Liberal Party member Piedad Cordoba is Colombia’s most controversial politician. From receiving Nobel Peace Prize nominations to being suspended as congresswoman for “promoting and collaborating” with terrorists, Cordoba is an iconic figure for Colombians, regardless of their political views.
Despite being suspended from holding any post in the public sector, hardly a day goes by without Piedad Cordoba making headlines. She has made a political career advancing a progressive agenda, representing political views such as the struggle for the rights of ethnic minorities, political minorities, the resolution of Colombia’s armed conflict though dialogue, and gender equality.
48 year old Cordoba was born in Medellin. Her uncle was influential Partido Liberal representative Diego Luis Cardona, known for his contribution to the creation of Chocó Department, as a political and administrative entity. Cordoba is a lawyer from Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana in Medellin, with a specialization in Public Opinion and Marketing from Universidad Javeriana in Bogota.
Her first steps in the Public Sector were taken at the Medellin city government in 1984. There, she developed close political ties to brilliant Antioquia politician William Jaramillo (who amongst many other things invented the CAI police stations). By 1988, Cordoba felt confident enough to enter the electoral race in Medellin, and thus, obtained her first electoral success becoming Edil. Her successful performance allowed her to be elected into more influential offices, first being Medellin councilwoman in 1989, and then securing office at the Antioquia Departmental Assembly.
Further success and acceptance by Colombian citizens, motivated Piedad Cordoba to run for representative in the 1991 congressional election, she made it to Congress, obtaining 22.000 votes. In the Chamber of Representatives, Cordoba sought to advance her political convictions, proposing progressive legislation such as the negritudes (Colombians with African ancestry) law and the beverage industry tax law. Her first political clashes would also occur during this period, the Colombian liberal party divided in two factions, one representing political liberal ideas (which Cordoba is a part of), and another faction representing economic liberalism. Both claim to be the “true liberals”.
During her time as representative, Cordoba gained recognition for defending the rights of Colombia’s excluded minorities, as well as the rights of the poor. Due to this recognition, Colombians elected her for four consecutive terms (1998-2010) to the Senate. There, she was the author of multiple laws which sought to improve the lives of Colombia’s most vulnerable, such as, a tax to finance the “neighborhood moms” program, the creation of a national gender equality institution, a law which increased the finances for public education and healthcare, and the protection of family houses as an inalienable right.
However, Cordoba’s political stances also make her a threat for Colombia’s status quo, and thus, extreme right-wing politicians and criminals soon began to persecute her. In 1999 she was kidnapped by Carlos Castaño, the now deceased paramilitary Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) leader. Her captivity lasted over a month; afterwards she was released and posteriorly fled to Canada. So far only José Miguel Narváez, former director of DAS has been accused for the kidnapping, however there has been no verdict regarding his involvement.
Piedad Cordoba’s time away from Colombian politics lasted several months. Upon her arrival to Colombia another two unsuccessful attempts on life were carried out. In 2006 one of her closest advisors, Jaime Gomez, died in strange circumstance. Cordoba’s declared and unalterable support for a negotiated solution to Colombia’s armed conflict had made her an enemy of paramilitary groups, and of former president Alvaro Uribe.
In 2007 Cordoba claimed that Uribe was a paramilitary. Since then, Cordoba’s combative attitude towards the Uribe administration, and the Colombian State, has made her a castaway in the eyes of the government, mass media, and many Colombians.
Furthermore, Cordoba’s conviction of negotiated peace has made her attitude towards the FARC, much more lenient than that of most Colombians. She does not hide the fact that she has met with them to talk about releasing hostages, and does not treat them with verbal belligerence. This has helped to gain the FARC’s trust, and has facilitated negotiations.
Additionally, Piedad Cordoba outspokenly supported and befriended former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. She met with him many times, and showed constant support for his Bolivarian Revolution. This also generated resentment amongst influential conservative sectors of the Colombian establishment, and many citizens.
The shared trust with the FARC and her closeness to Hugo Chavez was enough for Cordoba to be appointed by Alvaro Uribe to integrate a humanitarian exchange commission (alongside Chavez and the Red Cross) in order to exchange prisoners between the Colombian State and FARC in 2007. However, the bilateral context of excessive presidentialism, and mutual lack of trust would spur a diplomatic crisis between Colombia and Venezuela, and the initiative was thwarted. Despite the bilateral crisis, Cordoba’s work helped the liberation of 6 hostages between December 2007 and January 2008. By 2013, that figure has risen to 14, something which arguably makes Piedad Cordoba the most authoritative voice on the hostage liberations.
As a result of this humanitarian activity, Cordoba’s image catapulted. In 2012 she was named by Foreign Policy as the most influential ibero-american intellectual. She was also nominated for the Prince of Asturias Awards in 2008, and the Noble Peace Prize in 2009.
Despite international recognition, things have been much more difficult at home. Alvaro Uribe – and other right-wing politicians’ – fierce opposition to Cordoba’s ideas and actions has led to many attempts to challenge Cordoba’s reputation. First, by connecting Cordoba to FARC through the computer found in top FARC guerrilla Raul Reyes’ camp after it was bombed in 2008.
These clashes have led Cordoba to look for alternative channels to promote her policy ideals and political stances. In 2008, she became a part of the NGO Colombianas y Colombianos por la Paz. While working for this NGO, she has promoted a negotiated peace to end Colombia’s armed conflict, and she has helped to liberate hostages.
In 2010 Cordoba was suspended from Senatorial office and form any public function for 18 years, by Inspector General Alejando Ordóñez. Ordóñez claimed Cordoba “promotes and collaborates” with FARC based on Raul Reyes’ computer files. Many argue there is no real legal evidence to back up Ordóñez’s claims, while others argue strongly that Cordoba is a form of spokesman for the guerrilla group. As in much of Colombian politics, getting to the truth can be a challenge.
Despite Piedad Cordoba alienation from the Senate, she has managed to remain an influential political figure.
Further controversy has ensued, Piedad Cordoba was legally declared as a victim of illegal wiretapping by the Colombian Secret police, carried out during the Uribe administration – the famous “chuzadas” scandal.
Meanwhile the Ordóñez has opened another case against Cordoba for ties with FARC, however as yet, there has been no final pronouncement regarding the issue.
In 2012, she went to the courts in order to try to remove Liberal Party Leader Simon Gaviria, reviving the internal clash between political liberals (Ernesto Samper, Horacio Serpa, Piedad Cordoba) and economic Liberals (Cesar Gaviria, Simon Gaviria).
Cordoba’s latest political actions have been carried out as a member of the Marcha Patriotica movement. This movement is committed to the Colombian peace process and was an active promoter and participant of the march for peace in April of 2013. This political movement has declared its intention of becoming a political party, perhaps for the elections of 2014. Just as with Cordoba herself, the Marcha Patriotica has attracted controversy with the defense minister claiming the movement is funded by the FARC.
Cordoba´s true intentions with the Marcha Patriotica are difficult to predict, and will partly depend on the outcome of the peace process in Havana. What is certain is that like her or not, Piedad Cordoba is here to stay, and here to present her alternative vision for Colombia. Will she run for president in the future? Quite possibly.
Photo, El Espectador