Gustavo Petro dreamed of turning the country around, but the inertia of lifelong politics has turned out to be much more powerful than his desires. These days he has been involved in a process that includes all the traumas and vices of the old Colombian politics: illegal interceptions, polygraphs, money briefcases, blackmail and conspiracies. The Government of change came to clean the sewers of the State, but runs the risk of drowning in them. The country is still attentive to a soap opera that every day adds a new scandal. What seemed like an issue that the president would have to resolve with his two closest aides, Laura Sarabia and Armando Benedetti, now includes one of the president's greatest enemies. Prosecutor Francisco Barbosa, who comes from the previous administration, said, disproportionately, that this was the worst human rights case in Colombia.
This case does not include guerrillas or paramilitaries. It is more about a triangle that unites Sarabia, Benedetti and their nanny in a story crossed by political ambition. Petro could not foresee that his greatest crisis so far would explode ten steps from his office, where Sarabia sits, his crutch, his trusted wife. The president is forced to solve a problem that lacks a good solution. Whatever he does, whatever happens, the shadow of the old ways of doing politics has crept into the Palace and gives ammunition to the opposition. The president who came to change the way of doing politics is suddenly bogged down by his environment, which had written on his forehead that one day would put him in trouble. If one day it is his brother, another his son, now it is Sarabia and Benedetti, whom he trusted with his eyes closed.
Petro had been trying to reach the Presidency for more than a decade. In a country accustomed to traditional governments, the former leftist guerrilla was an eccentricity. However, his figure grew over the years. After the 2021 protests, the weariness against the status quo became widespread and his candidacy took off. The people around Petro at that time were not used to the spheres of power, so the candidate looked for people with experience. Benedetti, a politician who had always been active in the traditional parties, aware of all the ins and outs of power, did not hesitate to jump on the bandwagon of the Historical Pact. Before long, he became Petro's gateway to the elite who so distrusted him. Benedetti was accompanied by Laura Sarabia, a young woman who immediately took over the organization chart of a campaign with a tendency to chaos and won over Petro. The two of them are now starring in what are surely the president's worst hours.
Let us first tell the political issue. Benedetti, ambassador in Caracas for nine months, had been eager to return to Colombia these days. In a private meeting, he suggested to Petro that he give him the Defense portfolio. The president wrinkled his nose and told him no, not that. When the ambassador was about to leave disappointed in the meeting and grabbed the doorknob, he told him to coordinate his ministers with the position of super minister, which he would create for him. Benedetti loved the idea. In the following days he had to fine-tune the details with Sarabia, who for seven years was his subordinate. She proposed that his position be under the direction of the Drape, the agency that administratively manages and organizes the budget of the Presidency. The ambassador said there was no way he would accept that. He wanted to depend on her. According to an inside source, Sarabia did not want to direct Benedetti, as he thought he would end up bypassing her and dealing directly with Petro. That paralyzed the appointment, which made the ambassador desperate.
At that time there was already an open war between one and the other. In the past they had been intimate, but now a certain suspicion had been generated. It was Benedetti who took Sarabia to the campaign, but at the moment of truth, Petro had chosen her to have her close, while he had sent him to Venezuela. It is time to tell that the two shared nanny of their children, Marelbys Meza, the Mary. Since January, the caregiver has been under suspicion for the disappearance of a briefcase with $ 7,000 in Sarabia's home. Her security subjected her to the polygraph and the machine showed that she was guilty. Now the prosecutor has confirmed that for ten days his phone was illegally intercepted for this issue, which is not exactly national security. Sarabia fired her employee, who months later returned to work with Benedetti, who took her with her to Caracas for a few days. A detail that adds mystery to this story, because the Benedetti had already fired her before and submitted to a polygraph for another alleged robbery in her house.
After spending a week in Venezuela, Benedetti and Mary returned to Bogotá. As soon as she arrived, she gave an interview to Semana magazine in which she claimed that she had felt mistreated and humiliated by the polygraph test. The song was on the cover of the magazine. Before publication, Benedetti, who has a good relationship with the director of Semana, says that Sarabia asked him to stop the publication. Here are two distinct versions. The ambassador says he tried to stop her, while the cabinet chief accuses him of being the one who had leaked the story. Their political quarrels surfaced and both ended up involved in a strong argument that distanced them even more. At the height of this crisis, Benedetti slipped on Twitter that Sarabia could have intercepted his employee's phone. The president, traveling in Brazil, privately asked him to stop stoking the crisis.
The revelation of the polygraph test alerted the Prosecutor's Office and the Attorney General's Office, which are investigating whether the procedure was illegal. In their investigations, a day after Benedetti released the hare, they discovered that Mary and another of the employees had the phone tapped. The police officers handling the case posed as two members of the Gulf Clan to cover up that they were actually listening to two maids accused of theft, a misdemeanor. Justice wonders if Sarabia was aware of the punctures and if he abused his power. In a country where there was a major scandal over illegal wiretapping during the government of Álvaro Uribe, the issue has had an enormous impact. Petro himself was then spied on by the DAS, an intelligence agency used in such an abusive way by the rulers of the day that he disappeared.
Petro has tried to put out this unexpected fire so far without success. He summoned Benedetti to a meeting on Thursday, but in the end he did not meet him, although they were messaging. Nothing was heard from the president all day, who claimed a private agenda to disappear. The enemies are stalking him, they have seen an opportunity to discredit his government, which he believed to be clear. The Minister of Defense, also a longtime victim of punctures, has asked the police to investigate to determine who ordered the wiretapping: "This government does not tolerate illegal interceptions." But the stain is hardly going to leave, in the corridors of the Palace the murmurs of the conspiracy are heard. No one wants to leave anything in writing or talk on the phone about any sensitive topic. There is widespread paranoia that there may be a third party spying. President Petro suddenly finds that conspiracies surround his office.
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