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Colombian election

Monday, May 19, 2014

New twist in Colombia race

Colombian presidential candidate Oscar Iván Zuluaga greets supporters during a closing campaign rally in Villeta, Colombia, on Saturday.

New evidence links Colombia’s main opposition candidate to espionage on peace process

BOGOTÁ — A candidate in Colombia’s presidential elections next Sunday has called on the leading opposition candidate, Oscar Iván Zuluaga, to quit the race after new video evidence of his links to a campaign consultant that has been charged with espionage.

Zuluaga’s recent surge in polls of voter intentions could be challenged after local press published a video showing him and a former campaign manager being briefed about government intelligence by a man now in custody and facing spying charges.

The campaign manager, Luis Alfonso Hoyos, quit earlier this month after the arrest of the accused hacker, Andrés Sepúlveda, and after Colombian broadcaster RCN said the two men had offered it confidential information about the peace talks.

In the video, Sepúlveda informs Zuluaga that he is in possession of military intelligence. Zuluaga shows no surprise and does not question how he obtained secret state information.

The new evidence rocked Bogotá’s political circles and presidential candidate and former Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa called on Zuluaga to resign.

President Juan Manuel Santos, who is seeking re-election on Sunday and sees in Zuluaga his main rival, didn’t make any public comments regarding the revelation.

“Oscar Iván Zuluaga should immediately renounce his candidacy to the presidency and present himself to the judiciary to answer for these crimes,” said Green Alliance candidate Peñalosa, a distant third in some polls.

Video is a ‘montage’

Zuluaga, however, appeared to cast doubt on the video’s authenticity, calling it a “montage” and “crude” and that his campaign had been infiltrated by people working against him. He did not explain further why the video and audio published on the website of news magazine Semana were dubious, nor did he clarify why he had said he had visited the hacker’s office only once, several months ago.

Sepúlveda’s arrest was made in early May after a raid on his Bogotá office where he is alleged to have spied on members of the FARC delegation handling peace talks with the government in Cuba. He is also accused of hacking into the email of two Cuban journalists.

Zuluaga’s campaign acknowledged after Sepúlveda’s arrest that he worked for the campaign, consulting on social networks. It said then it condemned illegal spying but awaited the results of an investigation.

A conspiracy against peace’

Santos, neck and neck with Zuluaga in election polls, has made the peace talks the hallmark of his four-year mandate and says he needs a second term to finalize and implement a deal to end five decades of fighting.

The talks are backed by the majority of Colombians but Zuluaga, the candidate supported by former President Álvaro Uribe, has drawn support from voters who fear talks will lead to impunity for guerrillas in a conflict that has killed more than 200,000.

Uribe, who fought the FARC militarily, accuses Santos of being too soft on the rebels and warns that the peace process could create further security challenges in a country that has suffered a 50-year-long bloody conflict.

The peace talks, however, seem to be moving forward. On Friday, the the government and the rebels announces they had reached an agreement on how to end the illegal drugs trade, believed to be the FARC’s main source of funding.

The announcement could boost support for Santos as he seeks to convince voters the talks will succeed after several failed attempts by previous governments.

Juan Fernando Cristo, a Liberal Party senator who backed Santos’ re-election bid, condemned the Zuluaga’s alleged links to espionage on the peace talks.

“The video shows Oscar Iván Zuluaga has been lying to the nation. It’s an extremely serious doing, it’s a conspiracy they have created against peace in Colombia,” he said.

Santos’ own election bid was briefly marred after campaign strategist, Venezuelan J.J. Rendón, quit amid allegations he took a US$12 million bribe to use his influence to prevent the extradition of several drug traffickers to the United States. He has denied receiving money.

Uribe went as far as to accuse Santos of using US$2 million to fund his own campaign in 2010, but then failed to provide evidence when prompted to do so by the country’s Attorney General.

Herald with Reuters, online media

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