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| 10/6/2010 12:00:00 AM

Piedad Córdoba: What’s the evidence?

Liberal Senator Piedad Córdoba, who was recently removed from her post and barred from holding public office by Colombia’s Inspector General, denies alleged mentions in the computer of deceased FARC leader, ‘Raúl Reyes’. Some of the evidence against her is incriminating. ¿Is it Justice or political persecution?

Piedad Córdoba: What’s the evidence? Piedad Córdoba: What’s the evidence?
There aren’t any halftones with former liberal senator Piedad Córdoba. Either she’s admired for her humanitarian work on behalf of the FARC hostages, or hated for her style, ideology or incendiary statements. Something similar happens to the Inspector General, Alejandro Ordóñez: he’s either a passionate defender of the law, or a fanatic catholic conservative. Both Córdoba’s and Ordóñez’ decisions are judged from the standpoint of both their political supporters and enemies.

From their respective ideological shores, Cordoba and Ordóñez irritate their opponents. Passionate reactions were seen recently when the Inspector General removed the senator and barred her from holding public office for 18 years, claiming she had "collaborated with and promoted the illegal group called the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)".

Córdoba’s defenders immediately attacked the sentence and alleged political motivations. The senator herself claimed during a press conference that “humanitarian work is being criminalized. The work for peace is being criminalized” .Relatives of the people held hostages by the FARC declared their support to the Liberal politician, as did some leaders in other countries: Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez said the sentence was an “infamy”, and Argentina’s Néstor Kirchner said that “nobody can relate her with the FARC”. Even the influential American NGO, WOLA, said that “everything seems that this is a vendetta against the senator”, and added that “Inspector General’s message is clear: as soon as you advocate for a negotiated solution to Colombian conflict we will destroy you”.

Almost none of the resentful took the time to thoroughly review the evidence with which the Inspector General made his decision. These don’t convict Córdoba immediately, but don’t help her either. The 140-page sentence was built around three major arguments: 1) That Piedad is alias 'Teodora' and that she exchanged messages with FARC leaders, 2) That during this exchange the Senator acted more as a guerrilla collaborator rather than like an official mediator, and 3) that she contacted the illegal group this year, after her official mediation had ended.

The issue of whether Piedad Córdoba is in fact ‘Teodora’ is of great importance. The senator has denied repeatedly to own such an alias, and has insisted that the emails found on Raúl Reyes’ computer were fake. But despite her refusal the investigation affects her credibility. Every trip mentioned by ‘Teodora’ on her mails to the FARC matches one made by Piedad. And the meetings described by the first are the very same that Córdoba attended.

In one email, ‘Teodora’ writes: "I leave for Washington on Tuesday, going for Sonia and Simon T". The senator’s trip to D.C. and her meetings with the two FARC leaders (both of them extradited to the U.S. by Colombian authorities) were known, as highlighted by the Inspector General.

The origins of the name 'Teodora' also drew the investigators’ attention. In an email sent on June 14, 2007, two months before Piedad was designated as a mediator by then President Álvaro Uribe, ‘Raúl Reyes’ asks a fellow guerrilla to include senator Córdoba in a list, so that she received FARC documents. In the same text, he also requests to call her ‘Teodora’.

Cordoba's defense questioned that the Inpector General used these emails as evidence, given that he didn’t work with the files directly, but with a Judicial Police report about them. She claims that they could have been edited to harm her, since the information was kept for more that a year by the Ministry of Defense. The very same emails, however, were published by SEMANA in May 2008, once Interpol had certified that they came from Reyes’ computer.

Piedad’s refusal to accept that she’d held contacts with the guerrillas under an alias is understandable from a political and a legal point of view. And even more so, given the content of the messages. In one of them, she recommends the guerrillas “not to send videos, but voice recordings of the hostages”, referring to the life proofs that were then to be sent by the insurgents. The suggestion is, for the Inspector General, an evidence of Córdoba’s complicity with the rebels.

In another message of October 27, 2007, ‘Teodora’ makes another suggestion to Reyes: "we must support Chavez before December 2, he must win on his constitutional reform. So, I here respectfully dare to ask for these life proofs, so that my commander Chavez can show them to the world, as you would like to show them". And then she concludes that she’s ready to meet "the entire High Command of the army of the people, which is to say the FARC." Although that guerrilla did send the life proofs, the Colombian Army intercepted them and they were of no use to Chávez. Piedad has always insisted that her only concern was to free the hostages and to ease their families’ pain. That she didn’t seek any political benefit, and much less to assist FARC.

It is also important for the Inspector’s Office how the FARC leaders referred to Cordoba. In a communication from September 1, 2007, ‘Raul Reyes’ tells ‘Iván Márquez’, another High Commander, that "’la negra’ is an important element for the future, given who she is and her proximity to the man". He also says that she’s got "a good position about our organization”. The investigation concluded that "la negra" was, in fact, Piedad Córdoba.

In another message, Reyes said that "Piedad, with great energy, here expressed her thesis that without the existence and strength of the FARC there wouldn’t be any opposition in Colombia". Reyes added that Córdoba had told him that she felt "fully identified" with the 12 points that the FARC thought necessary for a new government.

On September 14, ‘Raul Reyes’ wrote to the whole High Command: "Piedad .... is very happy and is considering the right moment to strengthen relations with the FARC in order to support a new government, where ‘la negra’ would be assisted by Chavez and where the FARC would have a principal role".

Cordoba’s closure with the FARC is clear for the Inspector General’s Office, which highlights that this situation is particularly serious, given her position as a senator of the republic.

Many have argued that Piedad isn’t responsible for what other people say about her, which is true. Maybe the FARC leaders had a mistaken perception of the meetings they held with the sentor.

But another email, from September 23, 2007, is even more compromising. Reyes wrote to Manuel Marulanda, FARC's top leader at the time: "Piedad told me, asking for our discretion, that Chavez contributed with100 million pesos to social work in her department. If so, it doesn’t seem impossible to get 250 million from the Plan". Piedad also denied having received any money from Chavez. And so far there is no evidence that the Venezuelan president gave her those resources. But for the Inspector General, Reyes’ tone when referring to the senator is suspicious, especially after checking other emails.

The coincidence of the messages with further events is one of the main justifications with which the Inspector General barred Piedad from holding public office for such a long time. The Inspector’s office concluded in its sentence that both "collaboration with and promotion of the FARC wasn’t only made in the period between August 15 and November 21, 2007 (when Córdoba was officially authorized to make the contacts), but also earlier and later in the years 2007, 2008 and 2010".

Farcpolítics vs. parapolitics

Ever since investigations around ‘parapolitics’ (relations of politicians with paramilitary groups) started in 2006, some sectors, including Alvaro Uribe’s government, have demanded to treat the relationship between politicians and the FARC in the same way. Until Ordonez’ sentence, there hadn’t been any disciplinary decision or criminal conviction in this regard. Even the Attorney General Office precluded Farcpolitics investigations against former minister Álvaro Leyva and against the director at ‘Voz’ news paper, Carlos Lozano. This office alleged that "court officials found that both Lozano and Leyva were mentioned in the files of the late guerrilla leader (Raul Reyes) either as promoters of reconciliation or as managers of humanitarian activities which were allowed by the respective national government". Piedad Córdoba and her supporters believe that she must be judged under the same light. The investigation against her is still in a preliminary stage at the Supreme Court and therefore it remains unknown what the high court's stance on the issue will be.

Alejandro Ordóñez insists that he’s sanctioned several congressmen for their illegal relationships with paramilitaries, just as he did with Piedad. But some argue that he’s done so only after convictions of the Court.

Right winging columnists like Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza have criticized several sectors’ solidarity with the Liberal leader, and have highlighted that the record on Farcpolitics has been “finally opened”. Plinio’s position is not majority, since most of Colombia’s influential columnists consider that the sentence against Piedad was exaggerated because she was working for a humanitarian cause. They do recognize she might have exceeded her official functions, but not as much as to deserve political death.

Some even say that even if she in fact is alias ‘Teodora’, and even if she gave advice to the FARC, that might have been part of a campaign to convince the insurgents to release the hostages.

Piedad Córdoba’s future in Colombia is uncertain, while very promising abroad. She will appeal the Inspector’s decision before himself, and no one expects him to change his mind. So then she’ll seek that the State Council sets aside the verdict claiming that the files from Raul Reyes’ computer can´t be used because, when it was found, the chain of custody was broken.

Córdoba used her senator status and power for years. For a practical purpose and from a political standpoint, Piedad is been sacked from the "ring", which is a step backward in the long struggle to institutionalize dissenting voices.

Piedad has another challenge: Her most incendiary statements —like "Colombia is a mass grave" or "Tirofijo (late FARC’s founder and 1st commander) is a model worth following"— were permited, not only because of the right of free speech that every Colombian has, but also because she was granted, as a senator, with immunity against libel. This verbal excess, however, gave her public dislike. And next to Ingrid Betancourt, Córdoba held the first position on the list of the less appreciated celebrities.

Córdoba shares another characteristic with Betancourt: Piedad is much more appreciated outside Colombia that inside its frontiers. For the international community, human rights defenders and leftist politicians in Europe and the U.S., Piedad is a courageous politician who fights for peace bravely. And she knows it: that’s why she’ll turn to the Inter-American Human Rights Court and other international organs to denounce her case.

A potential punishment for Piedad Córdoba is unprecedented in Colombia. For decades, holding contacts with the guerrillas in the search for peace was considered normal and even laudable. Almost every national leader have a personal anecdote about his or her efforts to promote peaceful coexistence among Colombians. Even president Juan Manuel Santos spoke with ‘Raul Reyes’ 13 years ago with such a purpose. Colombia was a different country then. Now, after Raúl Reyes and Jojoy’s deaths, and with the feeling that victory is possible, these contacts are not only badly received but also subject to disciplinary or even criminal sanctions.

Alejandro Ordonez may not be liked by many, but he’s Colombia’s Inspector General, and his decisions must be obeyed.



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