1674879149 Sexual harassment complaints go to the heart of Colombian politics

Sexual harassment complaints go to the heart of Colombian politics

Mauricio Lizcano, Secretary of the Presidency and former Senator, in an image published on his social networks in November 2022.Mauricio Lizcano, Secretary of the Presidency and former Senator, in an image published on his social networks in November 2022. Mauricio Lizcano (RR SS)

Harassment and sexual violence in Colombian politics have become a central topic of public debate. Since the first week of January, congressmen, a potential ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and even the secretary of the Colombian presidency have been indicted. There are several complaints, all of which are anonymous for the time being, as the women filing complaints fear reprisals from the country’s most powerful men. A particular case of Me Too without a face that worries the Colombian government.

“President Gustavo Petro has called for an internal investigation into events in the Congress of the Republic, both in the current and in previous legislatures,” read a statement from Casa de Nariño Wednesday night, hours after EL PAÍS released the latest of those complaints against Mauricio Lizcano, Secretary to the Presidency and former Senator. According to one woman’s anonymous account, Lizcano tried to force-kiss her during the job interview when she was looking for a job in the capital. When she refused, he told her, “If you want the job, this is the way.” Lizcano has responded to that is wrong and invites this woman to lodge a formal complaint in order to initiate an appropriate investigation.

The new internal investigation announced by President Gustavo Petro will be led by Senator María José Pizarro of the Historic Compact before a “special accident commission” that can investigate cases of sexual harassment and violence in Congress.

Senator María José Pizarro in the Colombian Congress in August 2022.Senator María José Pizarro in the Colombian Congress, August 2022.RR SS

“Of course, this is not happening because of a single complaint, but because of multiple complaints in the media, and the fact that the President made this statement today shows his commitment to this issue,” Pizarro told EL PAÍS. “In the case of Mauricio Lizcano, he is no longer a congressman from the Republic, but of course we are talking about events that would have happened in Congress and therefore the investigation must start there,” he added, when asked about the former senator. Regarding the question of whether he would continue in his position as secretary to the presidency, the senator clarified that “this is the power of the president of the republic. If complaints are made, you must act accordingly based on the investigations.”


Current affairs analysis and the best stories from Colombia, delivered to your inbox every week


Prior to the charges against Lizcano, as Senator Pizarro explains, allegations of sexual harassment and violence in the Congress of the Republic have multiplied in the media, with anonymous testimonies still not giving the names of the deputies. It all started with an interview with former Senator Gustavo Bolívar, a telenovela screenwriter and politician close to President Petro. He told Semana magazine in early January that four women went to his office and told him how they had been sexually exploited by various senators. “In order to sexually enslave them, they gave them two or three-month contracts,” Bolívar said. The contract was only extended if they consented to the sexual acts.

Congress cannot conduct criminal proceedings, Congressmen can only be brought before the Supreme Court. But the new commission, which Senator Pizarro will head, can investigate what happened in the capital and dismiss the complaints. “What is required is full articulation with justice,” says the senator, who unveiled a week ago a new protocol giving women in Congress safe avenues for reporting (anonymously if they choose) and immediate psychological and legal support will offer. The new special commission, he assures, will strengthen the way to implement this route.

In recent weeks it has become clear that there are many women in the legislature who bit their tongues but are afraid to go to the authorities. In Cambio magazine, columnist Ana Bejarano wrote that when she was working for the Justice Department in Congress in 2014, a powerful parliamentarian who is “now a very senior civil servant” asked for sexual favors from a woman who worked for him. “Because of their intimacy and skill, the victims were awarded tickets to meetings or substantial commissions. The better the orgasm, the greater access to legislative work,” Bejarano wrote.

Semana magazine also found eight other testimonies from women, all anonymous, and one confirmed that a congressman demanded that she have sex with him so she could keep her temporary contract. Another, an official with more than 20 years in Congress, summed up the situation: “All this time I’ve seen congressmen dating young girls who work in Congress, harass them, use their influence to get what they want and how they offer jobs in exchange for sex.”

Mauricio Lizcano (right) upon taking office as secretary to Gustavo Petro's presidency on August 8, 2022.Mauricio Lizcano (right) upon taking office as Secretary of the Presidency of Gustavo Petro on August 8, 2022.RR SS

Beyond Congress

Sexual harassment in Colombia’s political power is under a new magnifying glass in the progressive government of Gustavo Petro, who vowed to govern “for and with the women” of Colombia. More allegations against the man nominated to be ambassador to the United Arab Emirates came to light last week: academic Victor Currea-Lugo. The professor had been accused of sexual harassment years ago when he was a professor at Javeriana University in Bogotá, which he resigned after the allegations. After announcing that he would become an ambassador, several anonymous complaints were received against him from women, some of his former students, who reported how Currea-Lugo tried to pressure them into having sex. Although the candidate denied sexual harassment or violence, he declined the opportunity to become an ambassador in light of the controversy.

“I believe that in the Historic Pact there was a lot of formality in the statements to condemn sexual harassment, but I believe that this was not translated into concrete action,” Angela María Robledo, a renowned feminist and activist in the Pact, said El PAÍS Petrism until his party backed a candidate with allegations of domestic violence in Bogotá’s most recent mayoral election. He withdrew from Colombia Humana at the time, despite supporting Petro and Francia Márquez’s presidential candidacy.

Robledo acknowledges that petrism has fulfilled important points on the feminist agenda, such as the search for gender parity in the state. “I share 90% of the Historic Pact agenda,” he adds. “But it seems to me that more sanctions are needed on this issue, be they ethical or judicial, because there is a war against women in Colombia. In the case of Currea-Lugo, I think that deserves an explanation from the State Department; and in this case against Lizcano, the word of Gustavo Petro was needed”. After hearing about the presidency’s statement on Wednesday night, Robledo only added: “They should have suspended him during the investigation because he has a lot of power. As the saying goes, if you don’t want to face a problem, you set up a committee.

If you know of a case of abuse or sexual harassment in Colombian political power that has not come to light, write to us at [email protected] with your complaint