Colombian senator banned for "collaborating" with FARC rebels

Piedad Córdoba, a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, is ousted from the senate.

Last week a leading left-wing Colombian senator and peace activist was dramatically sacked and banned from public office for 18 years for allegedly "promoting and collaborating" with Farc rebels.

The senator in question, Piedad Córdoba, has played a key role in Colombia's peace movement since joining the Senate in 1994 and her mediation efforts have led to the release of dozens of Farc hostages. Her actions have earned her praise from around the world and she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

However, as an outspoken critic of the government and the military and a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, her role as a negotiator with Farc rebels has also made her a deeply controversial figure and strongly divided Colombian society. Last Monday she was ousted from the senate for what Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez described as having gone "beyond the call of duty". According to Ordóñez, Córdoba has "exceeded her functions as well as the authorisation she was given by the government to negotiate a humanitarian exchange."

According to Ordóñez's statement, her dismissal stems from evidence found in computer files captured during a cross-border military raid on an Ecuadorean rebel camp in March 2008. The raid saw senior Farc leader Raul Reyes killed and a number of laptops seized. The files allegedly identify Córdoba under several aliases such as "Teodora de Bolivar", "La Negra" and "La Negrita" and have been reportedly corroborated by various other sources, including legal phone taps. She has been accused of overstepping her role "in favour of other governments" - a clear reference to Venezuela and Ecuador which have both been known to harbour Farc rebels in the past.

A staunch advocate for human rights and the rights of the poor, many have accused her of Farc leanings due to the group's traditional grassroots membership and tendency to attract marginalised members of society. Lidia Solano, a spokesperson for Colombian NGO Justice and Life, described the allegations against Córdoba as "an attack against those who try and protect human rights, an attack against critics of President Álvaro Uribe and ultimately unlawful."

This is not the first time, however, that Córdoba has been accused of colluding with Farc and indeed the very same evidence from the 2008 raid has been used against before. In fact, these computer files were a key catalyst to the ongoing "parapolitics" scandal in which she, alongside over 30 other politicians, which include a number of former President Álvaro Uribe's close allies, have all been accused of links to right-wing paramilitary groups.

Córdoba's ousting also comes during a dramatic few weeks for Colombian politics. Farc's ascendancy was shattered when its top military chief Mono Jojoy (also known as Jorge Briceño and Víctor Julio Suárez) was killed in a large-scale military air strike in Macarena, a Farc stronghold in the south of the country.

Following weeks of increased violence and the death of some 40 soldiers and policemen since President Juan Manuel Santos took office on 7 August, this was a rather unexpected culmination to their latest campaign. Hailed as a triumph for the new president and a disaster for FARC, many doubts have been cast over Farc's future and the rebels' ability to find an adequate replacement for Mono Jojoy. However, in a move to surely reaffirm their status, it was announced that Pastor Alape, a rebel accused of coordinating cocaine operations across central Colombia, would take over his role.

Asides from the evidence from the 2008 raid, it is yet unknown what precipitated both Córdoba's ousting and the re-investigation of two other politicians, Senator Gloria Inés Ramírez and Congressman Wilson Borja. All three have been embroiled in the "parapolitics" scandal since 2008. It is possible that the laptops seized in the latest raid may have revealed more evidence against them, but nothing has been confirmed yet.

Despite being the victim of kidnappings, death threats and several assassination attempts throughout her career, Córdoba has always resolved to continue on regardless of the lack of local support for her work. Yet although she will be contesting the ban, this has undoubtedly been the clearest message yet from the government that she is unwelcome in Colombia.

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What is the Scottish Six and why are people getting so upset about it?

The BBC is launching a new Scottish-produced TV channel. And it's already causing a stooshie. 

At first glance, it should be brilliant news. The BBC’s director general Tony Hall has unveiled a new TV channel for Scotland, due to start broadcasting in 2018. 

It will be called BBC Scotland (a label that already exists, confusingly), and means the creation of 80 new journalism jobs – a boon at a time when the traditional news industry is floundering. While the details are yet to be finalised, it means that a Scottish watcher will be able to turn on the TV at 7pm and flick to a Scottish-produced channel. Crucially, it will have a flagship news programme at 9pm.

The BBC is pumping £19m into the channel and digital developments, as well as another £1.2m for BBC Alba (Scotland’s Gaelic language channel). What’s not to like? 

One thing in particular, according to the Scottish National Party. The announcement of a 9pm news show effectively kills the idea of replacing News at Six. 

Leading the charge for “a Scottish Six” is John Nicolson, the party’s Westminster spokesman for culture, media and sport. A former BBC presenter himself, Nicolson has tried to frame the debate as a practical one. 

“Look at the running order this week,” he told the Today programme:

“You’ll see that the BBC network six o’clock news repeatedly runs leading on an English transport story, an English health story, an English education story. 

“That’s right and proper because of the majority of audience in the UK are English, so absolutely reasonable that English people should want to see and hear English news, but equally reasonable that Scottish people should not want to listen to English news.”

The SNP’s opponents think they spy fake nationalist outrage. The Scottish Conservatives shadow culture secretary Jackson Carlaw declared: “Only they, with their inherent and serial grievance agenda, could find fault with this.” 

The critics have a point. The BBC has become a favourite punch bag for cybernats. It has been accused of everything from doctored editing during the independence referendum to shrinking Scotland on the weather map

Meanwhile, the SNP’s claim to want more coverage of Scottish policies seems rather hollow at a time when at least one journalist claims the party is trying to silence him

As for the BBC, it says the main reason for not scrapping News at Six is simply that it is popular in Scotland already. 

But if the SNP is playing it up, there is no doubt that TV schedules can be annoying north of the border. When I was a kid, at a time when #indyref was only a twinkle in Alex Salmond’s eye, one of my main grievances was that children’s TV was all scheduled to match the English holidays. I’ve migrated to London and BBC iPlayer, but I do feel truly sorry for anyone in Glasgow who has lost half an hour to hearing about Southern Railways. 

Then there's the fact that the Scottish government could do with more scrutiny. 

“I’m at odds with most Labour folk on this, as I’ve long been a strong supporter of a Scottish Six,” Duncan Hothershall, who edits the Scottish website Labour Hame. “I think the lack of a Scotland-centred but internationally focused news programme is one of the factors that has allowed SNP ministers to avoid responsibility for failures.”

Still, he’s not about to complain if that scrutiny happens at nine o’clock instead: “I think the news this morning of a new evening channel with a one hour news programme exactly as the Scottish Six was envisaged is enormously good news.”

Let the reporting begin. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.