Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bogota Mayor Challenges Removal Order

Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro has filed an appeal against the Colombian inspector general’s recent decision to order him out of office and banned from politics for 15 years over his handling of a dispute with garbage collectors in 2012.

On December 31, El Tiempo reported that Petro presented a challenge against Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez’s order to the Attorney General's Office, alleging that Ordoñez is biased against the mayor because of his conservative Catholic views.  “For Alejandro Ordoñez, I represent 'atheistic communism,' one of the fundamental enemies of 'the re-Christianization of the world' that the inspector general proposes,” reads the mayor’s complaint. Petro also accused Ordoñez of having “the most intimate conviction that a good 'soldier of Christ' must combat with all possible weapons the impiety represented by the leftist ideology that the mayor represents.”

Meanwhile Petro has continued to seek support for his case, holding mass protests in Bogota’s central square, earning the backing of Colombia's chief prosecutor and raising his profile in the international press.  On December 28, the New York Times published an op-ed by the Bogota mayor, in which he lays out the case for a reform of the inspector general’s authority. Petro, a former M-19 guerrilla, also frames Ordoñez’s order as a potential blow to the peace talks with FARC rebels in Havana. As he points out, many observers -- including U.S. President Barack Obama’s ambassador-nominee Kevin Whitaker -- have suggested that his removal would send a message to leftist rebels that they would only be marginalized if they ever made it to power using democratic means.

The centerpiece of Petro’s strategy continues to be a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), on the grounds that his political rights have been violated. As Nelson Camilo Sanchez of the Bogota-based research center Dejusticia notes, Petro’s appeal to the IACHR is not surprising. Ever since taking office in January 2011 the mayor has been a staunch supporter of the commission, even as other leftist leaders in the hemisphere have sought to weaken the human rights body.

Sanchez suggests that the 2011 Inter-American Court decision in Leopoldo Lopez v. Venezuela sets a favorable precedent for the mayor, as the court found that only a criminal judge can suspend an individual’s political rights. However, this seemingly applies only to the 15-year ban on Petro holding office, not necessarily to his removal from office.

Even if the mayor somehow manages to overcome Ordoñez’s order, his political future is uncertain. Last month Petro’s struggle to stay in office took a new turn, when election officials announced that his opponents had presented enough signatures to trigger a recall vote, to be held in late February or early March. While Petro’s popularity has risen in the wake of the inspector general’s order (his favorability rating now stands at roughly 50 percent), a resounding victory in the polls is far from guaranteed.


News Briefs
  • On December 15, Chileans voted overwhelmingly to return former President Michelle Bachelet to office for a second term. Beacuse voter turnout was unusually low at 41 percent, her opponents have begun to question whether Bachelet’s commanding lead serves as a valid “mandate” for her to pursue some of the progressive reforms she promised on the campaign trail. The ex-president took 62.2 percent of the vote, compared to 37.9 percent for her opponent, Evelyn Matthei. Writing for the Washington Post, Peter M. Siavelis and Kirsten Sehnbruch argue that if she can overcome this, Bachelet’s win creates “a genuine opportunity for her government finally to end Chile’s long and ongoing transition to democracy.”
  • Spain's El Pais reports that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has used his decree powers to steadily expand the influence of the military in the country. In the past month, Maduro has authorized the creation of a bank, a construction company and even a television channel, all under the control of the armed forces.
  • Colombian conflict expert Virginia Bouvier has a helpful overview of the 18th round of peace talks in Havana, where FARC and government negotiators are tacking the issue of illicit drugs. The round ended on December 20, and the next cycle of talks is expected to begin on January 13.
  • On December 24, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica signed his country’s marijuana regulation bill into law. The government now has until April 9 to determine the specific regulations of the Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA). While El Pais, the Associated Press and other international outlets have mistakenly reported that it is now legal for individuals to grow up to six cannabis plants in their homes, all cultivation must gain the approval of the IRCCA to be considered legal.  
  • For the first time ever, in its latest issue The Economist has chosen a country of the year for 2013. Citing its progress on marriage equality and marijuana regulation, the magazine bestowed the title upon Uruguay, applauding the country for adopting “path-breaking reforms that do not merely improve a single nation but, if emulated, might benefit the world.”
  • Following up on a trial balloon he first sent up in February 2013, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has reopened a debate on regulating opium poppy production in his country, Prensa Libre and the International Business Times reported last month. On Decemebr 16, Perez Molina told reporters that his government has started “exploring the capacity that we could have for controlled planting” of poppy. Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez explained to reporters that the practive would be heavily monitored by authorities, and that the government would complement the policy with crop substitution programs. “This is what is already being done in other countries such as India and China, that is to say identifying hectares clearly, seeing how they are grown, carrying out the harvest, taking control of the commercialization and above all making sure this serves mainly the pharmaceutical industry,” said Lopez.
  • In a move that is sure to please human rights activists in the Central American country, on December  19 outgoing Honduran President Porfirio Lobo dismissed controversial National Police Director  Juan Carlos Bonilla. Lobo told the press that he made the decision after consulting with President-elect Juan Orlando Hernandez, who will take office on January 27. RNS of Honduras Culture and Politics notes that the move was part of a series of shakeups in the cabinet, with several notable changes in the security ministry and military high command.
  • The New York Times takes a look at the work of the more than 4,500 Cuban doctors that have been hired by the Brazilian government to provide medical services to isolated rural villages and poor urban communities around the country. While the move has been portrayed as a humanitarian gesture, the NYT notes that it reflects Brazil’s growing influence in Cuba, part of a “sophisticated projection of soft power” on the island.
  • The Washington Post has a good outline of the growing controversy surrounding the work of Brazil’s development bank (BNDES), which has been accused by transparency advocates of making shady dealings. Brazilian news site Agencia Publica has more details on the BNDES’s lack of oversight and contract irregularities, especially in the Amazon region.
  • On December 21, the Post published an excellent in-depth investigation detailing a U.S. multibillion-dollar "black budget" funding covert action in Colombia, which is outside the $9 billion Plan Colombia. The report found that the program, which includes funding for enhanced intelligence initiatives and smart bomb technology, began under President George Bush in the early 2000s and has continued under President Obama. One of the report's most interesting findings is that nine anonymous U.S. and Colombian officials acknowledge that the controversial 2008 bombing that killed FARC chief Raul Reyes in Ecuadorean territory -- and subsequently strained Colombia's relations with Ecuador and Venezuela --was carried out with tacit U.S. approval.
  • Mexico’s guerrilla army turned indigenous social movement, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), celebrated the 20th anniversary of their January 1, 1994 armed uprising yesterday with several ceremonies in autonomous communities across Chiapas. The guerrilla group’s symbolic leader, Subcomandante Marcos, has penned a communiqué on the anniversary of the uprising, in which he criticizes the private Mexican media’s coverage of their organizing work.  Italian journalist Gianni Proiettis has a long and thought-provoking essay on the EZLN’s relevance today and their role as a moral authority on the Mexican left in La Jornada, and Reuters looks at the EZLN’s skillful use of social media and revolutionary imagery to gain international sympathizers. In remarks to the AFP, Enrique Peña Nieto’s appointed Peace Commissioner Jaime Martinez Veloz claimed that the government is preparing legislation to bring its legal framework in line with a UN declaration on indigenous rights, though this will likely fall short of the EZLN’s demands for state recognition of full autonomy.