Thursday, March 20, 2014

Colombia’s Santos Ignores IACHR, Removes Bogota Mayor

In a move that breaks with Colombia’s recent adherence to the Inter-American human rights system, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has removed Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro from office, disregarding a request by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to suspend his ouster.

Yesterday, Santos announced that Petro would be removed in accordance with Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez’s December sentence. In his place he named Labor Minister Rafael Pardo Rueda as interim mayor, with a special mayoral election to be held sometime in May, close to the presidential elections.

As El Espectador reports, Santos justified his decision by saying that while Colombia remained dedicated to its international human rights commitments, the IACHR’s request that his government take precautionary measures to protect Petro’s right to political participation was invalid because Petro had not yet exhausted domestic legal remedies, and because Colombian law should be prioritized. “The Council of State has said that Petro still has legal mechanisms in Colombian jurisdiction… The government understands the importance and has defended the Inter-American system of human rights, but it believes that this role is complementary [to domestic law] and therefore should only go into effect if a failure in the internal system occurs.” said the president.

The problem with this, however, is that Colombian constitutional law has given considerable weight to the IACHR’s requests for precautionary measures in recent years. In a 2003 ruling, for instance, the country’s Constitutional Court established a basis for them to be considered binding, and laid out the procedure for state organs like the national police, attorney general and Ministry of Justice to  properly comply with them.  

In an interview with Spain’s El Pais, IACHR Secretary General Emilio Alvarez Icaza called Colombia’s system for responding to requests for precautionary measures “paradigmatic in the continent.”  The paper notes that Santos had established a reputation for breaking with the cavalier attitudes towards the IACHR of his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, but that his announcement yesterday calls that into question. Cesar Rodriguez Garavito, of Bogota’s Dejusticia human rights center, has made a similar point, telling Caracol Noticias that the president’s decision “defeats a four-year effort in which Colombia sought to be a regional leader in the field of human rights.”

Semana, on the other hand, questions whether the Inter-American Commission “overstepped” its bounds in seeking protection for Petro. As the magazine note, it is unusual for the IACHR to request that Colombia take precautionary measures in cases where only the individual’s political rights are at risk, not their life.  Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin argued as much yesterday, saying that Colombia could not accept “interference” from the human rights organ, especially in the case of “something abnormal…which does not involve fundamental rights.”

La Silla Vacia suggests that there were other political considerations behind the decision, such as the fact that most of Santos’ support network behind his reelection campaign is in favor of Petro’s removal. By standing up to the IACHR, he is scoring points among his conservative base at a time when polls suggest that, for the first time, his victory in May is not guaranteed.

News Briefs
  • Elsewhere in the region, two other mayors appear to have lost their jobs as well. Daniel Ceballos, mayor of the western Venezuelan town of San Cristobal -- where the recent wave of protests began -- was arrested yesterday in Caracas by intelligence agents. El Universal reports that Ceballos’ arrest was confirmed by Interior and Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres, who said the mayor had been charged with “rebellion and conspiracy.” Also yesterday, Venezuelan officials arrested the mayor of San Diego, Enzo Scarano, after the Supreme Court sentenced him to ten months in prison for disobeying orders to crack down on opposition barricades. According to El Nacional, both officials are being held in custody of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service.
  • In addition to dropping a controversial provision to an internet bill which would have forced Internet companies operating in Brazil to store data within the country (see the Wall Street Journal), the government of President Dilma Rousseff has met with congressional leaders to discuss other concessions. G1 reports that these include leaving a net neutrality provision up to executive decree, and may even exclude it altogether from the bill. Felipe Seligman of Agencia Publica profiles the influence of Brazil’s telecommunications lobby on these high-level talks, highlighting ties between the sector and PMDB legislators. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the bill next week.
  • According to El Nuevo Herald, Cuba’s National Assembly of Peoples' Power will hold a meeting on March 29 to analyze a new foreign investment law. The paper reports that Former Economy Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez has said the proposed law will broaden the nature of foreign investments allowed under the existing law, though details are unclear. Reuters reports that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has announced plans to visit the island, the first such visit in 30 years and an indicator that EU-Cuba relations are rapidly improving.
  • On Tuesday the head lawyer in the Ecuador-Chevron case, Steven Donziger, appealed a federal judge’s ruling that he committed fraud and bribery to entice an Ecuadorean court to rule against the oil giant in a $9.5 billion environmental damages case. Donziger denies the allegations, and his legal team told the press that they were optimistic that an appellate court would overturn the ruling.
  • Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has announced that her government will conduct a new census in the country, meant to make up for the disastrous 2012 census carried out by former President Sebastian Piñera. Billed as “the best census ever,” it was plagued by allegations of methodological errors and the manipulation of figures, which forced Piñera to issue a formal apology last year.
  • The L.A. Times reports on the outcry from Mexican press freedom advocacy groups looking into an investigation of the murder of a reporter in Veracruz last month. These organizations have found evidence of negligence and omissions in the investigation, highlighting a lack of commitment to protecting journalists in the country which they say is rampant.
  • After left-leaning PRD lawmakers in Mexico made headlines last month for presenting bills in both the national and Mexico City legislatures to relax marijuana regulations in the country, a member of the conservative PAN party has introduced a separate marijuana policy reform bill in the Senate. According to El Pais and El Universal, PAN Senator Roberto Gil submitted a measure yesterday that would allow non-violent, low-level cannabis offenders to avoid jail time.
  • In a column for El Faro, drug expert Juan Carlos Garzon looks at the criminal landscape in El Salvador. He argues that despite recent reports of mara violence and potential collusion between maras and larger drug trafficking organizations, its significance as a transit country is far less than that of Honduras or Guatemala. Instead, the country’s real contribution to transnational crime is in its weak anti-money laundering enforcement, which some officials say make it “the bank of drug trafficking” in the region.
  • Following Guatemalan ex-President Alfonso Portillo’s guilty plea in a New York court on Tuesday to charges that he accepted $2.5 million in bribes from Taiwan in exchange for diplomatic recognition of the country, current President Otto Perez Molina has assured the public that “these bad practices have been overcome.” According to him, all Taiwanese aid is transparent and publicly disclosed. 

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