Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Court Backs Petro’s Ouster, IACHR Requests Suspension of Ruling

Colombia’s highest administrative court has upheld the inspector general’s order to remove Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro and ban him from office for 15 years over his handling of a dispute with garbage collectors in 2012. His ouster may be delayed, however, as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has requested that the state suspend the ruling and take precautionary measures to protect Petro’s right to political participation.

Yesterday the Colombian Council of State, the country’s supreme tribunal for all administrative disputes, issued a ruling on 25 legal petitions submitted against Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez’s removal order on Petro’s behalf. While press reports yesterday suggested that the Bogota mayor might find some support from the judges for his challenge, he had no such luck. Fifteen of the council’s magistrates voted in favor of Ordoñez’s decree, while only eight voted against it. As El Espectador reports, the move struck down claims that the mayor’s political rights had been violated, and suspends a recall election that had been slated for April 6.

The Council of State decision paves the way for Ordoñez’s sentence to reach the desk of President Juan Manuel Santos. According to Caracol the president will have 10 days to sign the decree and officially relieve Petro of his duty, at which time he will have the authority to name a provisional mayor in his place.  

Nevertheless, it is unclear whether Santos will follow this timeline. As Semana and the Associated Press note, late last night the IACHR released a statement asking the government to suspend its compliance with Ordoñez’s ruling. According to its resolution (.pdf), the case meets all the requirements (“severity, urgency and irreparability”) for the human rights body to invoke its power to request that Colombia take measures to safeguard Petro’s right to political participation. As such, the IACHR called on officials to hold off on removing the mayor until it could rule on his petition to the commission.

As El Tiempo reports, the ball is now in President Santos’ court. He can either respect the IACHR’s recommendation or ignore it. Fortunately for Petro the latter option is unlikely, as Colombia’s constitution recognizes the competence of the Inter-American human rights system. Also, in January Santos signaled that he would remain neutral in the case, promising to respect the commission’s decision according to his country’s international obligations.

Even if Santos honors the IACHR request for precautionary measures, however, it will likely be a while before the commission issues a verdict on his petition.  As Nelson Camilo Sanchez of the Bogota-based research center Dejusticia pointed out in a January column for Razon Publica, there is a good chance that the case could be decided after the mayor’s term ends in 2016.

News Briefs
  • The seizure of Altamira Plaza on Monday by security forces points to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s hardened resolve to crack down on the wave of opposition protests in his country, and the Washington Post suggests that the move is at odds with his rhetoric of peace and stated interest in dialogue with protestors. Venezuelan expert David Smilde makes a similar point, noting that Maduro’s response to protests has been more “mano dura” than Chavez’s reactions to similar unrest in2004. According to Smilde, this is likely due to Maduro’s comparative lack of charisma as well as the country’s deteriorating economy.
  • According to El Universal, the Venezuelan National Assembly has approved a measure to present evidence of alleged wrongdoing by opposition congresswoman Maria Corina Machado to prosecutors. Her crimes, according to Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, include support for violent protest and appealing to a foreign power to “sabotage” Venezuela’s democracy. The vote is the first step in a process that could culminate in her loss of congressional immunity, which would require the approval of public prosecutors  and the Supreme Court.
  • The reporting staff of Venezuelan private media group Cadena Capriles staged a protest on Monday against a last minute editorial decision to pull an investigative report on opposition protestors  from the page of Ultimas Noticias newspaper. Tamoa Calzadilla, the media group’s chief investigative editor, resigned as a result of the decision, which she claimed executives made due to “political” considerations. Despite Ultimas Noticias’self-censorship, the article in question -- by reporter Laura Weffer -- has been leaked online, and can be read here. It is an in-depth exploration of the demographics of both the demonstrators and the National Guard, which according to Weffer are both made up of “19 to 22 year-olds…who swear that they are fighting for Venezuela.” Weffer also describes the makeshift distribution networks for food and medicine that have sprung up around the opposition barricades, in addition to casting doubt on claims that protestors are on the payroll of anti-Chavsta politicians.
  • The AP’s Frank Bajak profiles nascent efforts among the Venezuelan opposition to reach out to Chavismo’s traditional bastions of support in poor urban areas. Members of the student movement, at least in the Caracas suburb of Petare, are attempting to build working class support via door-to-door canvassing. But as Bajak notes, their appeals have been met with hostility and suspicion, even as some express similar frustration with insecurity, food shortages and inflation.
  • The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has a new report on Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s proposed tax reforms in the country, which is expected to generate revenues of 3 percent of GDP, to be used to finance public spending on education.
  • Drug policy reform advocates in the region, beware: January saw the launch of a new drug policy advocacy platform, Drug Policy Futures (DPF). The organization bills itself as a supporter of “a new drug policy debate based on health,” but its steering group includes a number of drug war “hawks” like Kevin Sabet. Sabet is a former senior advisor to the Obama administration on drug policy, and has been a staunch opponent of loosening drug prohibition. Indeed, the DFF’s rejection of “the simple dichotomy between ‘a war on drugs’on the one hand and ‘legalization’ on the other” is nearly a word-for-word quote of the White House’s 2013 National Drug Control Strategy.
  • Brazil’s O Globo reports that lawmakers are expected to vote today on the “Marco Civil da Internet,” legislation which has been described as a “constitution for the internet” in the country, guaranteeing net neutrality and aiming to protect users’ metadata from companies and intelligence agencies. As Reuters notes, a provision which would have forced global internet companies to store user data in Brazil has been scrapped, though they will still be subject to Brazilian law.
  • In a U.S. district court yesterday, former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo admitted to taking $2.5 million in bribes in exchange for granting diplomatic recognition to Taiwan. According to El Periodico, Portillo will be sentenced in June, and faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.
  •  The AP also looks at the popularity of Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, noting that while his progressive policies and humble public image have risen his profile abroad, domestically he retains only a 47 percent approval rating. As the wire service notes, however, this figure is still greater than support for any other president since Uruguay’s return to democracy, except for his predecessor (and the most likely future president) Tabare Vazquez.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has nominated a new federal police chief and head of the country’s National Security Commission (CNS), following the resignation of Manuel Mondragon on Monday. El Universal has a profile of the nominee, Monte Alejandro Rubido Garcia, noting that he is a lawyer with several years’ experience in high level police intelligence and national security work. In a column for his blog at Animal Politico, security analyst Alejandro Hope argues that the new CNS head should be a civilian with experience in public administration, but above all someone who is committed to reforming the police.
  • The L.A. Times has a more in-depth analysis of Mondragon’s resignation, noting that it comes two months after Peña Nieto’s Colombian security advisor General Oscar Naranjo stepped down. For analysts, the two departures underscore the administration’s lack of a coherent public security strategy, as well as any clear system to evaluate its performance. 

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