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.
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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
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