Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Return of the Mayor: Bogota Court Reinstates Petro

In a radio interview earlier this month, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told journalists that he would be willing to reinstate ousted Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro if ordered to do so by a court. “The Constitution obliges me and the laws oblige me and those who interpret laws are the judges of the Republic,” said Santos. “If some judge tells me for reasons A, B or C that I have to reinstate the mayor, I will reinstate him the next day, it is absolutely clear. Because this is how we have acted and I will continue to act.”

When he made that statement, the president probably did not expect his words to be tested so soon. Yesterday, the Superior Tribunal of Bogota ruled that Santos had 48 hours to reinstate Petro, on the grounds that his right to political participation may have been violated. The ruling specifically cited the precautionary measures requested by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in March, which the president ignored by claiming the mayor had not exhausted domestic legal remedies.

In that sense the decision is a victory not only for Petro but for the application of international human rights law in Colombia, and for those who argued that the IACHR’s precautionary measures must be considered binding according to the country’s Constitutional Court.

Santos is now in a tight spot. The president could challenge the ruling before the Supreme Court, but he will have to abide by the decision -- and its 48 hour deadline -- in the meantime while the court studies the case. As La Silla Vacia points out, he stands to lose regardless of any move he makes. If Santos does not honor the decision he will be on unsteady legal footing, but if he accepts it it will be perceived as an admission that his initial decision to ignore the IACHR was a mistake.

Meanwhile, the head of local government in Bogota has changed hands twice since Petro’s ouster, as Labor Minister Rafael Pardo -- who immediately took the position after Petro -- has been replaced by Maria Mercedes Maldonado. While she was handpicked by the president, Maldonado’s name was included in a list of potential successors submitted by members of the ex-mayor’s political party. She officially took office as interim mayor on Monday, but it is now unclear how long her tenure will last.

News Briefs
  • Yesterday Brazilian senators passed the “Marco Civil da Internet” without changes, and the bill will now go before President Dilma Rousseff to be signed. Reuters notes that the legislation has been hailed by international net neutrality activists for striking a balance between the interests of “users, governments and corporations while ensuring the Internet continues to be an open and decentralized network.” The vote took place just before a high-profile summit on internet governance, NetMundial, which as the BBC reports, Brazil announced in the event following revelations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had monitored President Dilma Rousseff’s personal communications.
  • Brazil’s National Truth Commission has announced that, according to its own investigation, former President Juscelino Kubitschek, who died in a suspicious car wreck in 1976, was not killed as part of a plot by the military regime.  According to O Globo, the announcement is the result of a two year analysis of documents, expert reports and photos of the scene. However, in December the São Paulo municipal truth commission came to the opposite conclusion after studying the evidence, and it is not immediately clear which has the stronger claim.
  • At least two were killed yesterday in clashes with police in a favela on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro’s upper-class Copacabana district, which were sparked after locals claimed police murdered a young man who worked as a dancer on a televised variety show. The incident has been picked up by international media (see the NYT and BBC) as yet another reason to question Brazil’s readiness to host the World Cup.
  • In a press conference yesterday, Uruguayan presidential advisor Diego Canepa announced that the specifics of the country’s historical marijuana law will be released by the end of this week, according to El Pais. In separate news, EFE reports that the head of the country’s road safety unit has announced that police will be given equipment to test drivers’ saliva for THC content to fight driving under the influence of the drug.
  • InSight Crime has published a three-part series on the challenges and accomplishments of Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz. The first looks at Paz y Paz’s political acumen and savvy management of Guatemalan politics and international allies to put pressure on criminal elites in the country. The second focuses on the powerful enemies she has made as a result of her support for the genocide trial of General Efrain Rios Montt, and the third highlights the challenges she faces as she applies for another term which would start in May. The series is well complemented by just-published investigation by nascent Guatemalan news site Revista Nomada, which offers a critical look at the interest networks that influence the process by which new attorney generals are chosen in the country.
  • El Universo reports that electoral officials in Ecuador have so far annulled some 7,000 questionable signatures of a petition submitted by environmental groups hoping to force a referendum on drilling in the Yasuni Amazon region. Signature verification was disrupted last week after protestors questioned alleged regularities in the process, but has continued as scheduled this week. Earlier this month activists submitted a total of 756,000 signatures, exceeding the 584,000 requirement needed to trigger a vote.
  • Mexican authorities have announced the arrest of 46 people in Michoacan who were allegedly falsely posing as members of a local vigilante militia, Milenio reports. According to the AP, the men were wearing t-shirts similar to those worn by militiamen, but are thought to be members of the New Generation Jalisco Cartel. The groups have just over two weeks to merge with local security forces before they too will be targeted by authorities.
  • The dialogue between the Venezuelan government and opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) is set to continue this Thursday, according to MUD Secretary General Ramon Guillermo Aveledo. Meanwhile, the MUD leadership’s participation in talks has opened up fissures in the opposition between those who support dialogue and those who believe it only serves to legitimize the Maduro government. In a post for Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, Michael McCarthy offers an extremely helpful overview of the main camps in the opposition, which can -- with some caveats -- be grouped into three sectors: followers of imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, followers of former presidential candidate Henrique Capriels, and the heterogeneous student movement.
  • After days of negotiations with Bolivian trade unions, the government of President Evo Morales has agreed to raise the minimum wage in the Andean country by 20 percent, La Razon reports. The BBC notes that critics say the move is an attempt to boost his support among organized labor ahead of October elections, and analyst James Bosworth compares Morales’ handling of the issue with a recent protest by enlisted military personnel.

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