La W Radio released explosive recordings of one of Cartagena’s political bosses the last two days. The recordings have set off a fire storm of criticism and disgust just over a month away from local elections in late October. Read on for an explanation of the recordings and what they revealed.
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Upcoming Elections and Corruption
On October 27, Colombians will vote in regional elections. They will elect representatives to governors for each of the country’s 32 departments, mayors for the country’s cities and municipalities, and representatives to department and local assemblies.
Cartagena, which has gone through a cycle of mayors since the last election due to corruption and arrests, is unfortunately in the news again for all the wrong reasons this election cycle. The mayoral campaign has been messy and several of the candidates have faced accusations of corruption and breaking campaign laws.
However, on Monday September 23, W Radio released a series of tape recordings revealing contractual corruption and kickbacks paid by contractors to politicians. The recordings feature Vicente Blel, head of one of the city and region’s most powerful political families.
Who is Vicente Blel?
Vicente Blel Saad is a former senator who was convicted of ties to paramilitaries in 2010. However, despite being legally barred from holding office himself, he has remained an important player in Cartagena and Bolívar’s political machines.
His daughter Nadia Blel Scaff is a current senator, and his son Vicente “Vicentico” Blel Scaff is a candidate for the office of governor of Bolívar. Meanwhile, his nephew Miguel Torres Scaff is also the manager of Aguas de Bolívar.
Who is on the Recordings?
The name(s) of the person(s) making them has not been revealed. There are at least two sets of recordings, one where the voices of Miguel Torres and his father are heard, and one where Blel is heard speaking with an unnamed woman.
Corrupt Kickbacks in Government Contracts
This is perhaps the most revealing takeaway from the recordings. In the recordings between Torres and his father, they speak about how normally politicians and/or bureaucrats get a 15% commission from the company who wins a contract for an infrastructure or public works project.
One one recording, Torres begins by talking about how he would recommend a company or contractor for a project, often without the contractor themselves actually making a formal presentation. He then continues, “Generally, one gives 15%…that’s the business, that’s the business, the commission. It’s the business of my uncle Vicente or [sic] of all the politicians here in Cartagena, that thing [sic], that’s why Vicente fights with the governor about contracts.” He concludes by saying, “Not a blade of grass, not a leaf, gets moved without giving cash.”
He does go on in a later recording to note that on really big contracts, the commission is usually only 10 or 12%.
This Corruption Ring Runs Deep
In one of the recordings speaking with the unnamed woman, Blel discusses how all of the mainstream political parties are supporting his son’s candidacy as they made deals and “political agreements” with them. Vicentico had received formal endorsements from the Conservative Party, Liberal Party, La U Party, and the Centro Democrático Party.
The current governor of Bolívar, Dumek Tubay is brought up a number of times in the recordings of both Torres and Blel. That makes sense as he would be responsible for awarding some of the largest contracts as the governor. One of such contracts, the building of a sewage system in Carmen del Bolívar, a project that costs 68 billion pesos and according to Blel has been given to a “guy that has never done sewers before” is mentioned.
Blel mentions in one of his recordings that Dumek owes people money, although it’s unclear if that means actual debt or kickbacks as a return for political support.
The current frontrunner for mayor William Garcia is also mentioned in the recordings and the voter turnout his political clan can mobilize. The current mayor Pedrito Pereira is mentioned as well. Blel calls him a “crook” and says he has taken over all the contracting so as to be a future competitor. Blel also mentions Lidio García Tubay, the current president of the senate and cousin of the governor.
Talking about his son’s candidacy for governor, Blel mentions how he wouldn’t need to put up any money himself. He says, “I’ve got a group of 10 friends, and each puts” some money in to finance the campaign.
Just What the Politicians Think of the Average Cartagenero
However, the bit of the recording that has received the most attention is the way Blel refers to the people he and his family presumably represent.
Blel says, “Here 80% of the people sometimes don’t have money to eat…black people are lazy and don’t like to work.” He goes on to say that in all the neighborhoods south of Pie de la Popa people drink away all their money on Friday night and they “aren’t capable of buying [expletive] groceries.”
Unsurprisingly, the recordings have caused a wave of indignation amongst Cartageneros, in particular due to the disparaging comments noted above.
Governor Dumek called for and received the resignation of Miguel Torres as manager of Aguas de Bolívar. He also called for formal investigations.
The Centro Democrático Party has revoked its endorsement of Vicentico as well. It remains to be seen as of this writing the night of September 24 if other parties do the same, or if the tapes result in any formal sanctions.
Want to learn more?
Watch the radio show and see the transcripts of the first set of tapes here.
Watch the radio show and see the transcripts of the second set of tapes here.
Read about the scandal in Semana here and El Universal here.
See Blel Saad’s response in an interview with El Universal here.
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