On January 11, thousands of Colombians hit the streets to demand the resignation of attorney general Néstor Humberto Martínez. He is accused of withholding information that links Colombian politicians with Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.
In the country’s capital Bogotá, protesters demonstrated with flashlights outside Martínez’s office to “shed light on the “corrupt institution.” Angry protesters burned the attorney’s flag and shouted slogans like “no more Aval Group [a Colombian banking company]” and “the attorney general is going to be burned”. Similar protests were carried out in the cities of Cali, Barranquilla and Bucaramanga.
The Colombian protesters are said be inspired by the recent developments in Peru, where attorney general Pedro Chavarry resigned on January 8 after days of street protests. Chavarry is accused of obstructing investigations related to Odebrecht in Peru.
Odebrecht is a global organization operating in Brazil and 24 other countries in the fields of engineering, construction, infrastructure, energy and chemicals. It is involved in one of the biggest transnational corruption scandals in Latin America in recent times. In 2016, the company admitted paying around 800 million dollars in bribes to politicians in 12 countries to secure government contracts. Out of these, 10 are in Latin America.
Before becoming Colombia’s attorney general in 2016, Martínez was a legal advisor to Aval Group, which partnered with Odebrecht to develop a 2 billion dollar highway in central Colombia. The financing of this project is currently under investigation.
After becoming the attorney general, Martínez obscured his own role in the case. Instead, he charged a deputy minister and a former senator with taking bribes and issued arrest orders for several middlemen. He also accused Odebrecht of paying 50 million dollars in bribes in Colombia.
On November 8, 2018, Jorge Enrique Pizano, an auditor for the Aval Group and the prime witness in the corruption case against Odebrecht died due to a heart attack as per forensic reports. After his death, Canal Uno, a Colombian news channel, aired a recording of a phone call, which Pizaro shared with the outlet months before his death. In the recording, Martínez can be heard scolding an auditor [Pizano] for raising concerns that Odebrecht had bribed politicians to secure the highway contract. Martínez yells at the auditor and tells him to not share what he has discovered with anyone else. The recording is from 2015, when Martínez was a lawyer for the Aval Group.
Three days later, Pizano’s son, Alejandro, died after drinking water from a bottle kept on his father’s desk. Doctors reported he had been poisoned with cyanide. Alejandro’s death raised questions about whether Pizano was the victim of a conspiracy.
The death of Rafael Merchán, the former secretary of Transparency and another key witness in the Odebrecht case, in the last week of December, hit the headlines and once again highlighted the complexity of this case. Merchán was a witness in the case against Luis Fernando Andrade, the former president of National Infrastructure Agency.
Citizens, activists and social organizations of Colombia are determined to fight. Even as #ChaoFiscal [#GoodbyeAttorneyGeneral] trends on social media, they are inviting people to show up in larger numbers to pressurize Martínez until he resigns.