Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bogota's Mayor is Back, But for How Long?

In accordance with the Tuesday ruling by a Bogota court, yesterday Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed an order reinstating Gustavo Petro as mayor of the capital city. But the saga of Petro's political future is far from over.

The decison could still be overturned in a higher court. Inspector General Alejandro OrdoƱez, who ordered Petro's removal in December, has vowed to challenge the ruling in the Supreme Court. And as El Tiempo notes, there is a chance that the Constitutional Court could rule on it as well.

Adding to this uncertainty is the fact that Petro's return to office has reactivated the recall referendum that was postponed following his ouster. With questions over his handling of a garbage collection service still lingeringand infrastructure problems affecting the city's water supply, he will continue to face an uphill battle to stay in office. According to a Gallup opinion survey published in March, some 64 percent of Bogota residents said they would support his removal in a recall vote.

On a separate note, the debate over the ruling has focused attention on the applicability of precautionary measures requested by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. While he has used much of the media attention of his return to cast himself as the victim of a conservative political establishment, the mayor has made sure to frame the ruling as a matter of Colombia's adherence to the Inter-American human rights system. The head of the commission, Emilio Alvarez, told reporters in Washington yesterday that the decision was "very welcome in the fulfillment of Colombia's international obligations." 

For more on Petro's return in today's U.S. press, see the Associated Press, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.


News Briefs

  • The Inter-American Commission presented its annual report on the human rights situation in the hemisphere yesterday. In it, authors highlighted concerns over press freedom in Ecuador, as well as the “denationalization” of immigrants in the Dominican Republic. The report also includes special reports on the situation in Cuba, Honduras and Venezuela, which has been characterized in regional press as the commission’s “black list.” As El Pais points out, however, the United States was also named as a contributor to human rights violations in the hemisphere, specifically for the Guantanamo Bay detention center and the embargo against Cuba. El Tiempo notes that Colombia was not singled out in the report for the first time in 14 years.
  • Despite the recent earthquake and fire that tested her fledgling second administration in recent weeks, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is pressing on with her ambitious reform agenda. Yesterday the president submitted a measure to Congress which would alter electoral rules imposed under the Pinochet regime designed to obstruct major changes. Under the current system, the losing party in each district receives half the seats as long as the winning party fails to secure more than two-thirds of the votes. As the AP notes, Bachelet’s proposed changes -- which have a good chance of passing -- would end this system and assign new legislative districts according to population figures.
  • Guatemala’s El Periodico reports that Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz appeared before the committee tasked with choosing her successor yesterday to defend her record, pointing to increases in cases filed against criminal leaders under her tenure. According to the paper, the  commission has now heard from every candidate, and is expected to make a nomination in the first week of May.
  • The government of Costa Rica has called on the United States to explain why it operated the USAID-sponsored “Cuban Twitter” program from within the Central American country’s borders. In an interview with the AP, Costa Rican Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo said that U.S.-supported democracy promotion activities in Cuba should not involve other countries, as they could damage relations with the island.
  • After massive public outcry and demonstrations against a telecommunications reform bill in Mexico over sections which would allow for telecommunications signals to be blocked for “public security” interests, the offending language has been removed, El Universal reports.
  • In a meeting with UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez on Monday, Proceso reports that human rights advocates stressed the widespread use of torture and inhumane treatment by the country’s security forces. According to an analysis of prosecutors’ figures by Animal Politico, from 2002 to 2012 only six officials were taken to trial in torture and abuse cases -- despite 963 investigations into allegations -- and none of the accused received any criminal punishment. Mendez is in Mexico until May 2, when he will make preliminary recommendations to the government on the basis of his findings.
  • Hugo Perez Hernaiz of Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights looks at the reactions among Chavista leaders to the recent rounds of dialogue with the opposition. While many government supporters have voiced distrust in the opposition’s intentions, so far the only stridently anti-dialogue within PSUV leadership remains National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello. The third meeting between MUD opposition leaders and members of the government is expected to take place today.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales has signed a new law which authorizes the military to shoot down planes suspected of carrying illegal drugs. However, as the AP reports, the law requires the country to first purchase and set up a new radar system before it can be implemented.
  • In a column in today’s Washington Post, editorial writer Charles Lane takes on recent praise deceased Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez from world leaders in the region. Despite his literary talent, Lane argues, Garcia Marquez’s lifelong friendship with Cuba’s Fidel Castro was a black mark on his career.
  • After raising the minimum wage in a move widely seen as a concession to shore up support among organized labor, Morales is again dealing with protests in La Paz. This time the demonstrators are military personnel who argue that the army discriminates against the indigenous and are calling for the removal of top officers.  In response, the government has refused to meet with them, insisting that they will be fired if they continue to ignore orders.
  • U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in Mexico City yesterday to meet with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts, in his first trip to Latin America since becoming head of the Pentagon last year. From Mexico, Hagel will travel on to Guatemala today, where he will meet with President Otto Perez Molina and discuss bilateral military cooperation. In an interview with Reuters, Hagel said that his priority will be improving the Pentagon’s relationship with regional militaries, remarking: “don't think over the years we've probably ever done enough to reach out to our Latin American partners.”
  • Following the death of a professional dancer earlier this week in a Rio favela on the outskirts of Copacabana, the city’s top security official told reporters that authorities would fully investigate the matter. Locals say that the man was killed by police who wrongfully accused him of criminal ties, and the incident has sparked protests against police in the area in which at least one other individual was killed, as O Globo reports.