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Colombia: Political Advisers Caught Up in Narco Scandal Ruffle Santos Campaign

By: María Gabriela Díaz - May 7, 2014, 2:00 pm

Español Colombia’s presidential campaign is heating up as the moment of the truth approaches. Accusations of drug-trafficking ties to political campaign adviser Juan José Rendón, also known as JJ Rendón, have put President Juan Manuel Santos in a difficult position. Although the Venezuelan political strategist has denied the allegations, he resigned from his post yesterday to prevent spoiling Santos’s path to reelection.

“The last thing I want is to harm the campaign of Mr. Juan Manuel Santos, whom I admire and deeply respect. It’s obvious that this scandal is part of a conspiracy to achieve that goal,” the strategist stated.

Rendón’s decision comes after it was revealed in an article in Semana that drug trafficker Javier Antonio Calle Serna, also known as “Comba,” confessed to paying Rendón a sum of US$12 million in 2011 to draft a favorable plea agreement and present it to President Santos. Rendón denied receiving any kind of payment and has asked the Attorney General’s Office to investigate.

He Said, She Said

Initially, Rendón said that a group of lawyers representing drug capos Daniel “El Loco” Barrera, “Comba,” and Diego “Rastrojo” Pérez Henao asked him to serve as a bridge between them and Santos, and deliver the president their proposal to disband their operation, provide names and drug trafficking routes, and negotiate their surrender.

In response, Colombia’s El Espectador published a document titled, “Agenda to Solve the Problem of Drug Trafficking and the Violence it Generates,” a proposal written in 2011 that involves Rendón to a greater degree than he originally stated. The 109-page document paints Rendón as the lead strategist behind the proposal in which Colombian capos offered Santos their surrender in exchange for guarantees against extradition and protection for their relatives. According the newspaper, the document was well-known to high government officials, including police, representatives from the US Embassy, and President Santos.

The proposal, however, never came to fruition. According to Comba, the US government did not approve the plan, and Santos instead gave the order to capture and extradite the drug traffickers to the United States. In 2012, Comba surrendered to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and is currently cooperating with US authorities. Daniel Barrera and Diego Rastrejo were both captured in Venezuela the same year.

Immediately after the article was published, Colombia’s Attorney General started an investigation into Rendón over the alleged pay off. Through a press statement, Rendón acknowledged that it was, in fact, former National Liberation Army guerrilla, Gerardo Bermúdez Sánchez, known as “Francisco Galán,” who contacted him to arrange the deal.

The former guerrilla, however, later clarified that it was Germán Chica, Santos’s Presidential adviser at the time, who initiated contact to begin negotiations. “Invited by Germán Chica, I participated in the development of a proposal for said drug traffickers to surrender to authorities, for which I met several times with JJ Rendón and Germán himself,” stated Galán through a press statement.

Rendón affirmed that “if there was any money involved, it must have stayed in the hands of those who put us in contact with the narco representatives,” referring to Chica.

After these statements became public, Chica, currently the executive director of the National Federation of Departments, acknowledged his involvement in these negotiations but denied any financial gains. Chica further responded this week by suing Rendón for libel and slander.

Nevertheless, Rendón appears to be counting on support from President Santos.

“He’s saying he did not receive a peso, and we must believe him until it’s proved otherwise,” the president said during an interview. “So far, I don’t know if he charged or didn’t charge [them money], the fact that they [the capos] contacted him is not strange. These people have made offers through a lot of people: the church, journalists; they are looking for someone who has access to the president or the presidential palace.”

The accusations come at a difficult time for Santos, just three weeks before presidential elections take place in Colombia. Both Chica and Rendón have been very close to the president’s inner circle, and advised him when he founded his current party Social Party of National Unity, also known as Partido de la U.

Rendón: Chavismo’s Public Enemy

Rendón’s enmity for the Chavista regime is no secret. “There is no argument, or enough money on the face of the earth, that would convince me to work with anyone involved in Chavismo,” he declares on his website. The sentiment, however, is mutual.

Yesterday, the Chavista-majority National Assembly requested a “deep” investigation from the public prosecutor into the alleged links between Rendón, drug-trafficking, and the financing of opposition campaigns. Representative Andrés Eloy Méndez, from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, accused Rendón of acting under the orders of former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe Vélez to generate violence in Venezuela, with resources coming from drug-trafficking.

Further, last Monday, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz also issued a warrant for Rendón on unrelated charges of sexual abuse. Díaz requested a red notice from Interpol for Rendón, which would have meant extradition to Venezuela upon arrest. Interpol, however, refused the request, considering it to be politically motivated.

Rendón has acquired a reputation of a high caliber political adviser in the region. He has successfully worked in 22 political campaigns. He was the mastermind behind several electoral triumphs in Latin America, such as Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia, Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico, and Porfirio Lobo Sosa and Juan Orlando Hernández in Honduras. His most recent defeats, however, were during the 2012 presidential election in Venezuela, advising the oppositional campaign run of Henrique Capriles against Hugo Chávez, and Panama’s presidential candidate Juan Carlos Navarro.

María Gabriela Díaz María Gabriela Díaz

María Gabriela Díaz reported from Caracas, Venezuela, and led the PanAm Post internship program. She has a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a focus in international affairs.