Gustavo Petro, former mayor of Bogota, Colombia: What happened to his mayoralty? — The North Star Project Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Ana Maria Camelo Vega

Gustavo Petro, former mayor of Bogota, Colombia: What happened to his mayoralty? — The North Star Project Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Ana Maria Camelo Vega


Gustavo Petro, whose mayoralty was supposed to end in 2016, was removed from his position on March 19 of the present year. What happened here?

Born in 1960, Gustavo Petro was an active member of the militant guerilla called M-19 in his early life. Years later, after this illegal group broke up, Petro became part of the political party Polo Democrático Alternativo (Alternative Democratic Pole). As a member of this party, in 2010 Petro became a presidential candidate, beginning a process which would not succeed. He lost, coming fourth after t Juan Manuel Santos, the new Colombian president, Antanas Mockus, and German Vargas Lleras, respectively. A year later, as head of his Movimiento Progresistas (Progressives Movement), Gustavo Petro won the elections for the second most important executive power position in Colombia, being named as the mayor of Bogotá. Because of his political activities, Petro has had to face constant persecution from government-run security organizations and threats against his life and his family.

Even though some sectors including Animal Rights and LGBT communities have supported him, Petro’s administration and policies were constantly questioned. Scandals caught the attention of citizens, governors, and national and international media, putting Petro’s ability to run Colombia’s capital city in question. One of the most outstanding cases was the chaos that resulted from the mayor’s new policy for Bogotá’s waste material. In 2012, with the aim of creating a city-owned waste company, Gustavo Petro decided to suspend the existing contracts with private waste management companies. The capital’s streets being overwhelmed by litter, the rental and import of used, unsanitary, ruined waste vehicles from the United States, and the death of one operator while collecting waste in a dump truck are some examples of why this poorly designed policy ended up in chaos. As a result, the mayor was forced to disband the city-owned waste company and resume contracts with private waste companies, which allowed Colombians to doubt his mayoralty in general. According to the official website of the Registro Civil Nacional de Colombia (Colombian National Civil Registry), 630,623 citizen signatures were collected and presented in order to recall his mandate. Out of these signatures, 357,250 were approved, more than legally required to start the official recall process.

On the basis of these circumstances, on December 9th, 2013, the Procuraduría General de la Nación República de Colombia (Office of the Inspector General of Colombia), led by Alejandro Ordóñez, issued a verdict dismissing Petro’s position as the mayor. Through his decision, Alejandro Ordóñez not only dismissed Gustavo Petro’s post, but also banned Petro from any public and political position for the following fifteen years due to the lack of planning and regulations in his waste policies. In response to this decision, social unrest and polarization in Bogotá increased significantly and the capital city entered a period of political instability. While for some Colombians Petro is the hope of a nation free from armed conflict, for others he is a symbol of incompetence.

Following Ordóñez’ decision, The Council of State is expected to decide soon if Mr. Petro must leave office. In a surprise move, despite a call by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights court to suspend Ordóñez’ decision on the grounds that it violated Petro’s rights, President Juan Manuel Santos opted to remove the position of mayor on March 19th, 2014. The Colombian president claimed that Petro had had enough opportunities to defend himself with no success.

What will happen now in Colombia remains to be seen. National and international media have claimed that the president’s action was a totalitarian decision to increase his power in the country, as the capital city is now under his control. The president made the Minister of Labour, Rafael Pardo, interim mayor, along with his followers. Petro claims that Colombian governors are not competent to rule the country. The claim for democracy is shouting out loud. President Santos says that the government acted in a transparent and correct way, and with the capital city is facing chaos in multiple areas including transportation, security, and employment, it becomes a national right to hold new elections in the city.

Not being the first irregularity in Bogotá’s government, Petro’s removal from office leaves much more to think about. Are Colombians the cause for their political instability? Joseph de Maistre once said, “Every country has the government it deserves.” The way in which Colombian democracy is being developed has constantly caught the attention of national and international commentators. Petro’s mayoralty will have significant consequences not only for the capital city, but for the country as a whole. It is not a surprise for anyone that it will take time for Bogotá to stay on track and become progressive once again. New candidates must emerge for future elections. More importantly, Colombians strongly need to take advantage of this opportunity and change the course into which Bogotá is headed.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to contribute to The North Star Project Reports — HLIANG@CSS.EDU

For all of the North Star Project Reports, see

The North Star Project Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also welcome Duluth East High School, Duluth Denfeld High School, Dodge Middle School and other schools around the world to the North Star Project. The North Star Project has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Student interns have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star Project students and teachers.

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA

(c) 2013-present The Middle Ground Journal. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.


Filed under Ana Maria Camelo Vega, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

11 responses to “Gustavo Petro, former mayor of Bogota, Colombia: What happened to his mayoralty? — The North Star Project Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Ana Maria Camelo Vega

  1. Neil Vierzba

    It was interesting to read about what was going on in other countries in terms of politics. I’ve taken many spanish classes in the past and it seems like colombia is always in some sort of trouble. I really hope they find a candidate that can turn that country around and solve the waste problems.

  2. It would seem that Petro tried to fix a corrupt system and ended up creating another corrupt system and in so doing became the target/victim of another ambitious politician. There is nothing new about that! United States politicians do that all the time. While I do believe that the Colombian people are responsible for the fate of their country, I also believe there are corrupt political forces in Columbia, just as there are in America, that undermine any good faith effort by the citizenry to elect and keep good people in positions of power. I wonder if there are any good people to put in positions of power. Is it possible for corruption in government to be rooted out by “We The People”? I don’t know…

  3. Robert Ochs

    I never even heard about this happening! Does the current president have any sort of history that shows he just wants power? Or is he really just doing what he thinks is truly best?

  4. Matthew Rider

    The Colombian government will not be able to maintain any stability until they’re able to practice the progressiveness they wish to have. Petro’s removal from office, though due to a big mistake, is another example of the unwillingness of the government to act the way a democracy should.

  5. Chelsea Bastyr

    Usually, I’m not too interested in politics. I usually try to read the articles with pretty pictures and a story about a study abroad or living abroad experience. But, this one caught my eye and I found it very interesting. I don’t think it’s the people’s issue of the problems with people in the government. No government in our world is perfect, far from, actually. And I’m sure plenty of the people in office in any country are in it for the wrong reasons and make many wrong decisions due to their own way of thinking, not because of the people. It may take the Colombian government some time to get back up on their feet and take off again, but, it’ll happen and hopefully this one isn’t booted out of office as well!!

  6. Annie

    Does this mean the country is in limbo until a new candidate is elected? Doesn’t this leave the door open for even a candidate even more unqualified to take charge? I like many others had no idea this was happening, thank you for this insight into Columbia’s political happenings.

  7. Miranda King

    It is interesting that being removed from office to help lessen the problems also created more problems. It shows that in a way sometimes things must get worse before they get better.

  8. Katie Hass

    I found the subject of this article very interesting. The media focuses on other, more unsavory aspects of Columbia and I hadn’t heard of the political strife before. It definitely seems like he was fighting a losing battle that wasn’t set up for success in the first place. Definitely an interesting aspect of another country’s politics.

  9. Cassidy Jayne

    I think Petro probably had good intentions in trying to fix a corrupt system, which unfortunately created another slew of corruption. Not uncommon…In the united states, our level of corruption is usually limited to a political agenda regarding theology and ideology. The citizen’s reactions and action against the wrong-doing is significant…. Thanks for providing insight, Ana

  10. Kendra Trudeau

    It seems like Petro didn’t have a fair chance to defend himself before having his position taken away from him. I don’t know much about how the Columbian government works, but it seems like they would benefit if they had more checks and balances in their system. Like the article mentioned, the president was able to give himself even more executive power through taking Petro’s position away. I’m not saying that Petro didn’t do anything wrong, because he did. The way the Colombian government handled it was just corrupt.

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