Jhon Jairo Velásquez Vásquez, Pablo Escobar’s former top hit man, says Colombia’s recent peace deal with a longstanding rebel group is proof that he, too, could be elected to the country’s Senate.
Velásquez, aka Popeye, said that when transitional justice for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group becomes effective, he would consider launching a senatorial bid.
“If Mr. ‘Timochenko’ is able to be in the Senate,” Popeye said in an interview with La W radio station, referring to a FARC commander, “‘Popeye’ [can] also.”
Popeye, who has been linked to hundreds of killings but was only convicted of the 1989 assassination of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán, also said he will “fight against corruption” as a legislator.
Popeye spent more than 20 years in prison and was released in 2014. He has since turned himself into something of YouTube star and commentator on crime and politics.
“I have a very large force on social networks,” he said during the interview. “I have become a political activist online.”
His YouTube page, “Popeye Arrepentido,” or “Repentant Popeye,” has more than 80 videos, more than 133,000 subscribers, and nearly 11 million views. His social-media presence has earned approbation from some and scorn from families of the victims of his and Escobar’s bloodshed.
“That Popeye speaks of ‘my fans’ is the magical realism that exists in Colombia,” La W correspondent Camila Zuluaga said on Twitter, referring to the novel-writing style pioneered by Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez (who Popeye also accused of working with Escobar).
Popeye’s comments come days after the Colombian government signed a landmark peace deal with the FARC, the left-wing rebel group that has waged a 52-year long civil war against the Colombian state and become involved in criminal enterprises, as well.
One of the most contentious elements of the FARC peace deal is the group’s transition into being legitimate political actors in Colombia, something other rebel groups have done before. In Popeye’s mind, if the FARC — who, like his late boss, fought a vicious war against the Colombian government — can now move into the political sphere, so can he.
Criminal ties aren’t exactly rare among Colombian politicians. Since the mid-2000s, dozens of lawmakers and other officials have been jailed for ties to right-wing paramilitaries, according to Colombia Reports. In recent years, hundreds of Colombian officials have been locked up because of links to criminal groups in the country.
Should Popeye win some future election, and retain office, he will have one-upped his former boss. Escobar was elected to the Colombian Senate as an alternate in 1982 but was forced out soon after because of his criminal ties.
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