The race for mayor of Bogota, considered the second most important political post in the Colombia, will be decided this Sunday as part of local elections taking place across the country.
Progressive politicians, much to the chagrin of right-wing forces in Colombia, have ruled over the country's capital for the past three terms.
Leftists have now coalesced around the candidacy of Clara Eugenia Lopez Obregon.
Lopez's political roots lie in the Colombian Liberal party. Her uncle and godfather was Alfonso Lopez Michelsen, a Liberal who served as president of Colombia from 1974 to 1978.
Despite this legacy, Lopez opted for a different path.
"I am from the upper class and have dedicated my life to put the privileges I have had at the service of society,” Lopez told a local radio station earlier this month.
Clara Lopez was born April 12, 1950, in the city of Bogota. At 14 she demanded her parents send her to the United States to study, as they had done for her brothers. They obliged. From there she went on to study at Harvard University, involving herself in student protests against the U.S. war on Vietnam. She graduated with a degree in economics in 1972. Thanks to her time in the U.S., she speaks impeccable English.
Her career in politics began at the age of 24 when she began working for the Economic Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic. After that, she served as the comptroller of Bogota and later as a council-member in the capital.
In 1986, she joined the Patriotic Union, a leftist party formed in the wake of peace negotiations between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government. It sought to bring together a wide array of leftist political forces and leaders to contest power through the ballot box. In 1988, she ran as the Patriotic Union's candidate for mayor of Bogota, the same post she seeks today.
Supporters of the Patriotic Union were victims of what would eventually be called a political genocide. No less than 5,000 party members were systematically killed by state forces and their paramilitary allies.
Lopez would step away from the political scene for some time, obtaining a law degree from the University of the Andes in 1996 and a doctorate in law from the University of Salamanca in 2002. Death threats against her and her husband, Carlos Romero, would keep her in self-imposed exile for years.
Lopez resumed an active role in Colombian politics in 2003 when she served as the Auditor General of Colombia, a position she held until 2005.
After her stint there, she made a splash in Colombian politics when she denounced before the Supreme Court the infiltration of Colombian politics by violent far-right groups. Her denunciation served to set off an investigation that eventually exposed the extensive links between paramilitary groups and Colombian politicians, including many allies of then-President Alvaro Uribe.
Lopez was also the first politician to alert the country about the “false positives” scandal, where members of the armed forces would kill innocents and dress them up as rebels in order to falsely increase the number of combatants killed in order to receive more benefits and promotions.
In 2007, the candidate of her new party, the Democratic Alternative Pole, won the election for mayor of Bogota. The new mayor, Samuel Moreno Rojas, appointed Lopez to a key post in his administration, secretary of government. She stepped down in 2010 in order to run as vice president on a ticket with Gustavo Petro, the current mayor of Bogota.
Lopez would return to municipal politics in 2011 when a scandal forced Samuel Moreno Rojas out of office, resulting in Lopez filling in as mayor on a temporary basis. She would leave office with an approval rating of 78 percent.
That same year she also became the president of Democratic Alternative Pole, a post she occupies to this day.
In 2014, Lopez ran for president as the candidate for the Democratic Alternative Pole, alongside Aida Avella of the now reconstituted Patriotic Union, making history as the first all-female ticket.
Aida Avella (L) laughs with Clara Lopez (R) at a rally during the 2014 election campaign. | Photo: EFE
Though she would lose that election in the second round of voting, in an unprecedented move for leftist candidates she pledged her support to centrist incumbent, Juan Manuel Santos.
Her support for Santos' re-election was motivated by her commitment to achieving peace in Colombia. Santos' re-election was seen as critical to the continuation of the ongoing peace talks between the government and the FARC, which began during his first term. His opponent was opposed to the peace process and stated that he would end the talks, which would have led to an escalation of the armed conflict.
As was the case during the 2014 presidential election, the ongoing peace process is an important election issue in the race for mayor of Bogota. Beyond representing progressive ideas, Lopez is positioning herself as the candidate of peace.
With a final peace deal between the government and the FARC expected in March, 2016, the country will have to contend with a post-conflict landscape – and the policies pursued by the mayor of Colombia’s most important city will have a major impact on what a post-conflict Colombia looks like.
Lopez’s main rival, Enrique Peñalosa, an ally of the right, is somewhat hostile to the peace process. His victory on Sunday wouldn’t itself derail the process, but it could hinder efforts to consolidate the peace.