Friday, July 11, 2014

Colombia’s Inspector General Accused of Cronyism

For Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez, a controversial figure in Colombia whose rulings have ousted countless politicians from office -- including ex-Senator Piedad Cordoba and Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro (at least temporarily) -- it may soon be his turn to pack his bags.

On Monday a section of the Colombian Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, will hear arguments over whether Ordoñez’s 2012 re-election was not only unconstitutional, but also marked by cronyism and shady backroom deals. It has been challenged by a number of civil society actors, most notably the jurist Carlos Mario Isaza and Rodrigo Uprimny, director of human rights NGO Dejusticia.

According to the inspector general’s critics, he hired three relatives of Supreme Court judges in exchange for securing his nomination, which was then ratified by a Senate vote (see Dejusticia’s tidy graphic explaining the maneuver). There are also questions over whether Ordoñez may have obtained votes by making arrangements with certain senators who were under investigation by his office at the time. On top of these allegations, the Colombian Constitution does not authorize the re-election of the inspector general, even though it is not explicitly forbidden, as Isaza explained to BluRadio yesterday.

These arguments were accepted by a magistrate of one of the Council of State’s five sections, which deals with relevant administrative disputes. According to an analysis of the five-judge panel by Semana magazine, there is a good chance that Monday’s session will result in four votes in favor of Ordoñez’s removal, and only one against.

However, this will only occur if the panel decides not to turn it over to the full 31-judge Council of State plenary. If this happens, Semana notes, the inspector general has more allies and can likely count on more support.

Aside from its institutional significance, the case has important political undertones. The inspector general is a star of Colombia’s conservative establishment, and has been criticized by some for unfairly targeting politicians on the left.  

During his battle against Bogota’s mayor, La Silla Vacia published an interesting analysis of the public figures deposed by Ordoñez, pointing out that even in cases involving infractions far worse than Petro’s, many politicians got off easier than the progressive mayor. Bogota city councilman Hipolito Moreno, for instance, was banned from office for only 11 years despite admitting to receiving some $30 million in bribes, compared to the proposed 15-year ban against Petro over allegations he mishandled a 2012 dispute with garbage collectors. Meanwhile, Ciro Ramirez and Luis Humberto Gomez Gallo, two congressmen convicted of paramilitary ties by the Supreme Court, were cleared of administrative wrongdoing by Ordoñez in May.

News Briefs
  • Brazilian authorities announced yesterday that some 200 Ghanaians who entered the country to see their team play in the World Cup tournament have since applied for refugee status there.  A police official in Rio Grande do Sul state told reporters that the individuals were largely “fleeing the violent conflicts between different Muslim groups,” the Associated Press reports.
  • The L.A. Times features a profile on a Honduran special operations police unit -- originally funded and trained by the U.S. to intercept drug shipments -- which is now being used to stop minors from leaving the country illegally, or without parental permission.
  • Buzzfeed has a collection of the U.S.-funded radio, television and billboard advertisements running in Central America meant to dissuade parents and children from attempting the perilous trek north. In general, the campaign’s central message is “the journey is too dangerous.” Analyst James Bosworth has an interesting take on the ad campaign, noting that it essentially amounts to a tacit admission of failure on the part of the U.S. security aid program in the region known as CARSI.
  • While gang violence in Central America is widely seen as a major cause of the recent surge in undocumented immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border, Guatemalan First Lady Rosa Leal de Perez recently contradicted this after a visit to the border earlier this month. In her opinion, some “80 percent” of the unaccompanied child migrants from Central America travel northward to meet up with relatives, and for them violence is not a factor. The Christian Science Monitor’s Whitney Eulich argues against this narrative, noting that 50 percent of arriving minors report experiencing violence from police or gangs in their home countries. Still, as Mike Allison of Central American Politics points out, violence can’t be the only contributing factor, as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras each saw their homicide rates drop over the past two years.
  • IPS looks at the impact that the El Niño climate phenomenon is having on rural Nicaragua, where farmers are struggling to eke out a living amid a record drought. While the government has ordered a surge of food imports in recent months, some analysts predict that many areas will be hit by famine and under-nutrition as a result of crop failure.
  • The AP has an update on Haiti’s long-delayed elections. Although the government has optimistically announced a plan to hold elections on October 26, the opposition Unity and Lavalas Family parties accuse President Michel Martelly of abusing his authority to stack the electoral council in his favor. They allege that Martelly’s nominees to the council, which has seven of its required nine members, include several political allies of his like council president Fritzo Canton, a defense lawyer for former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.
  • When lawmakers in Mexico’s Puebla state passed a new measure known as the “Bullet Law,” human rights groups immediately criticized its authorization of police to use deadly force against demonstrators deemed “violent.” According to Animal Politico, some of its most controversial provisions were subsequently removed, but this has not stopped critics from challenging its constitutionality. Yesterday, however, the National Human Rights Council (CNDH) announced that after reviewing the law it could find no reason to challenge it before the Supreme Court, El Financiero reports.
  • Mexico’s best-known crusading leftist politician, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has announced that he will run for president again in 2018 for a third time, Milenio reports. When asked about his plans to run, he said he would do so “If I’m alive and the people want me.” Lopez Obrador's National Regeneration Movement, or MORENA, was officially registered as a political party this week, along with two other minor parties.

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