Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Inter-American Commission is Petro’s Only Hope

Colombia’s inspector general has ratified his decision to remove Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro and ban him from office for 15 years, meaning that the mayor has few options left to stay in power outside of his appeal to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Yesterday, the office of Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez responded to Petro’s appeal, finding it unwarranted. The mayor’s handling of a dispute with garbage collectors in 2012, according to Ordoñez, was a grave overstep of his authority. El Tiempo reports that the inspector general’s statement listed three primary justifications for Petro’s removal, asserting that by attempting to place municipal trash services under public administration the mayor: knowingly handed trash services over to an inexperienced entity, limited economic competition and potentially endangered the health of Bogota residents.

A number of media outlets (see EFE and El Heraldo) have reported that Petro’s political fate now depends on either President Juan Manuel Santos not signing Ordoñez’s order or the IACHR requesting that the government take preventative measures to safeguard Petro’s right to political participation.

However, while many observers have expressed concern that the removal of the mayor -- who is an ex-M-19 guerrilla -- would send a bad message to FARC rebels engaged in peace talks in Havana, Santos does not appear convinced by this argument. His justice minister has told reporters that Santos will abide by the constitution, which gives Ordoñez the authority to remove elected authorities from office. And La Silla Vacia claims that sources in the administration have signaled that Santos will only refrain from signing the order if the Inter-American Commission requests it.

That leaves the IACHR as Petro’s only hope. And he knows it. In a statement before a crowd of supporters gathered in Bogota’s Bolivar Plaza last night (which was significantly smaller than previous pro-Petro demonstrations), the mayor accused the inspector general of being afraid of the commission, “because he violated international treaties.” Caracol Radio notes that Rafael Barrios, the lawyer overseeing Petro’s appeal to the IACHR, has said that he is confident that the human rights body will weigh in on the matter. “What is coming is that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will order the President not to execute the decision of the inspector general until they speak out on this decision,” Barrios told journalists.

News Briefs
  • Following the high-profile conflict between vigilante groups and criminal organizations in Mexico’s Michoacan state, the federal government has stepped in to try to reassert control over the situation. After signing an agreement with state authorities yesterday, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong announced that the federal government would be assuming security responsibilities in the Tierra Caliente region. Chong also ordered the so-called “self-defense groups” in the area to lay down their weapons and allow the army to take over, El Universal reports. According to the L.A. Times, vigilante leader Hipolito Mora has said that his organization has no intention of disarming. The Wall Street Journal reports that Apatzingan, the largest city in Tierra Caliente, has been virtually closed, with residents holing up inside their homes for fear of violence. The New York Times notes that the intentions of vigilante groups are murky, citing several security analysts who say they may have links to criminal gangs looking to expand their influence in the area.
  • It appears that Mexico City’s proposed marijuana bill is less far-reaching than originally reported. According to Animal Politico, the bill has been revised since El Universal reported in December that it would provide users with safe access to the drug. While the legislation would still open “dispensaries” around the city, these offices would only be authorized to provide information on the drug’s potential health effects from a harm reduction perspective, not to distribute it. Meanwhile, the presentation of the bill to Mexico City’s legislature has been postponed to the end of the month, Milenio reports.
  • Although Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has dropped his criminal complaint against El Periodico Editor Jose Ruben Zamora, the Inter-American Press Association has announced that it will send a delegation to the country to assess the government’s recent campaign against Zamora.
  • Ahead of El Salvador’s election next month, a new poll by CIP-Gallup gives a huge lead to FMLN candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren. According to the pollster, 49 percent of the country supports Sanchez Ceren, compared to 37 percent for ARENA’s Norman Quijano.
  • The AP and Miami Herald report on the arrival of 15 Cuban students to Miami Dade College, a rare example of Cuban residents studying at a U.S. school that the university’s provost, Rolando Montoya, said was made possible by recent changes to the island’s migration policies.
  • Newsweek has an excellent overview of the 2013 massacre of a small indigenous Amazonian tribe, the Taromenane, by another, the Waorani, in Ecuador. Quito-based journalist Bethany Horne alleges that the government of President Rafael Correa intentionally feigned ignorance and fueled misinformation related to the massacre in order to discredit criticism of a plan to authorize oil drilling in the Yasuni Amazon reserve. As El Comercio reports, Horne’s story has earned backlash from Correa himself, who accuses the journalist of fueling controversy to raise her profile.
  • After at least 12 young men were killed in drive-by shootings within hours of one another on Sunday/Monday in the Brazilian city of Campinas, investigators have said that they are looking into whether military police had a hand in the murders. The incidents took place after the shooting of an off-duty police officer in the area, and may have been retribution for his murder, according to Estadão.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that the police force in Rio de Janeiro is undergoing training in human rights in an effort to improve its reputation for violence. However, the paper notes that the program began two years ago, and does not appear to have made much of a positive mark on its image.
  • While the head of the Peruvian congressional committee investigating allegations of corruption in the administration of former President Alan Garcia told reporters last week that there were “indications” that some administration officials had benefited from illegal enrichment, Peru21 reports that these charges did not make it into the  committee’s final report, published yesterday.
  • Eighteen months after breaking off relations with to protest the ouster of ex Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, the government of Venezuela appears to have reconciled with the country.  The AP reports that Venezuela has reopened its embassy in Asuncion, and presented a new ambassador to the country. El Nuevo Herald notes that the move comes after the Paraguayan Congress ratified Venezuela’s entry into Mercosur and voted to end its classification of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as a “persona non grata.”