FunCulturalGabriel Cifuentes: "In the face of indifference, the only...

Gabriel Cifuentes: "In the face of indifference, the only thing that remains is to raise your voice and never lower your arms"

In this new entry in the Life Stories series, created by Isabel López Giraldo for El Espectador, Gabriel Cifuentes talks about his interest in understanding the country from the complexity of the armed conflict, as well as his commitment to study and work in areas related to the social development and the promotion of human rights.

I am a Colombian citizen; son, husband, brother and uncle. Someone committed. Public servant in the broadest sense of the word. Faithful, loyal, cheerful, innocent, curious, judicious, conciliatory, diplomatic, sometimes I can easily get frustrated.

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I fear the herd, the gray, not to make a difference and go unnoticed. I am afraid of forgetting, because we are ephemeral. I like the legacies, the history. I am obsessed with biographies. I hate violence with my whole being. I do not tolerate extremes, nor the lack of dialogue.

I think laziness is the worst business in life. I go day by day, but I plan to five, fifteen and twenty years. For me each step only means something if there is a following one, because I go with the philosophy of the small steps, with the one of not tormenting myself with impossible goals.

Origins- Paternal branch

There is a trait that marks the history of the paternal branch, and that is being a provincial family. My grandfather, Eduardo Cifuentes, was born in Pasto and his parents in San Pablo (Nariño), but he lived most of his life in Popayán.

He came from a very wealthy family in Cauca, except that his grandfather died tragically, he was killed by a mule with a kick in the stomach, and his children did not know how to take advantage of the inheritance they received. This situation generated in my grandfather a trait that defined him, later my father and me, and that is to carry the dreams of our ancestors.

My grandfather lived in this bipolarity of someone who grows up in the midst of wealth and stops having it. He was a great dreamer, dedicated to his family. With prodigious intelligence and a fine sense of humor. He never stopped buying the lottery and made calculations with the fortune that would be won, since he had it destined in detail. He was never lacking in generosity. It may seem romantic, but it was frustrating because he never earned it and he lived on that money, which he did not have and that he only imagined would arrive. All his life projects, many successful, others less, were always marked by that infinite capacity to dream with open eyes. But sometimes even the brightest ideas have to be landed.

He was a great reference for his children. He was obsessed with well-being, which led him to build projects on ephemeral bases, often on smoke. It took him many years to graduate as a civil engineer, not for lack of ability, but for that arrogance that accompanies great intelligence. He always thought that they would appoint him governor or in some position of power.

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He lived haunted by the ghosts of the past, he sought to provide for his family, but contrasted with the reality that his children lived in the midst of a supervening poverty. He married my grandmother very young, barely being a university student. There are psychological traits that I cannot understand in depth, but that marked their offspring.

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My dad and my uncles are the opposite. They never stopped working or studying, they are very aware of having and losing, as if they had led a different life. They inherited a legacy full of culture, prominent ancestors such as Delio Cifuentes and Demetrio and Belisario Porras – one of the first presidents of Panama. They also inherited the dreamy vision, because my dad is and projects big, but he is much more down-to-earth thanks to the balance that his mom gave him.

My grandmother, Luz María Muñoz, daughter of the conservative rancher and farmer Manuel María Muñoz, was much more pragmatic, affectionate and dedicated to her family. It was the gravitational center of the house, the ground pole, who landed things, kept the money, paid the bills, worked. Throughout her life and after the economic crisis, my grandmother set up a leather factory in which she made jackets. It was very prosperous.

He always knew that education was the future of his children, which he could not guarantee them through an inheritance. His father, Manuel María, did not consider leaving any inheritance because in his conservative vision he considered that inheritance could pervert the values of the family.

They moved to the La Candelaria neighborhood, in Bogotá, to the house of my chuzno, Delio Cifuentes, a mathematician and astronomer whose plaque is still in the Nariño Palace observatory. They studied in the Andes with ICETEX credits and many times they did not have money for photocopies, so to read the material they went to Luis Ángel Arango, where my father was their regular visitor. They all turned professionals and have been very successful in their careers.

His father

Eduardo Cifuentes, my dad, is a role model, one of the smartest, most dedicated, committed, ethical people I know. It is of few words, but in its communicative austerity it has always been there with affection.

It has a very strong rational and prospective component. He lives in the world of ideas, he is an intellectual who has had an impressive career, freehand. He started out as a lawyer at the Banking Superintendency, today the Financial Superintendency, without particularly liking banking or private law, but it was his only option. His effort and tenacity led him to be vice president of Banco de Colombia.

At night he cultivated his dream of dedicating himself to constitutional law until, at the age of thirty-six, he had the opportunity to be nominated for the Constitutional Court and remained as a magistrate, then he was its president. This is how his public career began, which has been very successful. He is currently the president of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP).

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He is someone without blemish, his greatest asset is his good name because he has never been involved in a scandal. He has always been recognized for his rigor, for his ethics, for his social sensitivity. He has been dedicated to the development of human rights. He is accompanied by a very great public vocation, but not politically.

Maternal branch

My grandparents were poorly educated peasants, as young people generally were in the 1940s, in the middle of World War II. Native to the region of Mantua, Italy. My grandfather, Vito Ghidini, was born in San Giovanni del Dosso, he is a musician, an accordion player who developed his profession when he was older, because in his early youth he was a worker. As a child he suffered from the hunger of war. He remembers the sound of the bombings and the dark and cold winter nights stuck with his family in the gutters to avoid dying in the attacks. My grandfather has always been a curious and tireless worker. He still mows his grass, paints his house, rides his bike to the market, uses Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, makes video calls, mounts his music videos on social media.

My grandmother, Loredana Saccomandi, was born near Ferrara, she is the bush of affection, the typical Italian mother dedicated to her family. She suffered the death of her own mother when she was a few months old, then her father remarried, thus adding nine children.

He grew up the first years in that heartbreak while his father, my great-grandfather, fought in the war. My grandmother remembers one of the happiest days of her childhood when, after not knowing anything about her father, she saw him arrive with bloody feet. He had left the Italian army and had crossed Italy on foot to return home with his three daughters and three stepsons. My grandmother married very young, she was only sixteen years old.

With my grandfather he lived in Busto Arsizio, an industrial city. At first, when they arrived in the city, they suffered from many difficulties. My grandfather worked a double shift. My grandmother did housework. My uncle Cloves was born there.

Without electricity and without services, every day my grandfather carried a water “damigiana” on his bicycle. Food was scarce, but the drive to survive and that tenacity that has marked my grandparents led them to improve their conditions, little by little, to the point that a few years later they acquired a small commercial establishment, then another, and in passing Over the years, all that effort and tireless ability to work allowed them an economic stability that led my grandfather to dedicate himself to his passion: music. The last working years he played the accordion in different hotels in Switzerland and that generated more income.

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His mom

When my mother, Viviana Ghidini, was born, conditions were already a little better for the family. He studied thanks to the vision of my grandmother, who did everything to make it happen.

My mom, hyperactive, boisterous, temperamental and extremely loving, is the one who lands my emotions, she is the apple of my eye, my confidant, my best friend. You cannot sing affections or dose love, but I have always been very attached to my mother. She became a psychologist when we were already born. She worked at the Italian School as a preschool teacher from the year 77, then she became the principal of primary school.


My parents met in London through their best friends. The two very different, he a poised man and she very restless. They already have more than forty years of marriage. They maintained an epistolary relationship for two years, initially in English, then in Spanish, also in Italian.

My dad traveled to Europe again for some reason and stayed at my mom’s house for three weeks. It was there that the love story arose because even his in-laws loved him. Although they were hesitant to receive it, they did, but they cut off his hair and shaved it.

My mother did not want to stagnate in her town or lead a life without a future. My dad meant projects to him, he was exotic, tropical, at a time when Latin America was experiencing revolutions. The hives that my mother caused to stay tied to a closed-minded town came together, with the stories from the other side of the world that was full of changes.

Thus, without saying anything to my father, my mother one day traveled to Colombia, arrived at the airport in Bogotá from where she called his house. As my father was in the movies, the call was received by my uncle Juan Gabriel.

They got married, without telling my maternal grandparents. They did it in Panama, since my mother did not have the papers that she required in Colombia. The only witness was my grandmother Luz María. But the maternal grandparents supported my newly married parents financially and with their help they were able to acquire their first home.


We grew up under the principles of loyalty, ethical and moral acting, with incorruptible dads. We are two children. Francesca, five years older, at twelve suffered a strange disease that attacks the immune system, so she was treated in Italy. She is a positive, happy, smiling woman, she does transcendental meditation and yoga. She is a lawyer, is married and has two children, Martín and Eloisa. It is an example of life, tenacity and optimism. I admire her a lot and we love each other enormously.

For my part, I could say that I am calm like my father and passionate in my ideas like my mother; like her I am affectionate and with a great sense of family. My favorite plan is to sit for five hours cooking with her.

I also enjoyed my mother at school and my father at university, because he was dean of the Los Andes Law School when I was a student.

When I was a child I was not a great reader, this as opposed to my father who almost obsessively invited me to read, while I preferred to play as all the other children my age did. At some point, some World War II brochures began to appear in the newspaper El Tiempo that caught my attention because my dad would read to me about these issues every night, before going to bed, which marked my destiny as I concentrated my studies and my professional career to understand the armed conflict.

On weekends we enjoy the small and humble farm with red railings, white walls, clay tile roofs in La Mesa, with its large guava tree. In my house there was never a club action, because our sharing was with the family.

Every summer we visited my grandparents in Italy. They, as post-war heirs, have considered that a healthy child is a child who eats, so they served us with cheeses, pasta, breads, with a whole ritual around the table. They gave us as many ice creams as we wanted. But this caused me to gain weight significantly, which led to bullying at school.

Beyond that, I had a very happy childhood, I grew up surrounded by love, in the midst of dialogue and without family conflicts.

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Italian College

I was always a good student. In my school I felt the cultural affinity that I lived at home with my mother and my grandparents in Italy. The Italian School offers enormous bases of general culture, it allows to choose the line of study and I decided on history, philosophy, art and languages.

One summer, tired of the bullying, I decided to go on a diet, which coincided with puberty in which one grows and grows thin. But I internalized it in my adolescence, affecting me, because many of my insecurities have their origin there.

Already in high school I began to have more friends, I was more sociable, I enjoyed my youth freely, but without excesses, this for fear of falling into drugs, as happened with several of my closest friends.

I had the dream of studying law at the Bocconi, in Milan, which requires a high school result higher than a certain score that, in order to achieve it, required me to maintain a very high average. That was how from eighth to eleven I made an effort to achieve it.

Once I graduated, I traveled to Canada to study English and when I returned, in early 2003, I started in the Andes, where I made a wonderful group of friends. When I had to take the exam at the Bocconi, I didn’t pass it because out of sheer ignorance I didn’t prepare it; I relaxed and in life one always has to be prepared. Never leave important decisions to chance.

Public order

There was a very delicate public order situation in Colombia, the years of greatest threats from paramilitaries and guerrillas, and my father at that time was the Ombudsman, which generated a lot of risk, constant threats, intimidation and fear.

One day I answered the house phone, they asked for my dad, and the one who was looking for my dad was Carlos Castaño. Without an escort, he met with him to mediate for the release of hostages, he denounced the army for extrajudicial decisions and the guerrillas for all the abuses committed during the conflict. My dad fulfilled his position bravely. He was the first official to travel to Bojayá.

People remember him with admiration because, in a time of great fear and violence, he was the only one who denounced. Once he came to a town and a fisherman hugged him. He said: “Allow me doctor. Embracing you is like embracing the state. ” Some time they took him down from the lectern during a conference because they detected the presence of insurgents in the room, there we realized that his life was in danger.

I remember that I placed my desk in front of the window of my room and I did not feel calm until I saw when the caravan of escorts arrived with my father, because he received constant threats.

A few months before the end of her period, the possibility of leaving the country arose and we took it. The stick was not for spoons and there were threats of all kinds. My parents went to Paris, where my father worked at UNESCO, while I lived with my grandparents and studied near Milan for a year and a half.

We decided to return to the country when my father was offered the dean of the Andes, because he always had the urge to return. I was at an important breaking point, I was the second best in my class, I was studying on a scholarship, but I was encouraged by the fear of being part of the herd, of not developing fully.

University of the Andes

During my career I founded, together with a group of wonderful colleagues, the first newspaper of the Faculty, Al Derecho , which is sixteen years old.

We held political debates, we participated in demonstrations against violence. We never shut up. In the face of indifference, the only thing left is to raise your voice and never lower your arms. In a country that counts its victims in the millions, the most lethal weapon is social indifference. As if covering his eyes had ever served to change the harsh reality.

A year before I graduated, my dad suggested I do a co-terminal that consisted of adding a couple more semesters to my degree and getting a master’s degree. At first it didn’t catch my attention, but I decided to overtake it.

I worked for a few semesters at the Urban Development Institute (IDU) and then a year at the Constitutional Court. Here I grew professionally in an important way.

New York University

In mid-2010 I won a full scholarship to New York University, where I did a master’s degree in International Law. Living in a place like this at twenty-three means a lot to a young man, but it also shaped my academic and professional structure focused on transitional justice.

I remember finding myself in front of the computer deciding what subjects I was going to take. He had two lists, one of contracts, partnerships, mergers, acquisitions, those taken by those who want to earn money. On the other, human rights, transitional justice, international criminal law, and constitutional, by vocation. At the last second I opted for the ones that motivated me.

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Holland and London

Once I graduated, I traveled to the Netherlands where I worked at the International Criminal Court. While there I was offered a job in a London law firm. I worked there for a while, but I did not identify with the life of the firm, so I decided to return to the country.

As rewarding as those years of study and work abroad were, I have always known that my only destination is and will be Colombia. I have a strange relationship of love and frustration with this country. But the commitment and the impulse to see him overcome his difficulties and rescue all the good that this land has can more. No matter how many opportunities there are outside, Colombia is my home and my vital purpose.

Victims Unit

My big professional challenge began in the Victims Unit, which has had a mystical logic and which has occurred sequentially. In 2012 I was appointed director of inter-institutional management, a position in which I had the function of coordinating the forty-eight units at the national level, the entities at the territorial level, and the groups for the participation of victims of the armed conflict.

This experience gave me a bath of reality, talking with the victims, knowing their stories, but also seeing the inefficiencies of the State, the bureaucratization of something as human as the recognition of their basic rights.

Office of the Attorney General of the Nation

For two years I was an advisor to the attorney general Eduardo Montealegre, with whom I was trained in criminal law and human rights issues at the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation.

National Planning Department

In 2015 I applied for a position in the National Planning Department, where I was appointed deputy director of justice and government, something atypical because this is an entity almost entirely of economists.

I reviewed public policies, investment projects, budget management. I had an immediate connection to the position. Two weeks later I had to project the country’s prison public policy after designing it. Within three months I was promoted to Director of Justice, Security and Government, a position that I loved and from which I learned a lot. Learning to formulate and evaluate public policies in a country that is often the victim of the swinging of political passions is extremely rewarding and constructive.

I understood the importance of deciding based on evidence, on the responsibility that falls on the public function in the face of the enormous needs of millions of Colombians.

National Planning is, without a doubt, an extraordinary country laboratory. While there I started a doctorate at the University of Rome, traveling for a couple of weeks every three months.

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Transparency Secretariat

Without looking for him, I received a call from the Palace, it was from President Juan Manuel Santos. I did not know him, that day was the first time I shook his hand. He invited me to be secretary of transparency and I had to join the following Monday. A year later the government ended and therefore my relationship.

It was not an easy task. In a country where the first recorded corruption scandal dates back to 1526, tackling a cancer as malignant as corruption remains a daunting task. I got to know first-hand how the State works and all the vices that accompany it. It was a position full of challenges and difficulties, but a school of reality without equal.


Since I was four years old, my dad put Harvard signs on my nightstand, because he always wanted to study law at that university. I fulfilled his dream, the same one that had already become mine, perhaps by osmosis or perhaps because Harvard is without a doubt the Mecca for those who want to dedicate themselves to public service.

In June 2018, two weeks after getting married, I traveled to do my master’s in public administration. In March, during my master’s degree, I graduated from my doctorate, and in June I finished it to return to the country. 2019, then, saw me graduate from both a master’s and a doctorate. I think I have already met my tuition quota.

Campaign Carlos Fernando Galán

I joined the campaign of Carlos Fernando Galán as a volunteer for the Mayor’s Office of Bogotá, who unfortunately lost in the contest with Claudia López. I admire the moderate discourse and the commitment to issues such as security and justice, the defense of peace and the fight against corruption. I believe that any political project should be oriented in that direction.

northern University

Fifteen days after the elections, the Universidad del Norte called me to teach classes as a full-time professor in International Law, Human Rights and Transitional Justice based in Barranquilla, the city where I currently live.

The “Sandy” adopted me with all her affection. To the Universidad del Norte and Barranquilla I will always owe a huge debt of gratitude and infinite affection.


I met Natalia López, my wife, at the Public Prosecutor’s Office, when she was just graduated from university. Natalia is a lawyer with a master’s degree in human rights and international law. He currently works at the Constitutional Court.

Life put me on the path to the most exceptional person I have ever met. A conscious and generous love that encourages each other to develop our own passions. A love that adds, not one that subtracts. Natalia is my pillar and gravitational axis.


How is it projected?

I have a public vocation, as evidenced in my columns in the newspaper El Tiempo . I project myself in the public sphere, reaching the highest step, I trained for that and I continue to do so.

Where is your peace?

The first gesture of peace is in the word. My peace is with my wife and in the satisfaction of my accomplishments.

Where are your demons?

I have many. These are the sprain of rationality.

How do you handle frustration?

It depends on the moment. Immediately, I allow myself the luxury of pain. When I wake up, I turn it into motivation, because I don’t let myself fall.

What is in their silences?


How do you silence their noises?


What are your greatest talents?

I am quick to understand, empathetic and people hurt me


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