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Published On: Fri, Jan 24th, 2014

Cash for votes

Corrupcion-en-Colombia

The accusation is stark. 1.5 billion dollars were spent by the Santos administration on paying off parliamentarians for their support and votes.

Computer files said to have been leaked from the Presidential Palace supposedly reveal wide-scale clientelism at the heart of Colombia`s political class.

Caracol Radio has released what it says is evidence that congressmen and senators have in some cases been handed hundreds of thousands of dollars to “spend on local projects”.

Commentators on Caracol`s leading Hora 20 programme last night alleged that many of these projects had not been delivered, inviting listeners to draw their own conclusion as to where the money had ended up.

In Colombia, this largesse is known as  “mermelada” (jam) and the Santos government is seen by many observers as particularly generous in the size of the portions it dollops out.

The president himself has dismissed Caracol`s report as “un cuento”, a made-up story. It could well be. Perhaps the evidence isn`t credible.

However, just listen to the radio or read the columnists and you`ll see that few in Colombia`s political world deny the existence of clientelism (in general if not necessarily in this particular case).

Worryingly, the scale of the practice could be much worse than so far revealed. The files obtained by Caracol do not take into account the most recent months when, as the rumours go, the mouths to feed have grown in number, and the bellies fatter.

Those with longer memories will recall that ex-president Alvaro Uribe`s administration too fell foul of a similar accusation.

In 2008, Yidis Medina was convicted of bribery, and was said to have offered lucrative rewards to those who voted in favour of allowing a constitutional change to permit Uribe`s re-election.

Where ever you are, politics always involves a level of rose-garden-jobs-for-the-boys-kick-back culture.

The question is whether in Colombia it is any worse than elsewhere.

If you listen to commentators and even speak to the politicians themselves, they admit that in Colombia the clientelism is seriously damaging the country`s democracy.

Congresswomen Angela Robledo today wrote in La Silla Vacia that “clientelism has steadily eroded ideology”.

Politicians vote not with their heart or mind, but instead with their pocket, she suggests. Politics loses out to interests, perhaps.

The full break down of the parliamentarians and their alleged regalitos can be found here: http://www.caracol.com.co/noticias/actualidad/mermelada-reeleccionista-por-partido-region-monto-cargos-y-comisiones/20140124/nota/2061848.aspx