Ernesto Samper

This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Samper and the second or maternal family name is Pizano.
Ernesto Samper Pizano
29th President of Colombia
In office
August 7, 1994  August 7, 1998
Vice President
Preceded by César Gaviria Trujillo
Succeeded by Andrés Pastrana Arango
4th Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations
Assumed office
August 1, 2014
Preceded by Alí Rodríguez Araque
17th Secretary General of Non-Aligned Movement
In office
October 18, 1995  August 7, 1998
Preceded by Suharto
Succeeded by Andrés Pastrana Arango
Colombia Ambassador to Spain
In office
President César Gaviria Trujillo
Preceded by William Jaramillo Gómez
Succeeded by María Emma Mejía Vélez
1st Minister of Economic Development of Colombia
In office
August 7, 1990  October 28, 1991
President César Gaviria Trujillo
Succeeded by Jorge Ospina Sardi
Senator of Colombia
In office
July 20, 1986  July 20, 1990
Personal details
Born (1950-08-03) 3 August 1950
Bogotá, D.C., Colombia
Nationality Colombian
Political party Liberal
  • Andrés Samper Arbeláez
  • Felipe Samper Strouss
  • Miguel Samper Strouss
Alma mater
Profession Economist
Religion Roman Catholicism

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.


Samper is related to several other Colombians of note. His great great grandfather was the poet Diego Fallon, and his great great grandmother Felisa Pombo Rebolledo was sister of the poet Rafael Pombo. He is also a collateral descendant of Antonio Nariño, paternal grandson of writer Daniel Samper Ortega, grandson in direct line of businessman Tomas Samper Brush and grandson of politician Miguel Samper Agudelo, who was a presidential candidate in 1898; and also the nephew of renowned architect Germán Samper Gnecco, brother of writer, journalist and columnist Daniel Samper Pizano, a cousin of Patricio Samper Gnecco, and uncle of the current director of the SoHo Magazine, Daniel Samper Ospina. His great great grandfather, Teodoro Valenzuela Sarmiento, was the nephew of former president and hero of the Independence of Colombia Crisanto Valenzuela Conde.[2]

Campaign Scandal

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 May 29, 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. 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

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 parts of Colombian society. In the end, Samper did not accept the offer.

Secretary General of UNASUR

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

Personal life

Ernesto was born on 3 August 1950[1] in Bogotá to Andrés Samper Gnecco and Helena Pizano Pardo. Among his siblings, Daniel stands out as a prolific writer and journalist, a trait not alien to the Samper family who come from a long line of writers. He married Silvia Arbelaez with whom he had one son Andrés. He divorced and later remarried to Jacquin Strouss Lucena on 16 June 1979, and out of this marriage were born Miguel and Felipe.[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.


  1. 1 2 Samper Pizano, Ernesto (1992). Apertura & modernización [Opening and Modernization] (in Spanish). OCLC 253941439.
  2. 1 2 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
  6. Articulo Archivado FRASES DEL AÑO
  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

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