#Piedad Cordoba

Colombian left; human rights hypocrites?

derechos-humanos

Many on Colombia`s left have made their name defending human rights.

So why is it that some of these very same politicians cannot bring themselves to stand up for the human rights of Venezuelans?

Why is it that they either remain silent, or worse still take the side of the government that oppresses and crushes dissent?

Why is it that not only in Colombia but across Latin America there are politicians unwilling to fight for human rights when “their side” is in power?

Are human rights not human rights if protesters are rebelling against left wing governments?

Imagine this.

A left wing politician is taken prisoner by a far right government.  His crime? To organize a march in protest at the government`s hardline policies.

The government`s secret service and hit squads fire live bullets into the crowds who`ve come out to support their leader. Reports say protestors were raped by the butt of a gun, beaten and tortured. The prisons minister tweets that her opponents are “shit scared” of her armed mobs. And the media reporting on this are threaten, harassed or taken off air.

So what happens next?

Neighbouring countries pressure for the prisoner`s release. Diplomatic ties are cut off with the right wing government. Across the continent they condemn the action and label the government a fascist dictatorship. And human rights NGOs campaign day and night for the release of the prisoner.

Change the left wing prisoner for right winger Leopoldo Lopez and the right wing government for Maduro`s administration.

Do you hear the condemnation from Presidents Correa, Kirchner or Morales? Have the Colombian human rights activists in the Polo Democratic party stood up to Maduro or campaigned for the release of Lopez?

No. Absolutely not.

Instead, look at this from Clara Lopez, the presidential candidate for the Polo Democrats.

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“Polo rejects the attempted coup in Venezuela”.

Now I like Clara, she ordinarily strikes me as a democrat. Check out her twitter background, it`s a photo of students marching. She believes in direct action, and protest. Clara, do you support only those who march against governments you disagree with?

And this from former Liberal Party Senator and now Marcha Patriotica Leader, Piedad Cordoba a “defender of human rights” according to her profile.

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“President Maduro we support you with all our love and friendship. Onwards!!”

Hang on Piedad. Your political movement is called “March” you organize protests across Colombia and yet you support a leader whose troops fire live bullets into student protestors?

Alongside this there are people like Ivan Cepeda who has carved himself a career as a “defender of human rights” as he boasts on his twitter account.  Standing up for those oppressed or threatened by overbearing governments or by hit squads is what he does 24 hours a day. So any tweet from him on the political prisoner or on the reports of torture in Venezuela? You guessed it, diddly squat. I guess he wants the Polo press release about the “attempted coup” to express his view.

I`m sure some of you are saying, well, maybe they don`t want to get involved in the business of a foreign country.  Fine but Cordoba and Lopez are actively supporting Maduro – they are already involved.

And I`m sure you`re asking why I`m picking on what the left are or are not saying. Look, I`m not suggesting it`s everyone on the left – far from it. There are sensible moderate left wingers, of course.

What I find hypocritical is that the left are supposed to be champions of human rights and can be great campaigners for those who have their rights ignored or violated. That is what they do, what they fight on in Colombia day and night.

So not to join forces with those protesting against an authoritarian government is not only hypocritical, but seems to me is also a fundamental betrayal of left wing values.

If you`re a left winger how can you support a government that oppresses its people?

State violence is state violence. Oppression is oppression. Censorship is censorship. Torture is torture.

Human rights are universal.

Colombia´s May Day protests end in violence

marchas

May Day protests in Bogotá ended in violence on Wednesday with police firing tear gas, stun grenades and using water cannon tanks to disperse crowds in the Plaza de Bolivar and along Carrera Septima.

According to police, 65 people were arrested and three have been formally charged. The Unified Command Post of the Mayor announced that the march took place without mishap. However, others such as the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners, an NGO based in Bogotá, have claimed that there were arbitrary arrests and harassment of peaceful protesters and journalists covering the event. The Ministry of Health has announced that 12 people, three of them policemen, were admitted with minor injuries.

As is usual on International Labor Day, there was a strong turnout from organized labor groups. Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), Colombia’s largest labor federation, was present in significant numbers as were unions including Unión Sindical Obrera, which represents mine workers, SINTHOL, which represents hotel and tourism workers, and SINDICUNICOL, which represents university employees.

CUT has claimed that roughly a hundred thousand people turned out to march in Bogotá and around one million people nation-wide.

marchesThere was also a contingent from workers at the General Motors plant located in the outskirts of Bogota. The plant has been the target of labor campaigns over the past few years from international advocacy organizations such as Witness for Peace. In May 2011, 68 current and former employees formed ASOTRECOL (the Association of Current and Former Injured Employees of GM Colmotores) in response to labor abuses firings for work related injuries which has been involved in controversial campaigns involving hunger strikes.

petro marchOther groups present included those representing students, victims of human rights violations and campaigners against racial prejudice. There were also representatives from the political parties Polo Democrátic Alternativo (PDA), a left-wing electoral alliance and the only large party with representation to oppose the Santos administration, the Movimiento Progresistas, led by mayor of Bogotá Gustavo Petro and other dissenters as a break-away from the PDA, and the Colombian Communist Party which was recently expelled from the PDA coalition. The obvious tensions between them was visible as they marched and congregated separately. Movimiento Progresistas held posters with the name of its high-profile leader, Mayor Petro, the second most important politician in Colombia after the president.

Former Senator Piedad Cordoba made an appearance and spoke with media and well-wishers. She said, “people are rising up in face of the pressure from the neo-colonialist, imperialist, savage capitalism which is expressed by the neoliberal model.” She compared the political activism taking place in Colombia at the moment to the Occupy movement in the United States, and the Indignants movements in Spain and Greece.

cordobaDespite slightly improved safety for trade unions in recent years, Colombia is still the world’s most dangerous country to be a union activist. Around 2,000 unionists have been killed since 1991, many of them committed by paramilitaries such as the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia. Unionists face other problems such as death threats, arrests, dismissals for organizing and more subtle attacks such as contract labor schemes where they are denied labor rights such as collective bargaining.

Peter Bolton is a freelance journalist based in Bogotá.

Piedad Cordoba, a political biography

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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

A march for politics not for peace

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It was a hard decision to make but I chose not to march yesterday. I decided instead to reflect on the death of the people´s president that never was, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, and pray for the victims of Colombia´s conflict.

The national “march for peace” was organized by the Marcha Patriótica (and Colombians for Peace) with the support of Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro, and, at the last minute, President Santos.

If we are to believe Colombia´s defence minister, Juan Carlos Pinzón, the Marcha Patriótica is funded by the FARC and its public face Piedad Cordoba, works directly with the guerrillas.

Disconcerting then, that the overwhelming number of marchers appeared to be Marcha Patriótica supporters, unsettling too to see thousands of MP branded t-shirts and flags among the hordes flocking down the Carrera Septima in Bogotá en route to the Plaza de Bolívar.

These white shirts, presumably funded by the MP, bore the message “bilateral ceasefire” (something the FARC have directly asked for). Not the end of the world perhaps, but these shirts were accompanied by banners demanding an end to “neoliberalism”, for the castigation of ex-president Alvaro Uribe, and for “social justice”. There were those that shouted “Uribe, fascist”.

This was not a peace march. This was a political march.

There is nothing more moving and beautiful than seeing a people march for peace, but when that peace is politicized, when the march has such a clear agenda, it sullies and cheapens the event.

Of course it´s also true that there were plenty of “ordinary” folk who joined in the march. Public workers too were out en masse, having been given the day off.  No one can claim that this march was entirely Marcha Patriótica, but that it was organized by them and that they were there in such huge numbers meant its focus was wrong.

9 April is traditionally a day to remember the victims. It is distasteful and disrespectful to the memory of Colombia´s victims, the murdered, the disappeared, and the kidnapped to turn the date into a day for politics.

On 9 April 1948 the great Liberal Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was murdered sparking a near revolutionary force that ripped apart first Bogotá and later the rest of country. The “Bogotazo” was a unified cry of anguish of hopelessness and despair as the people realized the oligarchs of the state had crushed their hope for change.

Gaitán shone a light on a Colombia in which a true democracy was possible, in which the idea of government by for and of the people was a real possibility. As they extinguished this light, the governing classes unleashed an armed conflict that is still with us today.

The FARC has its origins here, in the exclusion of all political actors not belonging to the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party hegemony; the stitch-up that followed the “Bogotazo” was an agreement which saw both parties alternate power, sharing between them the wealth and bureaucratic jam of the state. This, to the explicit exclusion of all others.

Colombia remains governed by this elite. Look at a list of her top politicians and you´ll see sons, nephews, and grandchildren of those who lead the country during the dark days of the second half of the 20th Century.

Gaitán´s death was in vain, perhaps.

But the FARC´s answer, to seize power by brute force, is not the answer. The problems of democracy are always solved with more, not less democracy.

Clearly no march will bring us peace but perhaps, just perhaps, the peace talks in Havana will lead to Colombia´s largest and most recalcitrant guerrillas to give up the fight.

One day the guerilla will leave us in peace. One day they will stop recruiting children to fight their dirty war. One day they will let their rhetoric, and not the lead of their bullets do the talking.

One day the full truth will also out on the role of the paramilitaries in this conflict.

The simple truth is that the right wing militias and the left wing terrorists have no role to play in Colombian politics. There is nothing democratic about using violence to impose political will.

We are all victims.

I want peace, I want the FARC to demobilize and fight for votes, to exchange the bullet for the ballot box. But equally I believe that any march that even whiffs of the slightest minutest show of support for them – or for any other violent actor in our politics – should be avoided like the plague.

Yesterday the vast majority of Colombians stayed at home. The white shirts of the Marcha Patriótica were hardly seen outside of Bogota. The cities of Manizales, Medellin, Cali and many others reported a pathetically low turnout of people.

Does this mean Colombians don´t want peace? Does this mean Colombians don´t support the peace process? My guess is that the answer to both is no. The reality is that the vast majority of us did not feel it appropriate or right to join a march so obviously political, with such an obvious agenda.

Gaitán would turn in his grave!

This article was written for Colombia Reports

Demobbed FARC to join Marcha Patriotica

Marcha Patriotica, photo, Semana

Colombia´s leftist Marcha Patriotica (MP) will welcome demobilized FARC guerrillas into their ranks, it was announced today.

MP spokesman Carlos Lozano appears to confirm what rumours have for months suggested; that the movement Piedad Córdoba established in April will be the platform from which the FARC seek political representation following the conclusion of peace talks.

Next week President Santos will open these negotiations, hoping within months to end the longest running internal conflict in the Americas.

Should the government reach agreement for the FARC to lay down their arms, it is expected that the route will be open for former guerrillas to enter public life.

Close to 80% of Colombians are in favour of the peace talks, but many are against the idea of former rebels in Congress.

Despite this, Colombia must prepare for the sight of ex-guerrillas in future election campaigns. And while this will undoubtedly offend victims, and will polarize opinion, Santos believes that yes the salt will sting but that it will over time also heal the nation´s wounds.

The question then is when will the FARC be (legally) represented in the corridors of power, and how?

Although the elections in 2014 are perhaps too soon for former combatants to stand themselves, they will make their voice heard – and no doubt put forward their manifesto – through the MP.

Piedad Córdoba, herself banned from Congress for her alleged links to the FARC, established the MP while secret talks were ongoing between the Santos regime and the guerrilla group, in Cuba. This lead to accusations – once it emerged that these talks had taken place – that Córdoba had been preparing the ground for the marxist rebels to mobilize their political troops.

Defence Minister Pinzón went as far as to suggest the MP has become, for all intents and purposes, the political arm of the FARC, an accusation the movement denies. Today´s comments from its spokesman will do little to convince us that Pinzón is wrong.

All roads point to the MP adopting a similar position to Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland.