Ernesto Samper

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Ernesto Samper Pizano
Samper cropped.jpg
29th President of Colombia
In office
7 August 1994 (1994-08-07) – 7 August 1998 (1998-08-07)
Vice President
Preceded byCésar Gaviria Trujillo
Succeeded byAndrés Pastrana Arango
4th Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations
Assumed office
1 August 2014 (2014-08-01)
Preceded byAlí Rodríguez Araque
17th Secretary General of Non-Aligned Movement
In office
18 October 1995 (1995-10-18) – 7 August 1998 (1998-08-07)
Preceded bySuharto
Succeeded byAndrés Pastrana Arango
Colombia Ambassador to Spain
In office
1991 (1991) – 1993 (1993)
PresidentCésar Gaviria Trujillo
Preceded byWilliam Jaramillo Gómez
Succeeded byMaría Emma Mejía Vélez
1st Minister of Economic Development of Colombia
In office
7 August 1990 (1990-08-07) – 28 October 1991 (1991-10-28)
PresidentCésar Gaviria Trujillo
Succeeded byJorge Ospina Sardi
Senator of Colombia
In office
20 July 1986 (1986-07-20) – 20 July 1990 (1990-07-20)
Personal details
Born (1950-08-03) 3 August 1950 (age 69)
Bogotá, D.C., Colombia
Political partyLiberal
  • Andrés Samper Arbeláez
  • Felipe Samper Strouss
  • Miguel Samper Strouss
Alma mater

Ernesto Samper Pizano (born 3 August 1950)[1] is a Colombian politician. Samper is a member of the aristocratic, wealthy and influential Samper family. He served as the President of Colombia from 1994 to 1998, representing the Liberal Party. He currently serves as the Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). He was involved in the 8000 process scandal, which takes its name from the folio number assigned to it by the chief prosecutor's office. The prosecutor charged that money from the Cali Cartel was funneled into Samper's presidential campaign to gain his success in what would have been a very close race after he failed to win by a majority during the first round (Colombia has 2 rounds of elections, unless the first round yields a majority winner). The Colombian House of Representatives acquitted Samper with a vote of 111 to 43, precluding the process.

Early life and education[edit]

Ernesto was born on 3 August 1950[1] in Bogotá, to Andrés Samper Gnecco and Helena Pizano Pardo. Among his siblings, Daniel Samper Pizano stands out as a prolific writer and journalist, a trait not alien to the Samper family, who come from a long line of writers.[2]

Samper studied in the Gimnasio Moderno, a prestigious secondary school in Bogotá, and attended the Pontifical Xavierian University. Additionally, he conducted graduate studies in Economics at Columbia University while living in New York City.


Samper is related to several other Colombians of note.

One of his great great grandfathers, Teodoro Valenzuela Sarmiento, was the nephew of the former president and hero of the Independence of Colombia, Crisanto Valenzuela Conde. Another of his great great grandfathers was the poet Diego Fallon, and his great great grandmother Felisa Pombo Rebolledo was the sister of the poet Rafael Pombo.

Samper is a collateral descendant of Antonio Nariño's, paternal grandson of writer Daniel Samper Ortega, grandson in direct line of businessman Tomas Samper Brush, and grandson of the politician Miguel Samper Agudelo, who was a presidential candidate in 1898.

Samper is the nephew of the renowned architect Germán Samper Gnecco, brother of writer, journalist and columnist Daniel Samper Pizano (as noted above), cousin of Patricio Samper Gnecco, and uncle of the former director of SoHo Magazine, Daniel Samper Ospina. [2]

Campaign Scandal[edit]

In 1993, when the presidential campaign was in its early stages, it became increasingly clear that the race was going to be close, particularly between Samper and Andrés Pastrana, the candidate of the Colombian Conservative Party: opinion polls were sharply divided. Presidential elections took place on 29 May 1994. The results of the first electoral round showed Ernesto Samper winning with a slight 0.32% lead over Andrés Pastrana. Colombian electoral law states that if no candidate wins more than 50% + 1 vote in the first round, a second round between the two candidates who achieved the highest number of votes in the first round shall take place to identify a winner.

The results of the first round threw the Samper campaign team into a frenzy to secure additional funding to widen the margin over the opposing candidate. They had assumed that Ernesto Samper would win the election easily in the first round and had spent all of their campaign funds to achieve this. With the campaign financials running in the red, the campaign managers were faced with the need to rally support for an additional three weeks against a strong, well-funded opponent. In what can be described as a desperate attempt to win at all cost, the campaign turned to the Cali Cartel, receiving cash donations in excess of $6 million US dollars. These donations were delivered in large colourful paper bags normally used for birthday gifts.

After three weeks of arduous campaigning, Ernesto Samper was elected president, once again by a narrow 2% margin.[3]

Shortly after his presidential victory, Samper was accused by his opponent and future successor, Andrés Pastrana, of having received campaign donations from the Cali Cartel in excess of $6 million US dollars. Samper initially denied the allegations and deemed his political adversary a sore loser. Soon afterwards a series of damaging tape recordings were released to the public, the "narco-cassettes".[4] Years later, the DEA's Joe Toft would claim ownership of the recordings as he was set to depart for Texas where he would retire soon after. The Chief Prosecutor at the time, Alfonso Valdivieso Sarmiento, personally led the investigation. Valdivieso was a cousin of the late Luis Carlos Galán, a charismatic Liberal party presidential candidate assassinated in 1989 by the Medellín Cartel for his political views, particularly for favoring the extradition of drug lords to the United States. Valdivieso discovered connections between the Cali drug cartel and top figures of Colombia's society, including politicians, journalists, athletes, army and police officers, and artists, among others.

Fernando Botero, who had been one of the campaign managers for Samper, was named Minister of Defense. Horacio Serpa, another of Samper's political allies during campaigning, was named Minister of Interior. When news of the investigation were leaked to the press, Samper appointed them to face the media and aggressively deny the possibility that drug money entered the finances of the presidential campaign. The message was clear: if money from the Cali drug cartel found its way into the campaign's finances, Samper had no notion of this. During a press conference in which both men referred to and disqualified key elements of the investigation, one of the journalists asked them how they had obtained this document, since it was a confidential document that only the prosecutor had the authority to release once the evidence was collected. Serpa said it was given to them by an "anonymous source".

After many months numerous politicians and top members of the government were indicted, but only scapegoats were convicted.[citation needed] Botero was arrested in connection to the investigation and charged with conspiracy to illicitly gain wealth. Santiago Medina, the campaign's treasurer, was arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison as a result of the investigation. Other political figures, such as Alberto Santofimio Botero, Eduardo Mestre, journalist Alberto "el loco" Giraldo, were also imprisoned under the same investigation. Giraldo spoke on behalf of the Cali Cartel in many of the tape recordings. The prosecutor also charged Samper, who insisted on his innocence. He said that if drug money had entered the presidential campaign, it had done so "behind his back".

Cardinal Pedro Rubiano, a leader of Colombia's Catholic Church, stated in an interview that not knowing that drug money financed part of the presidential campaign was similar to not noticing an elephant entering one's living room.[5][6] Since then, the events that led to drug money financing the "Samper for President" campaign have been referred to as "The Elephant".

As outlined by the Colombian Constitution, only Congress can serve as the President's natural judge. So, once the Prosecutor General presented the case and delivered the evidence to the Congress, it was in the hands of the latter to evaluate the evidence and determine if Samper was also directly involved in this scandal. Congress is a political institution and at the time the majority of its members were political allies of Samper, many of whom had also been implicated in dealings with the Cali Cartel. It was no surprise that despite the evidence against Samper the case was precluded, that is neither guilty or innocent.

As a consequence of this political turmoil, the U.S. government withdrew any political assistance to Samper's government. For consecutive years, Samper's administration was lambasted by the US for its supposed failure to make every effort to effectively fight the war against cocaine and the Cali Cartel. Additionally, the US revoked Samper's visa and thereby effectively banned him from entering the country.

For a detailed timeline of the events regarding this investigation, see Procedure 8.000.

Ambassadorship Offer[edit]

In July 2006, President Álvaro Uribe offered Samper Colombia's ambassadorship to France. This led to the resignation of former President and Ambassador of Colombia to the United States, Andrés Pastrana, who criticized the decision. Opposition was also expressed by the media, political groups, and other segments of Colombian society. In the end, Samper did not accept the offer.[citation needed]

Secretary General of UNASUR[edit]

In July 2014, Samper was named Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). He took office on 11 September 2014.[7] During his inaugural ceremony in Caracas, Venezuela, Samper announced that he planned to focus on three agendas: political, social, and economic. He also announced plans to create a South American International Criminal Court to deal with regional criminal issues.

Personal life[edit]

Samper married Silvia Arbelaez with whom he had one son, Andrés. The couple divorced, and Samper married Jacquin Strouss Lucena on 16 June 1979, with whom he had two children: Miguel and Felipe.[2]


  1. ^ a b Samper Pizano, Ernesto (1992). Apertura & modernización [Opening and Modernization] (in Spanish). OCLC 253941439.
  2. ^ a b c García Vásquez, Julio Cesar. "Ernesto Samper Pizano, Familiares Y Parentela" (PDF). Genealogía Colombiana (Family tree) (in Spanish). 4. Interconexion Colombia. Retrieved 2010-11-03.
  3. ^ Colombia:1994 Elecciones Presidenciales, Primera Vuelta, Resultados Nacionales
  4. ^ Articulo Archivado YO ACUSO
  5. ^ Canal RCN - Noticias RCN Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Articulo Archivado FRASES DEL AÑO[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ "Ernesto Samper firma acta de posesión como Secretario General de UNASUR" (in Spanish). South American Institute of Government in Health. 12 September 2014. Retrieved 26 May 2015.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
César Gaviria Trujillo
President of Colombia
Succeeded by
Andrés Pastrana Arango