Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Santos: Colombia to Respect IACHR Decision on Bogota Mayor

After weeks of silence, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has weighed in on the case of Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro, announcing that he will remain neutral and respect any decision on the matter by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Ever since Colombia’s inspector general ordered Petro’s removal in December, Santos has said little about the case, and the few times he has addressed it have been to reassure the public that he would not interfere with constitutional checks and balances in the country. But in an interview with Caracol Noticias yesterday, the president signaled that his administration would also respect a decision on the case by the IACHR.  

According to Santos, the human rights body had approached him for his opinion on Petro’s removal. “When the Inter-American Commission asked us:  ‘what do you think about this particular case,’ I answered: ‘I have no opinion, I respect what you as the commission determine,’” the president said. This was confirmed by Caracol Radio, which obtained a copy of the Colombian government’s written response to an IACHR request for information on the case. In it, Colombian Deputy Foreign Minister Patty Londoño announced that the government “will not present a position or opinion” on Petro’s removal, and stressed that the country would stand by its commitment to the Inter-American human rights system.

Meanwhile, Petro’s removal has been temporarily suspended by a local court in Cundinamarca province, which has halted the proceeding until its constitutionality can be assessed. This has bought Petro some time, but the likelihood of successfully challenging the order in court is unclear.

For this reason, Petro’s defense team is still pushing for the Inter-American Commission to order precautionary measures from the state on his behalf to protect his right to political participation. Rafael Barrios, a lawyer for Petro, is set to meet with the commission today in Washington to argue the mayor’s case. Barrios also told reporters that he expects the IACHR to make a decision on precautionary measures this week, and he is hopeful that it will side with the Bogota mayor.

Others are less certain. In a column for Razon Publica, Nelson Camilo Sanchez of the Bogota-based research center Dejusticia lists the conditions that must be met in order for the commission to back the mayor.  For precautionary measures to be ordered, Petro’s defense must prove that: 1.) a human right is at risk, 2.) the threat is imminent, 3.) the possibility of the right’s violation is serious, and 4.) that the right could not be remedied after the fact.  This in itself is a tall order, and even if the commission orders the mayor’s removal to be put on hold, Sanchez points out that Petro’s political future would likely remain in limbo for years. The commission would have to rule on a direct petition by Petro, and potentially pass the case up to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Because the Commission has a long list of cases on its plate, this would likely take place after the mayor’s term is set to end in 2016.

News Briefs
  • The New York Times reports on recent remarks by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has proposed an increase in the subsidized price of gasoline. While he has not provided any details of the suggestion, the NYT notes that his position has already stirred controversy in the country, which has a long tradition of providing cheap gas to its citizens.
  • In the wake of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s recent creation of the “Executive Commission on Attention to Victims,” a new federal agency to oversee attention to victims of the country’s drug-fueled violence, Animal Politico reports that it has several challenges in the year ahead. According to the commission’s director, Olga Noriega, these include organizing a public defense system for victims, preparing a national registry for victims, and establishing regulations for a reparations fund.
  • Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman appeared to the public for the first time in seven years on Monday, appearing before a court on a 1992 car bombing that killed 25 people and wounded 155. His defense lawyer has denied that Guzman ordered the attack, and said that those responsible have already been captured and charged, Peru21 reports.
  • While the Associated Press today claims that President Maduro has lately taken aim at Venezuelan telenovelas in a bid to rein in insecurity in the country, Maduro has since clarified that he blames the mainstream media in general for contributing to a culture of violence, not just popular soap operas. To remedy this, he has called for a “communicational revolution” in the country. The AP notes that his vice president met with heads of broadcast and cable TV operators on Monday to review the primetime lineup, warning that they may be in violation of a 2004 law promoting "socially responsible" programming.
  • Newspapers in Venezuela are continuing to battle a shortage of newsprint in the country, which has caused leading papers in the country to cut back on their content. Yesterday, representatives from some 27 newspapers gathered in Caracas to sign a letter asking the government to take measures to facilitate the acquisition of newsprint, El Nacional reports. Also yesterday, Catalina Botero Marino --  the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression -- released a statement reminding Venezuelan authorities that the American Convention on human Rights prohibits the restriction of newsprint.
  • The Mexican government’s announcement of the arrest of an alleged leader of the Knights Templar Cartel in Michoacan has met with limited praise from some of the militia groups in the state. Vigilantes have disputed the suspect’s importance, claiming that he is simply a top hit man for the gang. The L.A. Times reports that that Hipolito Mora, one of the most-recognized leaders of a militia group in Michoacan, said that his men would not disarm until the most important cartel leaders were captured.
  • The Economist’s Americas Blog provides an overview of a report published yesterday by the OECD, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Inter-American Centre of Tax Administrations on tax collection in Latin America. The report finds that the region is heavily dependent on revenue from consumption taxes instead of income tax, likely because the former is easier to collect. However, the Economist notes that this contributes to unstable revenue streams and a regressive tax structure, potentially worsening economic inequality in Latin America.
  • The Nicaraguan government has announced that Deputy Interior Minister Carlos Najar will mediate a conflict between sugar cane companies and workers. The latter claim that working in cane fields has put them at risk of contracting a chronic kidney disease, which has proved fatal in many cases. In November, AP photographer Esteban Felix won a Gabriel Garcia Marquez International Journalism Award for his multimedia presentation on the mysterious ailments faced by sugar cane cutters in the country, which helped raise the profile of the issue internationally.

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