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Day 17

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The Removal of Bogotá's Mayor, Gustavo Petro

Colombia Develops New Strategy Against the Left

by GARRY LEECH

It is becoming increasingly clear that right-wing elements in Colombia no longer need to slaughter leftist politicians on the grand scale of years past in order to preserve their hold on power. The right’s latest response to emerging democratic advances in Colombia has been to simply banish leftist politicians from office. Just this week, Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez ordered that the left-leaning mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, be removed from office and prohibited from participating in politics for 15 years. Petro is not the first Colombian leftist to be banished from politics by Ordoñez; three years ago, he banned former senator Piedad Córdoba from holding office for 18 years.

Ordoñez ruled that Petro’s failed attempt to de-privatize the city’s garbage collection system by replacing private contractors with public sector jobs violated the country’s constitution. Petro was not removed from office due to corruption or the manner in which he bungled the transition from private to public sector, but because his decision to replace private contractors violated the free market economic doctrine demanded by conservatives. As Ordoñez stated in his ruling, Petro was fired for “violating constitutional principles of commercial competition and freedom.”

Petro, a former M-19 guerrilla, made his name as a popular senator who waged an anti-corruption campaign against the right and was highly critical of the administration of former president Alvaro Uribe. He was elected mayor of Bogotá in 2011 and was viewed as a potential future candidate for president.

For his part, Ordoñez is a close ally of former president Uribe and was appointed inspector general while Uribe was in power. The inspector general is responsible for ensuring that elected officials adhere to the constitution; possessing the authority to remove public officials from office if they are deemed to have violated the
Leech_Capitalism_Cover-191x300constitution. But in recent years it has become increasingly evident under Ordoñez exactly how much power the inspector general wields. Further troubling is the perception that many of Ordoñoz’s decisions have been ideologically motivated.

In 2010, Ordoñez banished leftist senator Córdoba from public office for 18 years. Córdoba had been authorized by the government to negotiate with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to gain the release of captives held by the guerrilla group. Córdoba was an advocate of peace talks with the rebels and a harsh critic of the Uribe government’s security policies and related human rights abuses by the military. Ordoñez ruled that the senator “exceeded her functions as well as the authorization she was given by the government to negotiate a humanitarian exchange,” alleging that her public statements promoted the FARC’s cause. And so her political career was effectively over.

Last year, Ordoñez waded in to the “false-positives” scandal that dominated Uribe’s final year as president. At the time, there were 1,274 active investigations into the extra-judicial assassinations of 1,386 civilians by the Colombian military during Uribe’s term in office. But the inspector general’s revision of the legal interpretation of what constituted a “false-positive” effectively dismissed 782 of the investigations by deeming them to be “deaths in combat” and moving jurisdiction for them from civilian courts to military courts.

Ordoñez has further exhibited his conservative views by publicly supporting Uribe’s efforts to change the constitution to run for a third term as president back in 2010, denouncing the current peace talks  between the government and the FARC, and criticizing efforts to legalize abortion and gay marriage.

The order to remove Petro as mayor of Bogotá and his banishment from politics for 15 years is just the latest in a series of ideologically-motivated actions by Ordoñez that have targeted high-profile leftist politicians while he has openly supported the right-wing Uribe and hindered efforts to prosecute military personnel for gross violations of human rights. Two decades ago, leftist presidential candidates were assassinated to prevent them from winning elections; today, the Colombian right simply prohibits them from running for public office.

Garry Leech is an independent journalist and author of numerous books including Capitalism: A Structural Genocide (Zed Books, 2012); Beyond Bogota: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia (Beacon Press, 2009); and Crude Interventions: The United States Oil and the New World Disorder (Zed Books, 2006). He is also a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Cape Breton University.