“Colombia’s democracy is mortally wounded”; Petro


Let there be no doubt; Gustavo Petro was a disastrous mayor. Bogota has gone backwards under his ideological administration. Today, many Bogotanos will allow themselves a sigh of relief as he finally leaves his post.

But for all his faults, Petro was elected fairly and squarely. His mandate came direct from Bogota’s 8 million souls, and his removal from office is an affront to us all. Read more…

Mayor Petro deposed in “coup”


Democratically elected Bogota Mayor, Gustavo Petro has been removed from office by Colombia`s right wing Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez in what is being called a coup against democracy.

Just two years into his mandate, Petro has been kicked out for illegalities in his controversial decision last year to move the capital`s garbage collection from private to public ownership.

Questions are now being asked about the reach of Ordoñez`s power and whether a legal functionary should have the facility to depose elected politicians.

Meanwhile Petro has called on supporters to lead a peaceful revolution against what he labels “fascist” forces at the heart of Colombia`s political class.

There is concern too about the possible impact this decision will have on the peace talks in Havana with the FARC. Petro, a demobilized M-19 guerrilla, is Colombia`s most high profile former combatant in a position of power. His is Colombia`s best example of how to reintegrate into civilian life. Petro has suggested Ordoñez, a vocal opponent of the FARC negotiations, is in open “war against peace”, and has called on President Santos to step in.

Over-night Petro has moved from divisive mayor to martyr.

Colombia Politics view

Gustavo Petro has been a disastrous mayor; he has misgoverned Colombia`s most important city. He has improvised and failed to deliver the drastic changes and huge investment the capital is in dire need of.  Worse, instead of bringing the city together and governing for all of her 8 million inhabitants, he has polarized and pitted rich against poor and private against public.

This publication has been highly critical of Petro throughout his short time in office. But we recognize that Petro represented change, and had a series of bold proposals which, unfortunately for him, he has been unable or has not had the time to deliver.

As an elected politician Petro was given a mandate to run the city. Yesterday that mandate was taken from him. This is anti-democratic and wrong.

Sovereignty is conferred on politicians by the ballot box, and in all but criminal cases, the judiciary should play second fiddle to the executive.

But those who suggest Ordoñez is simply motivated by ideology would do well to remember he has removed many politicians from office from across the political spectrum.

And Petro`s speech yesterday calling on a revolution and liking Ordoñez`s decision to the bullets that were fired against yesterday`s leaders of the left was also wrong. Now is not the time for public unrest, and Petro`s populist rhetoric is ill-advised and dangerous.

Colombia claims to enjoy the longest running democracy in Latin America. Today that democracy looks to be on rocky ground. Colombians must not take their system for granted.

Picture, El Tiempo

Justin Bieber shows Colombia´s police force is for rich and famous?


Canadian super star Justin Bieber was snapped last night graffiting the streets of Bogota while Colombia´s police force stood guard.

Just two years ago police shot dead a Colombian for doing the same.

Why did the police protect Bieber while he did what they have pursued Colombians for?

According to the annual Transparency International index, 40 per cent of Colombians believe the police force is “extremely corrupt”, and a third have admitted to bribing officers. Last night will not have helped this perception.

Bieber was in Bogota to perform the first leg of his South American tour, and following the concert, the teen sensation, accompanied by his body guards and a police escort, took to the capital’s famous Calle 26 to leave an indelible mark on the Andean nation.

Cameras belonging to local TV station, City TV captured the hoodied multimillionaire painting his form of urban art in an area where local graffiti artists are apparently prohibited from working.

Bieber it seems was not only given preferential treatment, but was aided and abetted by the police. The City TV video clearly shows a police envoy blocking the road giving the pampered star free reign of this major thoroughfare. Police officers were also ordered by Bieber´s bodyguards to disperse the journalists filming the act.

Police chief Palomino appeared on the radio this morning to defend the action of his men. “We have to evolve, graffiti is a form of expression”, he said, while others protested that once again it seemed the police were complicit in the questionable actions of the rich and famous.

Colombia Politics would not take issue with Señor Palomino´s assertion that graffiti can be an art form, and of course it is permitted in certain areas across the city.  But it cannot help the already appalling view Colombians have of their law enforcers that they devoted man hours to permit and protect a foreign star while he did what for Colombians would be prohibited.

Last night´s police action is in sharp contrast to their treatment of Colombian Diego Felipe Becerra who was shot dead by the force in 2011 for graffiting in the north of the city.

The police have also recently come under major fire for their handling of the national strikes in August in which they stand accused of excessive force and blind incompetence.

Santos militarizes Colombia to shut down protests


Colombia`s president, Juan Manuel Santos, has sent 50,000 troops to patrol the streets in a crackdown on violence amid growing protests and hostility to his handling of countrywide rural strikes now into their third week.

Reacting to rioting in Bogota Thursday, in which vandals staged pitched battles against the police in the historic centre and in outlying barrios including Soacha, and Facatativa, Santos took to the airwaves Friday morning to announce the “militarization” of the capital. 8,500 soldiers now marshal Bogota, while the remaining 41,500 guard other hotspots across the country.

Santos claimed the events of Thursday, originally intended as a peaceful march in support of farmers` strikes, had been infiltrated by the FARC through leftist Piedad Cordoba`s Marcha Patriotica movement.

In language reminiscent of hardline former president Alvaro Uribe, Santos promised to stand up to the Marcha Patriotica, and prevent it “from imposing its will on the country “.  The president’s pose seemed more appropriate to an attempted coup de etat than a day of violent protest.

The commander in chief also used the occasion to quit the negotiating table set up with potato farmers in Boyaca; again blaming the FARC for the breakdown in talks.

So what of a solution to the rural crisis? Gestures have so far been made; with a freeze in petrol prices for a month and promises of tax exemptions on products – like fertilizers – vital to the agriculture industry. But with 60% of Colombia`s work force dependent on agro-industry, however, this – and previous – governments have been inexplicably negligent in their search for the reforms to make farmers` work profitable.

As Vice President Angelino Garzon admits, “the rural strike hasn`t lasted just 12 days, but instead has lasted 50 years”.

Since the time of La Violencia when Conservatives and Liberals brutally exterminated each other, the rich and fertile Colombian countryside has been more the nation´s battlefield than its larder. Infrastructure, education, and in some cases even the most basic of needs have gone ignored as Bogota has turned a blind eye to those who put food on her table.

And the protests, do they continue? On Friday night Colombians repeated the “cacerolazo” of the previous days, but this time from the safety of their own homes. Yes, farmers too maintain their strikes, but Santos has managed – for the time being at least – to put a lid on what threatened to explode into a citizens` revolt.

But longer term it will not be as easy to ignore the contempt Colombians have for a political class that appears not only out of touch with the nation, but uninterested in it.

Few disagree with journalist Maria Jimena Duzman´s claim that Colombia`s political parties have failed in their duty to represent the citizens, instead focusing on their own interests.

A country cannot be successfully run this way. President Santos might be able to put a break on protests, but he cannot stop them from emerging again, next month or the month after or the month after that.

In Santos` first year students forced his government to drop elements of a controversial education reform. In his second, a social media campaign humiliated his justice reform bill, and now, three years into his mandate he faces civil unrest.

Santos and the entire political class must wake up and smell the coffee Colombia`s farmers are bankrupting themselves to make.

If Santos wants to be re-elected, he must promise major reform of Colombia`s discredited political class. Do that and he might just win. Fail to do so and he risks being swept off by the turning tide.

Bogota Mayor Petro on ropes as impeachment vote nears


Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro faces the fight of his life to avoid being removed from office in November.

Colombia’s top legal official, Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez  this week opened proceedings against Petro for illegal and irresponsible use of taxpayers’ resources in the ill fated nationalization of Bogota’s garbage collection last December.

At the same time, the unpopular mayor will face a public vote to kick him out after the registry confirmed receipt of nearly 400,000 signatures asking for a referendum to put an end to the former guerrilla’s administration.

Petro is appealing the registry’s decision, claiming many of the signatures are false. Should he lose this battle though, he will have to hope polling figures which over 70 per cent of Bogotanos support his impeachment are wrong. Petro has failed to over turn polls which show overwhelming opposition in almost all policy areas.

To secure Petro’s denouement, campaigners for the referendum, led by Miguel Gomez, grandson of Conservative caudillo former president Laureano Gomez, must mobilize over a million voters. Bogota has over 5 million registered voters; on paper success appears more than a distinct possibility.

The capital’s voters are notoriously unenthused by elections, however, and Gomez, if he his to win, must do so without the support of the major political parties who have refused to throw their weight behind the campaign. Without the party “machinery” it is hard to see that over a fifth of Bogotanos will head to the polls on a Sunday (when elections are called), traditionally a family day, when many head out of the city. Nevertheless, the opposition to the Petro government is fierce, and the mayor is conscious of the humiliation he would face if he were to become the first to be disposed of in this way. Not even the allegedly hideously corrupt Samuel Moreno suffered this fate.

Colombia Politics view

Petro’s defence has predictably argued this is a campaign perpetrated by ring wingers appalled at the sight of a former guerrilla in power. He points to Gomez’s heritage, and to the involvement of Conservative ideologue Ordóñez in the process.

But the majority of Petro’s detractors are not motivated by ideology or hatred for the left. Bogotanos have grown weary of their mayor’s aggressive and confrontational style of governing and many appear to agree with a recent advert that argued, “Petro has a speech for every situation but never a solution”.

Bogota is one of Latin America’s most important cities. For Colombia it is the economic engine, the political and cultural heart of the nation. But Petro stands accused of failing to address the major problems the city faces. His transport policies have arguably led to greater chaos, and his decision to hand garbage collection to the publicly run Bogota water company was disastrously executed. This, coupled with the resignation – at a rate of almost one a month – of top officials in his administration give the appearance of a government struggling not to sink in its own quick sand of incompetence.

The vote to get rid of the mayor will, however, be difficult to win unless Petro takes another misguided policy decision in the coming weeks. When asked, most want Petro out of office, or at least do not support his government. But will this passive dislike turn into votes?

The undesirable reality is that while the campaign is on-going, Petro’s government is grinding to a halt as it diverts resources to a rearguard action. The general in his trapped in his labyrinth.

The last thing Bogota needs is continued inertia and an absent government. If Petro has to go, may he do so quickly and quietly. The city is too important to be reduced to an unpopularity contest.