Clara Lopez is a Colombian economist and politician who represented the leftist Democratic Pole (Polo Democratico – PDA) party in Colombia’s 2014 presidential elections.
Early Life and Education
Clara Lopez was born in Bogota in 1951 to Alvaro Lopez Holguin, cousin of Colombia’s 51st President, Alfonso Lopez Michelsen, and Cecilia Obregon, cousin of renowned Colombian painter/sculptor/muralist, Alejandro Obregon.
From an early age, Lopez was incredible interested in politics. After attending a boarding school for girls in the United States, she went on to study economics at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA where she became a student political leader, opposing vehemently the Vietnam War. According to one of her websites, she “marched with conviction” against the war and the United States’ involvement.
Lopez graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1972 with a degree in Economics and then journeyed to Spain to pursue a doctorate. She studied Tax Law and Finance at the University of Salamanca, which is the fourth oldest University in Europe.
Entry into the Public Eye
In 1974, Clara Lopez first began to flex her wings as a young and eager public servant.
Lopez was introduced to the public sector very shortly after earning her doctorate when she returned to Colombia to serve as the Economic Secretary of the Office of the President of Colombia, as her uncle had just been elected president.
She would go on to hold many additional political positions in the city of Bogota over the next ten years including councilwoman, president of the district council, and Comptroller of Colombia’s capital city.
Lopez at this time continued to lean to the left as she joined the New Liberalism Party started by political heavyweight, Luis Carlos Galan, who was assassinated in 1989 allegedly by leaders of the defunct paramilitary group, AUC due to his beliefs and denouncement of paramilitary groups. Lopez would later become a large combatant against paramilitaries working with politicians, known as Parapolitics.
Then in 1986, she joined the what was known as the ‘militant left,’ Patriotic Union Party and worked to support presidential candidate, Jaime Pardo Leal, who was ultimately murdered in 1987 due to speaking out against paramilitary groups as well.
Stepping Back from Politics
Colombia’s leaders on the left
It was after this that Clara Lopez left politics in order to pursue academia. During the 90’s, she held faculty positions at Rosario University and Los Andes University, both high-ranking South American colleges.
Lopez was never too far from Colombian politics however as her husband, Carlos Romero, was serving as a councilman for Bogota at this time. During this time, she authored many editorials and studies about different political issues in Bogota.
Right Back Where She Belongs
In 2002 however, Clara Lopez was thrust back into politics when she was elected by the Supreme Court of Colombia and the Council of the State to be the Auditor General of Colombia by newly elected President Alvaro Uribe.
In this position, Lopez argued before the Supreme Court of Colombia that the extreme right political groups were infiltrated by illegal armed paramilitary groups such as the AUC. This led to the beginning of several investigations surrounding parapolitics in Colombia’s government.
With a newfound energy for the political world, Lopez joined the leftist Democratic Pole party and ran for a seat in Colombia’s congress in 2006. She lost by just over 100 votes.
In 2007, she opted out of trying for the mayoral race in Bogota, and instead became one of the chief advisers to PDA member Samuel Moreno who would ultimately become the Mayor of Bogota in 2008.
In return, Moreno appointed Lopez to be his Secretary of the Government, the second highest post in Bogota’s Mayor’s Office.
She served until March of 2010, when, as a new popular face in the party, she was selected as the vice presidential running mate for Gustavo Petro‘s presidential run in 2010. The two achieved over 1,300,000 votes in the race that elected President Juan Manuel Santos to office.
From Bogota mayor to presidential hopeful
Following this successful run in the eyes of the PDA, Lopez was elected unanimously by the party’s executive committee to be the President of the PDA in June of 2011, but had to step down momentarily in the same month to serve as the Mayor of Bogota when her superior, Moreno, was suspended from office. The mayor had come under investigation primarily for a major kickback scandal in the distribution of tax money.
Moreno was suspended in June 2011 from the office of the Mayor, leaving an open seat in the Mayor’s office, which President Juan Manuel Santos appointed to Lopez. She served until January 2012, when she resumed her position as president of her political party.
The Polo Democratico announced late 2012 that Clara Lopez would be their nomination for the 2014 elections, and the lifelong academic and politician accepted. Lopez ferociously campaigned in a grassroots manner in order to spread the word explaining what she and her party stands for. In an effort to appear more centrist, Lopez and her party tried to shed it’s most extreme leftist members by expelling those with radical stances, many of whom ultimately formed Colombia’s Communist party.
Her 2014 presidential bid was unsuccessful, but in April 2016 current President Juan Manuel Santos appointed her as Minister of Employment.
Clara Lopez’ rise to political fame and success is a fascinating combination of fierce academic background, familial ties to politics, a career of being a public servant, and skillfully avoiding scandals and tragedy that appear around every corner.