Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bogota Mayor Banned From Office on Dubious Grounds

Colombia’s inspector general has dismissed leftist Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro and banned him from office for 15 years due to allegations that he abused his authority during a dispute with garbage collectors last year. Petro and his supporters have denounced the move as an undemocratic coup, sparking a national debate over the inspector general’s constitutionally-mandated authority to remove elected officials.

Yesterday afternoon, Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez announced his decision on the grounds that Petro’s attempt to replace private garbage contractors with an inexperienced municipal service during a dispute last December “violated constitutional principles of commercial competition and freedom.”

The announcement was immediately met with criticism. Petro described it as a “coup against the progressive government of Bogota” and called on supporters to protest his removal peacefully in Bogota's central Bolivar Square. El Tiempo reports that Petro told the thousands who gathered there that he was refusing to leave office, calling Ordoñez’s decision a political power play orchestrated by the extreme right to send “a message of war” to rebel peace negotiators in Havana.

The Miami Herald notes that Petro’s removal could have national implications, as the former M-19 guerrilla is “seen as a model for other rebel leaders who might want to lay down arms and participate in politics.”

Petro was not alone in criticizing the move. Immediately after Ordoñez’s announcement, Justice Minister Alfonso Gomez Mendez condemned the decision and said he supported limiting the inspector general’s ability to remove elected officials.

Semana reports that the decision was technically constitutional, but that it highlights an alarming concentration of power in the inspector general’s office. According to the magazine, in Ordoñez’s first term he dismissed 828 mayors, 622 city councilors and 49 governors. That’s an average of four mayors a week. He also engineered the controversial impeachment of Senator Piedad Cordoba, due to allegations that she had links with FARC rebels.  

 La Silla Vacia has an analysis of the public figures deposed by Ordoñez, pointing out that even in cases involving deeply entrenched corruption, the officials concerned were stripped of their position due to relatively minor infractions. The news site also calls attention to an apparent lack of proportion in Ordoñez’s pronouncements. Bogota city councilman Hipolito Moreno, for instance, was banned from office for only 11 years despite admitting to receiving some $30 million in bribes. Meanwhile, Ciro Ramirez and Luis Humberto Gomez Gallo, two congressmen convicted of paramilitary ties by the Supreme Court, were cleared of administrative wrongdoing by Ordoñez in May.

Petro has said he will appeal the decision, but it is unlikely that the inspector general will change his mind. Ordoñez reportedly has between 30 and 40 days to consider the appeal. After that, the mayor’s political future is unclear. He has called for continued rallies in Bolivar Square, but it is doubtful that popular outrage alone will keep him in office. The Bogota mayor’s only hope may be an appeal to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). EFE reports that Petro has said he will ask the IACHR to request precautionary measures to protect his rights to political participation, which he claims have been violated without just cause.

News Briefs
  • After months of delay, Uruguay is finally on the verge of becoming the first country on the planet to fully regulate the black market for marijuana. The Uruguayan Senate has taken up debate on the controversial marijuana regulation bill this morning, and because the ruling Frente Amplio coalition controls 16 of 30 seats in the upper house, the measure is expected to pass with ease. President Jose Mujica will likely sign it into law before the end of the year, and El Pais reports that authorities have said that its implementation could begin as soon as April 2014.
  • The AP reports that riots have broken out in cities in at least 19 of Argentina's 23 provinces, sparked by opportunistic looters taking advantage of a police strike in Cordoba. La Nacion has a map of the cities where violence has broken out, and reports that 8 people have died so far.
  • A new Consulta Mitofsky poll released on Monday shows that the approval rating of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has dropped four percentage points in his first year in office, to 50 percent. The most frequently cited complaints of those polled involved Peña Nieto’s handling of the economy and security. Analyst James Bosworth of Bloggings by Boz recently pointed out that Peña Nieto’s approval after his first year stands in contrast to that of his predecessor Felipe Calederon, who polled at around 60 percent after one year in office.
  • A court in Honduras has sentenced four police officers to extremely long prison terms (one to 66 years and the others to 58) in connection with the 2011 killing of the son of National Autonomous University President Julieta Castellanos. Since then, Castellanos has led the campaign to clean up the country’s notoriously corrupt police force. El Heraldo reports that, on Sunday, she denounced the murder of another university student, also apparently at the hands of police.
  • O Globo paints an alarming picture of criminal influence on the outskirts of Rio: according to a study by researchers of the University of Rio de Janeiro State, militias have a presence in 45 percent of the city’s favelas, and 37 percent are controlled by drug trafficking groups.
  • A day after brutal riots broke out in the stands on Sunday during a soccer game in Santa Catarina, Brazil, World Cup organizers on Monday attempted to reassure the public that similar incidents would not occur in 2014. However, the AP points out that security at the Santa Catarina game was being handled by private guards rather than police, which is the current plan for World Cup matches.
  • El Universal reports that Mexico’s controversial energy reform bill was passed in a committee yesterday with the support of lawmakers of the PAN and PRI, and Animal Politico reports that a full Senate vote could take place today.
  • The memorial service for Nelson Mandela today in Johannesburg has united many of the hemisphere’s leaders across the ideological spectrum. U.S. President Barack Obama, Cuban President Raul Castro and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff were all slated to speak today at Mandela’s Funeral. According to the NYT, “At one point, Mr. Obama was seen shaking hands with the Cuban leader.”
  • Salvadoran news site El Faro has an update on the ceasefire between the MS-13 and Barrio 18 street gangs in the country, noting that it has continued in place despite tension between the negotiators and Security Minister Ricardo Perdomo, as well as the fact that the government has sought to distance itself from the truce.
  • Foreign Policy has an interesting column by Evelyn Krache Morris, who dispels some of the popular misconceptions about the drug trade, taking U.S. policymakers to task for conceptualizing drug trafficking in Mexico as a foreign policy issue. She also criticizes drug policy reform advocates for promoting drug legalization as an end to drug trafficking-linked violence, because drug cartels receive funding from other sources than drug money.