“We have to come together to defend the people and build a containment wall, because today I’m here, but tomorrow I could be dead,” said Piedad Córdoba, Colombian activist, lawyer and politician in an interview with Brazil in fact nine years ago, in 2015. She laid the last brick in the wall this Saturday (20), when a heart attack took her life, five days before her 69th birthday.
“We lost a huge Colombian politician, who wrote part of the country’s political history”, he said this Monday (22) to Brazil in fact Colombian journalist Hernán Camacho, columnist for Voz magazine. “Piedad was the builder of these walls of containment, of support and defense of popular causes, of the less favored,” he said.
A woman with a striking presence, eloquent and passionate about what she did, Piedad was an influential defender of human rights in Colombia and a reference for the entire region. In her political career of more than 30 years, she was a senator on five occasions. She legislated in defense of women, black people, the LGBTQIA+ population and promoted the peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), work that gave her more visibility.
For dealing with such a thorny plot and starring such powerful and violent actors, she lived surrounded by escorts. She reported constant threats and attacks against her, many of which were classified by the authorities as attempted assaults.
::READ ALSO – Exclusive interview by Piedad Córdoba with Brasil de Fato in 2017::
In 1999, she was kidnapped by paramilitaries and released weeks later, after being interrogated by paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño. This led her to take refuge with her children in Canada. In 2010, she lost her mandate as senator and her political rights on charges of collaborating with the FARC, which would constitute treason against the country, but she was later cleared.
“Despite all the attacks and exiles that she and her family suffered, Piedad never shied away from saying what she thought, pointing out the country’s delicate issues and telling Colombia that it is necessary to work for life and peace”, declared Alirio Uribe, Colombian congressman from the ruling Historic Pact coalition.
President Gustavo Petro also said: “Her body and mind could not resist the pressure of an anachronistic society, which applauded the punishment of young people, which hated dialogue and peace, hated black, indigenous and poor people, which treated her as criminal.”
Lula and Chavez
Piedad traveled a lot throughout Latin America in search of alliances to promote peace processes with foreign guarantees and became close to several left-wing Latin American presidents, especially Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Venezuelan Hugo Chávez (1954-2013).
At the end of 2007, she was appointed by the Colombian government to mediate the release of military and political hostages held by the FARC, a humanitarian effort that, over the next two years, included the participation of Chávez. Once, in a speech, the then president called her “a complete Latin American”, a “brave woman”.
Current Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’s successor, expressed his condolences to Piedad’s family and Colombians. “Dear friend Piedad, how many battles did you have to fight for your homeland. Tireless warrior and one of the bravest women I have known, a great revolutionary, fighter, fervent defender of human rights and the peace of the people”, she wrote on social media.
Dear friend Piedad, how many battles you had to face and fight for your country. Tireless warrior and one of the bravest women I have ever met, a great revolutionary, fighter, and fervent defender of Human Rights and Peace for the people.
Despite facing… pic.twitter.com/HJnjNDOukI
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) January 20, 2024
“She deserves great recognition, she was a woman who opened the doors to peace”, said writer Patricia Ariza, former Minister of Culture in the Petro government. “She played a decisive role in the peace process with the FARC. She threw her life, her prestige there.”
In addition to his work with the guerrillas, Piedad played an important role in improving the social participation of minorities, as also recognized by new generation politicians, such as congresswoman María José Pizarro, from the Historic Pact. “She was a libertarian woman, author of the quota law, which opened the floodgates for women’s political participation; who defended Afro-descendant communities. A woman committed to her ideals,” she said.
Due to his paternal influence, most of his career was spent within the Liberal Party, with a social agenda centered on women, black communities and victims of the conflict. However, she distanced herself from this political current due to her progressive and left-leaning ideas, which led her to found the 21st Century Citizen Power movement, as an internal dissent.
She spent practically half of her life in Congress, where she began as a deputy in 1992 and later as a senator. Although she was not the first woman of African descent to reach Congress — Nasly Lozano was a pioneer in 1962 — Piedad achieved unprecedented prominence for a woman with black roots. “A woman who opened the doors of Colombian politics to women of African descent and fought tirelessly for peace and social justice in our country,” wrote current vice-president Francia Márquez on social media.
The last few years have not been easy for Piedad. The relationship with President Petro has cooled down in recent times. He claims that he included her as a candidate for his coalition, even though several legal cases were piling up against her, because he considered that she “had paid a very high price” for being a mediator in the humanitarian agreements. But when, days before the second round of elections, she was detained at an airport in Honduras for carrying 68 thousand dollars, he himself asked her to step away from the campaign.
In July 2022, she assumed her fifth term as senator, for the ruling Pacto Histórico coalition, from a hospital in Medellín, where she had been admitted due to a drop in blood pressure. At that point, she had been hospitalized for several months for different health problems. Upon taking office, and despite Petro’s distance, Córdoba said she identified with the president’s political ideas and was willing to work for reforms.
“He was consistent throughout his political career”, concludes journalist Hernán Camacho. “His line of work is always in defense of peace, the inclusion of the least favored in policies. His voice was very strong against the established political and economic power. He was a controversial figure, you could say, in the way he did politics. But above all, a mass agitator who managed to feed the hope of a handful of excluded sectors.”
With information from Telesur and El País.
Editing: Lucas Estanislau