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Ernesto Samper Pizano
Ernesto Samper.jpg
Samper in 2014
29th President of Colombia
In office
7 August 1994 (1994-08-07) – 7 August 1998 (1998-08-07)
Vice President
  • Humberto De la Calle Lombana (1994–1996)
  • Carlos Lemos Simmonds (1996–1998)
Preceded by César Gaviria Trujillo
Succeeded by Andrés Pastrana Arango
4th Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations
In office
1 August 2014 (2014-08-01) – 31 January 2017 (2017-01-31)
Preceded by Alí Rodríguez Araque
Succeeded by Vacant
17th Secretary General of Non-Aligned Movement
In office
18 October 1995 (1995-10-18) – 7 August 1998 (1998-08-07)
Preceded by Suharto
Succeeded by Andrés Pastrana Arango
Colombia Ambassador to Spain
In office
1991 (1991)–1993 (1993)
President César Gaviria Trujillo
Preceded by William Jaramillo Gómez
Succeeded by María Emma Mejía Vélez
1st Minister of Economic Development of Colombia
In office
7 August 1990 (1990-08-07) – 28 October 1991 (1991-10-28)
President César Gaviria Trujillo
Succeeded by Jorge 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 72)
Bogotá, Colombia
Political party Liberal
Silvia Arbeláez
(m. 1972; div. 1975)
Jacquin Strouss Lucena
(m. 1979)
  • Andrés Samper Arbeláez
  • Felipe Samper Strouss
  • Miguel Samper Strouss
Alma mater
Profession Economist

Ernesto Samper Pizano (born 3 August 1950) is a Colombian politician. Samper is a member of the influential Samper family. He served as the President of Colombia from 1994 to 1998, representing the Liberal Party. From 2014 to 2017 he served 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 Chamber of Representatives acquitted Samper by a vote of 111 to 43, concluding the process.


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 Fallón [es], 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 [es], 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 [es], 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.

Early life and education

Ernesto was born on 3 August 1950 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.

Samper studied in the Gimnasio Moderno, a prestigious secondary school in Bogotá, and attended the Pontifical Xavierian University, graduating in 1972 with a degree in economics. He obtained a degree in law in 1973. Additionally, he conducted graduate studies in Economics at Columbia University while living in New York City. In 1974, he became a professor of law and economics at his alma mater, the Pontifical Xavierian University.

Early political career

Samper helped manage the unsuccessful 1982 presidential campaign of former president Alfonso López Michelsen. He became a member of the Bogotá City Council. He was then a member of the Senate of Colombia.

1990 presidential campaign

Samper unsuccessfully ran for the Liberal Party's nomination for president in 1990. Like the eventual winner, César Gaviria, Samper was from the reformist wing of the party. In 1989, Samper was wounded by 11 bullets during the assassination of Patriotic Union leader José Antequera [es], leaving Samper hospitalized with near-fatal sepsis. His subsequent campaign was conducted with strict regard for security, including wearing bullet-proof vests and being accompanied by a security detail of over 400.

Minister and ambassador

During the Gaviria administration, Samper served as Minister of Economic Development, (1990–1991) and as ambassador to Spain (1991–1993).

1994 presidential campaign

In 1993, when the 1994 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. Ernesto Samper won the first electoral round—where about 1/2 of 17 million voters cast ballots—with 45.2% of the vote. Pastrana was the runner up, with 45%. 16 other candidates divided the remainder. 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 caused the Samper campaign team to secure additional funding to help widen the margin over the opposing candidate. The campaign 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 an 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.

On 19 June 1994, after three weeks of arduous campaigning, Samper was elected president in the second-round voting, once again by a narrow margin, 50.37% to 48.64%, over Pastrana.

President of Colombia

Samper naming Olga Duque de Ospina as education minister in 1994
1994. Septiembre 6. Encuentro de Rafael Caldera con el presidente de Colombia, Ernesto Samper en La Casona
Samper meeting with Venezuelan president Rafael Caldera in 1994

On 7 August 1994, under tight security, Samper was sworn in as president in Plaza Bolívar, Bogotá, with foreign dignitaries such as Cuban president Fidel Castro and US interior secretary Bruce Babbitt in attendance. In his inauguration speech, he made the drug war a special priority while warning that no one was in a position to lecture Colombia on how to fight that war.

In June 1995, Samper claimed that his administration had made considerable progress in fighting the drug war—which had cost Colombia "countless lives" in the previous ten years, "including more than 3,000 police officers and soldiers, 23 judges, 63 journalists and four presidential candidates"—by launching an "integrated, multi-front attack on the cartels" that targeted "bank accounts, laboratories, crops, chemicals, transportation systems and political connections."

In June 1995, a money-laundering law was signed; and Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, a leader of the Cali Cartel, was arrested, one of over 1,100 cartel members arrested so far in the year. By August, five more cartel leaders—Henry Loaiza-Ceballos, Victor Patiño-Fomeque, José Santacruz Londoño, Phanor Arizabaleta-Arzayus, and Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela—had been arrested, leaving Hélmer Herrera the only top leader at large.

Samper stated that further measures to be taken should focus on increased international cooperation, including sharing information to speed up investigations and prosecutions, working toward implementing a treaty to stop cartel money laundering through established financial institutions, restricting the trade in precursor chemicals and enhancing international financial support for crop substitution.

Foreign relations

On 1 March 1996, U.S. President Clinton cut off most of his country's over $1 billion of economic aid to Colombia. Additionally, the US revoked Samper's visa and thereby effectively banned him from entering the country.

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 segments 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 the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). He took office on 11 September 2014. During his inauguration 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. Samper left office on 31 January 2017.

Personal life

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 has two children, Miguel and Felipe.

In popular culture

  • In the 2013 TV series Tres Caínes, Samper is portrayed as the character Enrique Sander, acted by the Colombian actor Diego Camacho.
  • Samper was portrayed by Tristán Ulloa in season 3 (2017) of the crime drama television series Narcos.
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