Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Colombia: Update--President Santos Reinstates Gustavo Petro, 53, as Mayor of Bogotá

According to The Latin American Tribune, President Juan Manuel Santos on Wednesday (April 23) reinstated Gustavo Petro as Bogota’s mayor after a court found that the March 19 ouster of the leftist politician contravened Colombia’s obligation to honor formal requests from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“The laws, the judges, order me to reinstate Mayor Petro and I have signed the corresponding decree to reinstate him,” the President said.

Acknowledging that some would be unhappy with his decision, Santos insisted he was obliged to obey the law and to respect the independence of the courts.

The President removed Petro last month solely on the basis of the Colombian Inspector General’s Office based on the events of December 2012, when trash piled up in Bogotá for several days after the mayor shifted responsibility for waste management from four private firms to the municipal water company.

The mayor harmed “the principle of freedom of enterprise” and put at risk “the environment and human health of the residents of Bogotá,” Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez said in his December 9 decision ordering Petro’s ouster.

The action of the IG’s office was roundly criticized in Colombia and abroad, with even Petro’s political foes accusing Ordoñez, an outspoken right-winger, of having gone too far.

Besides removing him from the mayoralty, the IG’s decision barred the 53-year-old Petro from holding any public post for 15 years.

A day before Santos implemented the decision of the IG’s office, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a body of the Organization of American States (OAS), issued “precautionary measures” in the case.

COMMENT: The sad part in President Santos' actions suggests that Santos caved in to partisan politics solely on the basis of ousting Mayor Petro. Pure and simple.

The Commission asked the government to “immediately suspend the effects of the decision of December 9, 2013, issued and ratified by the Attorney General’s Office on January 13, 2014, so as to ensure that Mr. Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego can exercise his political rights and complete his term as Mayor of Bogotá, for which he was elected on October 30, 2011.” 

Petro’s return to office means that a referendum on recalling the mayor,  originally set for April 2, but suspended after his removal, will have to be rescheduled.

The recall of Mayor Petro was started by Miguel Gómez Martínez, a member of Santos’ conservative party who represents a Bogotá district in the Colombian Congress.

For the recall vote to count, turnout must equal 55% or more of the 2.24 million ballots cast in the 2011 mayoral election. Assuming that threshold is met, a simple majority would suffice to unseat the one-time rebel and former senator.