Petro: 3 keys to understanding the scandal that caused the break between the president of Colombia and his inner circle

June 5, 2023, 9:30 AM

June 5, 2023, 9:30 AM

Gustavo Petro

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The inner circle that brought Gustavo Petro to power broke up resoundingly.

His two closest advisers over the past year, Laura Sarabia and Armando Benedetti, left the government on Friday as a result of a scandal that includes cash dollars, insults, treason, polygraphs, wiretaps and suspicions that the campaign was illegally financed. .

On Sunday some audios of Benedetti, an old Colombian political operator, enraged with Petro and Sarabia, were released. He says, among other sensitive phrases, “we all sink, we all finish, we go to jail, we finish all the motherfucker dick“.

Benedetti assures that the audios were manipulated.

10 months ago, the former guerrilla and parliamentarian Gustavo Petro became the first left-wing president in the country’s history.

He put together a coalition government, full of figures that moderated his leftist figure and attenuated the fears generated by his tenure as the Mayor of Bogotá, in which he fought with half the world, including his closest advisers.

Today, without having served a year in power, the situation is different: a good part of the multi-party cabinet has been replaced by Petro’s old colleagues, the parliamentary coalition that wants to reform pensions and health is weakened and The opposition has an arsenal to demand the resignation of the head of state and accuse the government of having won by cheatingyes.

These are three keys that allow us to understand the scandal that Petro’s presidency can mark.

Armando Benedetti

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Armando Benedetti is an experienced parliamentarian and political operator.

1. Who is who

Armando Benedetti He has a 30-year political career. He supported dissimilar governments: he went through Uribismo and Santos. He is more interested in power than ideology. He has been investigated – although not convicted – for corruption.

When he realized that Petro could be president, he approached him and became his right-hand man during the campaign.

Laura Sarabia arrived at Petro via Benedetti. A young and diligent army officer, seven years ago she was recruited by Benedetti to be his private secretary. In the campaign she was the bridge between the two. At less than 30 years of age, her influence skyrocketed.

The campaign triumvirate, however, ended in the presidency: Petro appointed Benedetti ambassador to Venezuela, in charge of reestablishing relations marked by the peace negotiation with the ELN guerrillas. A key role, but far from Bogotá.

Sarabia, on the other hand, went from private secretary to chief of staff. The two crises of Petro’s ministers, in February and April, revealed his power, his manner, the fact that no one had so much influence over the president.

To the equation of scandal Marelbys Meza is added, a babysitter who worked first with Benedetti, who fired her for an alleged robbery, and then with Sarabia.

A statement by Meza to Semana magazine (which has been accused of opposing Petro since he was a candidate) seven days ago, accusing Sarabia of kidnapping her and intercepting her phone on account of another alleged robbery, sparked this scandal.

Laura Sarabia

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Laura Sarabia is 29 years old and was considered the star official in Petro’s cabinet.

2. What are the details of the scandal

Sarabia became pregnant in the middle of the campaign and gave birth almost at the time of the elections. At no time did she put her work aside, so the government just started hiring Benedetti’s old nanny despite the history of an alleged robbery.

In January, Meza became the prime suspect in an investigation into the loss of $7,000 in cash from Sarabia’s home. Officials of the Police and the Prosecutor’s Office made it submit to the polygrapha test in which she felt “kidnapped and threatened” in the same headquarters of the Presidency, the Palacio de Nariño.

To further complicate the situation, when Meza had already been fired by Sarabia, Benedetti called her and rehired her to take care of her children in Caracas, a city she arrived in a private plane, according to the well-known Colombian journalist Daniel Coronell.

On Wednesday, the attorney general, Francisco Barbosa, who was appointed by the government of Iván Duque, to whom he is close, gave a press conference in which he denounced that the investigation of this case generated a parallel judicial systemthat the interrogation of Meza was illegal and that illegal wiretapping was back in a country traumatized by the violation of political rights.

What Saturday began as a domestic crimethe following Friday was already a national scandal.

Petro then announced the departure of Sarabia and Benedetti and added: “This government does not illegally intercept communications from magistrates, judges, journalists, opponents. We take care of opponents, nothing can happen to them because they are under our responsibility.”

This Sunday, the magazine Semana this time published some heated audios in which Benedetti seems to claim to Sarabia that they have isolated him and threatens to disclose details of a alleged illicit campaign financing.

Peter and his family

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Petro has said that if Congress does not approve the reforms, his people will take to the streets to protest. The mobilizations have already begun.

3. What are the possible consequences

The scandal seizes Petro at a difficult time: the approval of his great reforms to health, pensions and work is pending approval in Congress, where he no longer has the presidency of the Senate or a clear coalition, and his negotiations of peace with the armed groups have been weakening.

The scandal disorganizes the coalition and complicates the agenda“, says Yann Basset, a political scientist at the Universidad del Rosario. “But he also focuses attention on Petro instead of the congressmen themselves and the political class.”

“The obvious danger for the government is that it has to devote its energy to responding to and defending itself against the scandal and cannot devote it to the reform agenda and that raises the specter of a paralyzed government,” adds Yasset.

The scandal, says the political scientist, has revoked the memory of the Government of Ernesto Samper, who dedicated his four years to respond to accusations of receiving money from drug trafficking in the campaign.

Silvia Otero, also a political scientist, says: “Although there is still not a single proof of irregular financing, there is a political scandal and with that probably, especially with this (opposition) prosecutor, an investigation will be opened in Congress, where Petro is not has a majority.”

“So, next is damage control: the Government dedicated to controlling the consequences of these statements by Benedetti and that, of course, takes away maneuverability”.

During his mayoralty in Bogotá, Petro was left alone in power and a large part of his administration was devoted to defending himself. He usually attributes it to the reaction generated by the profound and unprecedented change that she proposes. She has three years and two months of government left.

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