Last Friday, Liberal Party politician and current president of Cartagena’s city council, Gloria Estrada Benavides was arrested when the vehicle she was traveling in was stopped and searched. Police inspecting the vehicle found a kilogram of cocaine, 8 million pesos in cash ($2,000 USD), and three firearms.
Estrada insists she is innocent and was merely a passenger in the vehicle.
Prosecutor Rashid Alí Cárcamo said that one of Estrada’s two traveling companions tried to bribe the police with a promise of 100 million Colombian pesos, but the police did not accept the bribe. Along with the 39-year-old councilwoman, Martin Alonso Barreto de La Hoz, said to be her boyfriend, and Avelino Villamizar were also arrested. In addition to the narcotics charges, Barreto was also charged with manufacturing, trafficking, carrying, or possessing firearms, accessories, parts or ammunition.
Prosecutors indicated in the arraignment hearing that Barreto was driving, the cocaine was under his seat, and he was in possession of the firearm. Estrada insists she is an innocent victim.
After working at city council that Friday morning, Estrada says she left to join Barreto, who had arrived to pick her up for lunch, along with Villamizar, who they were going to drop off at the gas station, where they were later captured.
“I sat in the front of the vehicle, they offered me the courtesy, so to speak, I was going to have lunch at my apartment in the Pie de la Popa neighborhood. However, I departed from council and two minutes later the police approached, they told us that we had to get out (the vehicle), I identified myself and gave them my councilor’s identification,” testified Estrada.
Estrada’s lawyer, Juan Royero insists the councilor is innocent, saying she was a passenger in the vehicle, it does not belong to her, and she had no idea of contents under the driver’s seat, or weapons in the possession of Barreto…even though he is indicated in multiple accounts as her boyfriend.
Prosecutors have asked that Estrada be denied bail, though she has asked to be released pending trial, insisting she is not a flight risk and must take care of her autistic nine-year-old son. Aside from the prosecution charges, an investigation has been opened in the Procuraduria’s office (Special prosecutor for government employees), and Estrada has been provisionally suspended from City Council and the Liberal Party for three months to address the charges.