Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ re-election bid has suffered a further setback as his campaign strategist resigned on Monday due to allegations of having received money from drug lords to negotiate their terms of surrender.
Venezuelan national Juan Jose Rendon, the mastermind behind the strategy that elected President Santos in 2010 and the current campaign set to culminate in elections on May 25, is alleged to have received US$12 million according to a testimony made by former drug lord and member of the Rastrojos criminal group, Javier Antonio Calle Serna alias “Comba”.
The money was delivered on condition Rendon negotiate a surrender plea on behalf of Calle Serna, Diego Rastrojo, Pedro Oliverio Guerrero Castillo and Daniel “El Loco” Barrera with President Santos, according to a 109 page report made public to Semana magazine.
“From the beginning of 2010 until the end of 2011, negotiations began in Colombia, but Colombia showed no interest. This was during the government of President Santos and J.J Rendon was the person who was going to make this work. J.J. Rendon received US$12 million to facilitate this project to see if Juan Manuel Santos would go along with it,” Calle Serna told Semana magazine.
Rendon’s resignation from the campaign comes at a troubling time for President Santos as his numbers in the polls have remained stagnant at 32 percent.
He faces further questions about unusual pay outs of public funds prior to the congressional elections in March, an illegal wire-tapping scandal, the reversal of his decision to depose the Mayor of Bogota Gustavo Petro, the on-going agricultural strike and an unfortunate outburst by his vice presidential running mate German Vargas Lleras during a press conference where he called a heckler a street urchin.
“What is important is that he (Rendon) tendered his resignation and I accepted it. This is a noble gesture and he said that he did not want to damage my campaign and he is no longer a part of it,” said President Santos in an interview given to Caracol Radio on Tuesday.
The offer, tabled by the drug lords was not accepted by the government and Rendon, who fled this week to Panama, claims to have not received nor accepted the US$12 million.
As it stands, the presidential elections look set to go to a run off as it appears that no candidate will win enough votes to secure 50 percent and take the presidency outright on May 25. According to political analyst and director of Colombia-Politics Kevin Howlett: “there is a crisis in the presidential reelection campaign and this is the week where Santos’ victory has looked in doubt.”