Friday, December 13, 2013

Bogota Mayor Sees Surge in Support

(Note: this will be my last daily news briefing until January 2. Happy holidays!)

While opinion polls have not been kind to Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro since he took office, the inspector general’s recent decision to order him out of office and banned from politics has unleashed a wave of fresh support for the former guerrilla. Petro has attempted to build off of this support base by calling for the “biggest mobilization in history” today in the capital, but whether or not this will have an impact on his appeal of the decision remains to be seen. 

According to a new Datexco poll released by W Radio, the mayor now has his highest positive image since taking office in January 2011, with 50.6 percent of Bogota residents polled saying they hold a positive opinion of his administration. That’s up from 28.71 percent in an April survey conducted by the same pollster. Some 60 percent of respondents say they disagree with Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez’s decision to ban him from office due to allegations that he mishandled a dispute with garbage collectors last year.

Semana magazine reports that the mayor has received support from the FARC -- who warned that they saw his destitution as proof of the legitimacy of armed struggle -- to U.S. Ambassador-Designate to Colombia Kevin Whitaker, who told El Tiempo that he felt Petro’s removal could “erode” the peace process.

Meanwhile Petro has invited his supporters, thousands of whom filled Bogota’s central square on Monday and Tuesday nights, to participate in a massive demonstration this evening. According to El Espectador, Petro described his call to action as about more than just him. “The protagonist stops being the mayor and starts to be the people,” his statement reads, “ if we can show the world anything it is that there is a larger consensus today to stop trampling on the rights of the people.”

Given the large crowds that have turned out to support him earlier this week, it is likely that a fair number of Bogota residents will participate in today’s rally. However, it is not clear if popular anger will be sufficient to keep him in office.  Petro has the right to appeal the decision directly to the inspector general again, but the long list of politicians that Ordoñez has toppled in recent years suggests his mind is not easily changed. 
But this is not his only recourse. Semana magazine reports that Petro’s lawyers have also filed a suit with the administrative tribunal of Cundinamarca department, alleging that his right to due process and right to defend himself have been violated.

Still, his best option, and current strategy, appears to be seeking help from the international community. He has appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to request that the government take precautionary measures to defend his right to political participation, and the UN High Commission on Human Rights has requested an audience with the inspector general to review the decision.

News Briefs
  • The recent criticism of Uruguay’s marijuana law by the president of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), Raymond Yans, has gotten considerable press recently. According to Yans, the drug could have the “perverse effect of encouraging early experimentation” and lowering the age of first use. he has also characterized Uruguay's attitude towards legalization as that of "pirates." However, these remarks are out of step with the Uruguayan government’s initial implementation of the measure. Last week officials launched a nationwide education campaign aimed at spreading awareness of the risks associated with all drug use, spearheaded by the office of the president and the National Drug Council.  Interior Minister Eduardo Bonomi has attempted to frame the measure as a kind of public health initiative, telling the press that it is based on “harm reduction policy and separating the market” for the drug from more harmful substances. Former President -- and likely winner of October 2014 presidential elections -- Tabare Vazquez has also endorsed the law from a health/education-based narrative, telling local reporters that he felt that the country’s schools should teach children to "know not to take drugs, except those ordered by a physician.” According to President Jose Mujica’s chief of staff Diego Canepa, the president is expected to sign the bill into law today.
  • Mujica has pushed back against these remarks. Radio Espectador reports that the Uruguayan president called on the INCB head’s to “stop lying,” referring to Yans’in his lamentations that Uruguayan officials would not meet with him. “Anyone can meet me in the street,” he said. “He should come to Uruguay and come meet me anytime. He doesn’t have to speak to the crowd.”
  • In a continuation of its extremely interesting “super poderosos” series, Colombian news site La Silla Vacia maps out the most influential actors concerning drug policy in the country. On the list are former President Alvaro Uribe, the U.S. embassy, the FARC, the government negotiating team in Havana, and the Open Society Foundations. Previous installments in the series have looked at the super poderosos of civil society networks, the financial sectorsocial movements and the Colombian Congress.
  • The government of Haiti has taken a step towards organizing long-overdue elections. On Tuesday, the office of President Michel Martelly annoued that an electoral law had been ratified which reportedly clarifies the hotly contested issue of term limits for certain Senate seats. As the AP reports, the opposition claims that the terms of 10 senators expire January 2015, while Martelly allegedly argues that they expire next month.
  • Ahead of Chile’s presidential runoff election this Sunday, even conservative candidate Evelyn Matthei has admitted that it would require a “miracle” for her to beat out Michelle Bachelet, according to El Mostrador.  La Tercera has an analysis of the top differences between the first and second rounds of their campaigns, noting that both candidates have relied on different imagery and selected new figures in their campaigns to present to teh public since the first election.
  • Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes has backed off from his January 2012 order for the armed forces to cease honoring members of the armed forces who have been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. El Faro reports that on the 32nd anniversary of the El Mozote massacre, Funes told a journalist that he “never promised to remove the names from the military regiments” named after some of those responsible for the massacre, despite the fact that he in fact called on the military to do just that.
  • It’s official: for the first time in 75 years, Mexico is set to open up its oil industry to foreign investment after the lower house passed a historic energy reform bill yesterday. The Financial Times reports that the vote was relocated after opposition lawmakers padlocked the doors to the Senate chamber. According to El Universal, the bill will now have to be approved by a majority of state legislatures, but the New York Times points out the PRI controls most of them, and the measure is expected to pass.
  • The AP reports on widespread the reaction to planned rival to the Panama canal in Nicaragua, where President Daniel Ortega’s announcement of the $40 billion project has fueled widespread optimism.
  • On the 10th anniversary of the release of Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (CVR) report on the country’s armed conflict, the International Center for Transitional Justice has published an analysis of the report’s impact, noting that true reconciliation in Peru is still a long way off.
  • The Washington Post features a color piece on La Barca, the central Mexican town where authorities discovered over 60 bodies in a series of mass graves last month. The article does a splendid job of capturing the effect that the country’s drug-fueled violence has had on small town life.
  • In an interview with CNN en Español yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry called on the Maduro administration to “stop using our relationship as an excuse to not do other things internally.”
  • Venezuelan Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres told members of the press yesterday that violent crime has fallen drastically under the administration of President Nicolas Maduro. According to Rodriguez, the year is set to end with an official homicide rate of around 39 52 per 100,000, compared to 52 per 100,000 last year.  If true, this would mean that Venezuela saw its lowest number of homicides in the past four years.
  • Some 2,0000 people have been displaced and at least three have been killed by heavy rainfall in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro, according to O Globo.
  • Yesterday, the Washington Post published an editorial criticizing U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent handshake with Cuban leader Raul Castro. Obama, according to the paper’s editorial  board, “ought to follow his handshake with a loud and unambiguous salute to the real champions of human rights — those fighting for it on the streets of Cuba.” The New York Times, meanwhile, has published an editorial calling on President Obama to lift the Cuban embargo.
  • According to the Miami Herald, Cuban authorities have freed the last of the more than 150 opposition activists detained International Human Rights Day.