Colombian "Democracy" at Work as Government Removes Elected Senator and Human Rights Defender

Attorney General Cites Dubious Evidence to Fire Senator Piedad Cordoba, Opposition Leader

Colombia's Attorney General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado today announced he was firing opposition Senator Piedad Cordoba from the nation's Congress, barring her from public service for 18 years.

Sen. Piedad Cordoba, a member of the country's Liberal Party and an outspoken critic of the government's drug war policies, was dismissed for allegedly aiding members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrilla group (FARC in Spanish initials).

Piedad Cordoba has not been charged with a crime, and the only evidence against her comes from dubious electronic documents that were allegedly found by the government after it raided a FARC camp in 2008. At the time the Colombian government claimed that it had found laptops belonging to FARC leader Raul Reyes.

Soon after the supposed discovery of the electronic equipment, the government's official line on the raid kept changing. The number of computer disks found fluctuated. Colombian law enforcement authorities admitted to handling the disks before they were given to INTERPOL for inspection. There was no actual proof of where the computers came from, who they belonged to, or who put the documents on to the disks.

For years Piedad Cordoba has continued to criticize US-backed anti-drug operations, which she says have only contributed to countless murders and human rights abuses at the hands of paramilitary and police forces in the country. In a 2004 interview with Narco News, Piedad Cordoba said “Every day the crisis gets deeper. There are people who have made the decision to look for a military solution for a problem that is connected, inarguably, to the drug trade, but also to misery and poverty.”


Appeal possible?

Can Sen. Piedad Cordoba appeal that decision?

Good question

Yes, Sen. Piedad Cordoba's attorney is appealing this decision. But I've read that from a legal standpoint it isn't every hopeful, when considering the executive power of the attorney general.

Can't believe I have to at

Can't believe I have to at least tangentially defend a total reactionary like Ordoñez, much less here and now...but I believe accuracy is usually just as -if not more- important than other concerns.

First off, Alejandro Ordoñez is the Inspector General (Procurador General), not the Attorney General (Fiscal General). Constitutionally speaking, neither of those offices belongs to the Executive branch and there is a significant difference between them.The Inspector General is responsible for the disciplinary oversight of public officials, not for criminal prosecutions. 

In other words, Inspector General Ordoñez does not have the power to charge Córdoba -or anyone else- with a crime per se. And that's not what he is doing. Formally speaking, this is entirely within his authorized legal powers.

This punishment is a disciplinary measure. Disciplinary charges and sanctions are not inherently equivalent to criminal charges and sanctions. Legally speaking, they may eventually be related but this is not a requirement, as they must be investigated and processed by different authorities. 

In fact, I believe Ordoñez has sent copies of the case and his decision to the Supreme Court, which is the only institution that can handle the criminal prosecution of Piedad Córdoba for any real or alleged criminals actions which happened during her time as a Senator. Just as well, the Supreme Court itself has usually had to refer the disciplinary sanctions against parapolíticos to the Inspector General, after the magistrates have judged them for their crimes.

Second, I don't agree with this decision myself -for several reasons both relevant and not- but it is important to point out that the laptops aren't the only real or alleged evidence under consideration. 

The text of the Inspector General's 140-page decision, which is public and can be easily found online (though I pity anyone other than Córdoba's own defense lawyers who tries to read all that legalese), refers to other materials. They include (as a minimum):

a)interviews, photos, travel records and public declarations by the Senator. b)legal wiretaps of FARC guerrillas c)the declarations of an Ukrainian who supposedly infiltrated FARC.  

While it is true that the infamous laptops constitute unreliable -though not necessarily as uniformly false as some may think- evidence whose interpretation has probably become even more questionable than its origin...Córdoba's lawyers should  also address the rest of the allegations in order to build up a truly strong defense instead of focusing on only one part of the case.

Which, incidentally, probably isn't as hard it seems, as shown by the questions raised by journalists Daniel Coronell and other commentators who have found several additional inconsistencies or maliciously narrow interpretations in the Inspector General's decision, not all of which deal with the electronic documents and the issue of their inclusion in a legal process.

Third, for the sake of those who may want to know, it should also be mentioned that the Inspector General is chosen by the Senate out of three candidates nominated by the State Council, the Presidency and the Supreme Court. Alejandro Ordoñez was nominated by the State Council and is serving a four year term since 2008. In other words, you could argue this is part of Uribe's legacy.

From the beginning, it's been clear that Ordoñez was very politically, morally and ideology conservative. His decisions have, more often than not, reflected this. And yet, ironically enough, he even received votes from opposition Senators.  

He has apparently tried to be "soft" on some of Uribe's allies...although he has also -perhaps grudgingly- been forced to punish others. In fact, today Ordoñez imposed a similar disciplinary punishment on DAS directors and on Uribe's own secretary Bernardo Moreno. One might well speculate that he did so in order to give the impression of being "fair" in punishing both the right and left, but who knows. 

I don't know if you'll read this or not, I suppose it is boring and contains information that might or might not change some inaccurate assumptions not everyone will want to modify, but I suppose this was worth it as a matter of principle.

In any event, I wish Córdoba good luck with the State Council, the Constitutional Court and -if the case needs to get that far as it's always possible- the ICHR in Costa Rica. Órdoñez isn't going to change his mind but I believe there are other institutions, in and outside Colombia, that have -comparatively- shown more independence and respect for democratic principles (at least in my humble opinion, but then again that may not be what some want to hear, from all that the headline implies) and who can reverse this decision through different kinds of appeal mechanisms.

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About Erin Rosa


Erin Rosa is a writer from Denver, Colorado based in the Western Hemisphere.