Blog (EN)

The Narco Brother

How does one explain, to those who ask, the scandal surrounding the vice president of Colombia, Marta Lucía Ramírez, and her brother who has been convicted drug trafficking?

How does one justify that Álvaro Uribe, who was president of Colombia for 8 years, appointed José Obdulio Gaviria, first cousin of the infamous and ruthless narco-terrorist Pablo Escobar, as his senior presidential advisor, and that his was one of Colombia’s most popular and controversial governments?

What explanation should one give to those who inquire about the top commander of the Colombian National Police and former vice president, General Óscar Naranjo, who was named the best policeman in the world, meanwhile his brother was convicted of drug trafficking in Germany in 2006?

How does one evade the shame of having elected Ernesto Samper, a leader who surely would have lost the presidential race had it not been for the seven-figure contributions from the Cali Cartel?

How can one defend having voted for numerous congressmen who are accountable to narco-paramilitarism, and that for decades, the purchasing of votes has been their modus operandi to secure their seats and help elect the president in office?

How can one excuse, under the watchful eye of the world, that on a piece of land owned by the family of the former Colombian ambassador to Uruguay, Fernando Sanclemente, cocaine laboratories were found last February?

What does one say, to those who praise the peace treaties, to make them understand that the wood that fueled the war’s fire was the same lifeline that kept the armed rebels drug trafficking for 40 years, and that sustainable peace cannot be built with its tentacles of violence and corruption?*

How does one argue that drug traffickers, paramilitaries, and many members of the armed forces have an affinity for one another because the guerrillas and socialism are a common enemy?

Journalist Gonzalo Guillén, who is protected by justice and freedom of expression, and describes Uribe as a narco, paramilitary, gangster, murderer, thief and butcher, co-authored the report published by La Nueva Prensa that brought to light Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez’s brother’s conviction and sentencing in a US prison for drug trafficking. 

The case regarding the vice president’s narco brother reminds us of some of the answers: we’ve allowed the dirty drug business to penetrate politics, justice, the armed forces, corporations, the economy, the financial system, colleges and universities, soccer, beauty contests and private clubs. They entered into the lives of many Colombian families, regardless of social status.

Despite the fact that many governments have waged a relentless battle to confront drug traffickers with death, extradition, long prison terms, loss of property, financial surveillance, political disqualification, and to an extent, with the social rejection, these weapons have not been enough. The millions in profits from the business have been more powerful.

How is it possible that the vice president, a woman with a brilliant political career – one that no other Colombian has had and that many would envy – involves the country in national and international chatter because of a family secret that she is ashamed of? 

Marta Lucía Ramírez is an official who we came to respect for her seriousness, her firmness and her commitment to the causes that we share as a nation. Since making history by becoming the first female Minister of National Defense in Colombia, the fight against drug trafficking has been her main objective. We also came to know her for preaching on the importance of transparency regarding public proceedings and the vindication of women as key players in the development of the country.

She has had the courage to lead the war against the dreaded world of drug trafficking, she has faced her political opponents in fierce presidential debates and has fought a viciously in heated discussions against her opponents in Congress. She has defended Colombia’s economic potential and its human talent in countless international forums.

However, she did not have the bravery nor the courage to tell us, at some point in the past 23 years, that her brother was a confessed drug trafficker and that he served a prison sentence in the United States in the late 1990s. She only dared to do so when an article from the La Nueva Prensa portal unmasked her and she had no choice but to face the family history that overwhelmed her.

“The truth is corrupted as much by lies as by silence”, said philosopher Cicero a few centuries ago. Regardless of how much shame she feels, or solidarity she has with her family, she knows very well that the performance of government officials is exposed to public scrutiny. Even her private life, because of the nature of its facts and themes, can echo in the public orbit. For the sake of ethics, transparency, and assuming greater responsibility towards the Republic from the high ranks she has held, the vice president should have confessed her family secret much earlier.

As if that were not enough, we’ve now learned from Vicky Dávila’s column in Semana magazine, that she did not even tell President Iván Duque.

She revealed it to him the same day the story was published. Did the President know this information from another source and still designate her as his running mate? Would former President Álvaro Uribe have told him? Marta Lucía has stated that she recounted her brother’s past to former presidents Andrés Pastrana and Álvaro Uribe, who had no hesitations about appointing her as minister in their respective cabinets and have continued to support her.

Out of respect, loyalty and honor, Marta Lucia had an obligation to communicate the truth to the then candidate Ivan Duque. The president of a country that has been burdened for decades by the bloody tragedy that is drug trafficking has a right to know.

It can be assumed that, in this scenario, Marta Lucia prioritized her own political career over the interests of Colombia. I am sure that if she had admitted the truth in a timely manner, demonstrating sincerity and integrity, the country would not have judged her so harshly, because no one chooses her family. That truth, although painful and uncomfortable, would humanize a reality that we in Colombia stumble upon around any given corner. It is too late, and the scandal exploded at the peak of her career, tainting the world’s image of Colombia, one that has taken so much work to rescue.

The scandal fuels the accusations made by her opponents regarding the business endeavors of the vice president’s husband, Álvaro Rincón, with Guillermo León Acevedo, who is accused of having ties to drug trafficking and paramilitarism, and, incidentally, gives her opponents ammunition to attack her for alleged conflicts of interest that would have benefited her family businesses.

“When we took office, we agreed with President Iván Duque that we would achieve an efficient and transparent government that would restore civilian’s confidence in public authority,” wrote the vice president in her column in El Tiempo on January 15.

How can one trust public authority when its highest representatives conceal from their constituents a truth that they have a right to know?

Vice President Ramírez is an official whose long-lasting career at the service of Colombia has been an example and inspiration for many Colombians. Unfortunately, this error of judgment by Marta Lucía Ramírez will undoubtedly cost her politically. Not only is trust undermined, but her future in politics has been seriously compromised.

We Colombians cannot afford to expose ourselves to new questions concerning the relationship of drug trafficking with broad sectors of our society, but above all with our ruling class, if one day we want to shake off, once and for all, the image of belonging to a narco-democracy.