, quit under fire that he, with Samper's approval, accepted the money. Botero surrendered to police on August 15.

Medina said he approached Samper about the contribution, and Samper told him "very nervously" that he "wanted to be out of the loop on this and that I should coordinate it with Fernando Botero."

Medina said he then met with the Rodriguez brothers and struck a deal with them. In exchange for major contributions, the brothers would surrender to police after Samper's election and be given short sentences. The brothers were to be allowed to keep property and assets.

Conservatives have encouraged Samper to resign. Samper denies knowing about the contribution, and claims that the allegations are part of an orchestrated campaign to topple the government leadership. Government officials are calling Medina a cartel spy who was sent to defame Samper as retaliation for the recent arrests of the cartel's leaders.

As of the middle of August, six of the seven major Cali figures, including the Rodriguez brothers, had been arrested (see "Colombia Arrests Suspected Head of Cali Cartel," NewsBriefs, September 1995; Jose de Cordoba, "Colombia Captures An Alleged Leader of Cali Drug Cartel, Wall Street Journal, August 7, 1995, p. A9; Douglas Farah, "All the President's Men -- and the Drug Lords," Washington Post, August 18, 1995, p. A27; Douglas Farah, "Colombia President Charges Cartel Plot, Vows to Stay On," Washington Post, August 27, 1995, p. A23; Douglas Farah, "Colombia's Culpables," Washington Post, August 23, 1995, p. A25).

On August 16, Samper declared a 90-day state of emergency, allowing him to act independently of the legislature. Critics said Samper was trying to silence his legislative opposition (Pamela Mercer, "Colombian President Declares State of Emergency to Fight Crime," New York Times, August 17, 1995, p. A6).