Policarpa Salavarrieta (c. 1791 – November 14, 1817), also known as La Pola, was a Neogranadine seamstress who spied for the Revolutionary Forces during the Spanish Reconquista of the Viceroyalty of New Granada. She was captured by Spanish Royalists and ultimately executed for high treason, she is now considered a heroine of the independence of Colombia.
History indicates that Policarpa was not involved in politics before 1810, but by the time she moved back to Bogotá in 1817, she was actively participating in political issues. Because Bogotá was the stronghold of the Reconquista, where most of the population were Spanish Royalists and approved of the take over by Pablo Morillo, it was very difficult to get in and out of the city. Policarpa and her brother Bibiano entered the capital with forged documents and safeguards, and a letter of introduction written by Ambrosio Almeyda and José Rodríguez, two Revolutionary leaders; they recommended she and her brother stay in the house of Andrea Ricaurte y Lozano under cover of working as her servants. In reality Andrea Ricaurte’s home was the centre of intelligence gathering and resistance in the capital.
In Guaduas, Policarpa was known as a revolutionary. Because she was not known in Bogotá, she could move freely and meet with other patriots and spies unsuspected. She could also infiltrate the homes of the Royalists. Offering her services as a seamstress to the wives and daughters of royalists and officers, Policarpa altered and mended for them and their families; at the same time she overheard conversations, collected maps and intelligence on their plans and activities, identified who the major Royalists were, and found out who were suspected of being revolutionaries.
Policarpa also secretly recruited young men to the Revolutionary cause; with assistance from her brother. Together, they helped increase the number of soldiers the insurgency in Cundinamarca desperately needed.
Policarpa Salavarrieta has been depicted on Colombian currency many times over the years. While many idealized or mythological female figures have also appeared, her portrait is the only one of an actual female historical personality ever used.