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HDP Alumni Profile: Maria Carolina Varela, Colombia

The House Democracy Partnership (HDP) is a bipartisan commission of the U.S. House of Representatives that works directly with 22-partner parliaments around the world to support the development of effective, independent and responsive legislatures. HDP is proudly implemented by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute.

Motivated by her commitment to advancing Colombia’s peace process, Maria Carolina Varela joined the country’s House of Representatives in 2016. To become a stronger agent for democratic change, Ms. Varela attended HDP’s Americas Summit for Transparent Legislatures in Buenos Aires in 2019. Bringing together more than 60 members of parliament and legislative staff from Latin America and the United States, the summit facilitated an exchange of techniques for countering corruption and increasing transparency.

After the summit, all delegates signed a declaration signaling a shared commitment to rooting their home governments in transparency and ethics. In this monthly series, we profile HDP alumni to show how they are applying the lessons they’ve learned to their legislative work.

 

What parliament and chamber are you a staff member of?

I am a staff member in the Congress of Colombia, specifically the House of Representatives.

What HDP program did you participate in?

I participated in the House Democracy Partnership’s Americas Summit for Transparent Legislatures in Buenos Aires, Argentina in August 2019.

What is your favorite thing about your country?

I love Colombia’s diverse plants and flowers, the different landscapes and the many places to visit.

Why did you decide to become a staff member in parliament?

After the signing of the peace agreement in 2016, the party that came into power had expressed their opposition to the agreement. Since I was for the peace agreement, I decided that Congress would be the best place for me to defend the agreement and contribute to building and supporting Colombia’s peace process.

Looking back on the HDP program, what was most impactful for you?

What impacted me most from my participation in the HDP program was listening to the experiences of peers from countries that have many similarities to Colombia. I thought about how the successes that were shared could be implemented in Colombia. Learning from other’s experiences always helps and is of great value to our country. It helped me recognize that we Colombians are not alone in wanting to better our democracy by improving themes like legislative transparency and ethics.

How are you applying your experience from the HDP mission to your role as staff?

My position in the Congress is coordinating the legislative work of Congresswoman Juanita Goebertus, who is a member of the Green Alliance – a party that, under its banner, fights against corruption. The party has created seven mandates that were rendered into legislative acts and laws. At my suggestion, our team reviewed the Argentine experience, specifically about citizen access to information, that we learned about during the HDP program in Buenos Aires. We even contacted a civil society organization that presented at the HDP Summit for their advice about how to be more transparent about the legislative process to constituents.  

What advice would you give to new parliamentary staff?

Have motivation, an action plan and concrete tasks. This has helped me not get lost in day-to-day tasks and better see the work of Congress and its important role in Colombia's democratic development.

What accomplishments in parliament are you most proud of?

The accomplishment of which I feel most proud has to do precisely with the reason I went to work in the Congress. We have been able to create a multiparty process to follow up on the implementation of the Peace Accord, which has permitted us to make alliances with members of Congress from different parties. This bipartisan initiative works to present bills that will promote real change for the residents of rural areas who have been affected by the conflict, by improving school transportation and bettering social services for university students from these municipalities.