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History, Colombia Under Samper

Cali drug cartel, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, campaign treasurer, National Liberation Army

In June 1994 Ernesto Samper Pizano of the Liberal Party was narrowly elected president of Colombia. Shortly after the election, accusations emerged that Samperís campaign had accepted contributions from the Cali drug-trafficking cartel. Samper denied the accusations, claiming that all of the contributions were lawful, and an initial investigation cleared Samper of wrongdoing. However, the allegations foreshadowed a political scandal that would plague Samper for the rest of his presidency.

In July 1995 Samperís former campaign treasurer accused the president of accepting almost $6 million in campaign contributions from the Cali drug cartel in exchange for leniency during any criminal proceedings for drug-related crimes. Government prosecutors later claimed to have confirmed the contributions, but Samper consistently denied that he knowingly received drug money, and he refused to step down from the presidency. In August 1995 Samper declared a 90-day state of emergency, ostensibly to battle organized crime and terrorist violence. Many Colombians saw the move as an attempt to divert attention from the growing political scandal, and in October the Constitutional Court invalidated the decree as without merit. However, Samper declared another 90-day state of emergency in November, which was upheld and later extended.

The Samper administration suffered another blow in January 1996 when Samperís former defense minister admitted that the president had knowingly solicited and accepted campaign contributions from drug traffickers. Samper convened a special session of Congress later that month to investigate the accusations against him. Colombiaís chief prosecutor formally indicted Samper in February 1996, charging the president with the crimes of fraud, accepting illegal drug money to fund his campaign, and obstruction of justice. The indictments were seen as the initial steps in what could have become a formal congressional impeachment of the president. In June the House of Representatives cleared Samper of all charges of wrongdoing, but later a Colombian court convicted two of the presidentís associates of funneling drug money into Samperís campaign.

Samperís domestic problems were intensified by the United States, which criticized Colombiaís effort in the ongoing war against drug trafficking. In March 1996 the United States declared that Colombia had been uncooperative in international efforts to combat drug production and distribution. Following the announcement the United States ďdecertifiedĒ Colombia, disqualifying the country from receiving most forms of U.S. economic assistance in 1996 and again in 1997. The U.S. government recertified Colombia as an ally in the war on drugs in 1998.

Samperís government also encountered difficulties controlling armed factions within Colombia. These factions included the two largest left-wing guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as right-wing paramilitary forces that had formed to oppose the leftist guerrillas. Violent attacks by guerrilla and paramilitary groups intensified in 1997. In October the rebels launched a campaign of violence and intimidation aimed at preventing voters from participating in municipal and regional elections. Paramilitary squads launched a countercampaign of violence, raiding numerous villages and executing individuals suspected of supporting guerrilla activities.

Article key phrases:

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