“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

Colombian Greens and Progresistas merge to unite the left?


Colombia`s Green Party signs a agreement to join forces with Gutavo Petro`s Progresistas. An alliance of the left? Christian Ortiz wonders how it might work.

Can you imagine the Progressives, the Green Party, and Compromiso Ciudadano together in one party? For many, it would be like mixing oil and water! However, recently the three political movements approved a general consensus to begin negotiations to form a coalition.

Despite obvious ideological differences among the three groups, it seems they are all set on joining forces to go up against an eventual Santos reelection bid. Conditions couldn’t be better; President Santos and ex president Uribe are more divided than ever; Santos’ popularity rating has plunged to an all time low; and a very unstable and questionable economic model has left the country virtually paralyzed. Such is the context in which Antonio Navarro Wolff has set out to build an alternative political option for Colombia.

Early negotiations between the three movements have faced skepticism from all sides of the political spectrum, questioning the viability of placing leaders such as Gustavo Petro (Progresistas), Sergio Fajardo (Compromiso Ciudadano), and Enrique Peñalosa (PartidoVerde) under one single banner.

Political coalitions have been extremely successful in South America, however, and it may be a headache worth enduring. Progressives, Green Party and Compromiso Ciudadano joining together could be the start of something much more solid. Picture a Frente Amplio criollo – if you will – dedicated to the Constitution of 1991, but willing to enhance democracy by empowering the people. But also picture a broad coalition that could stand to defend diversity in order to collectively develop a more humane future for Colombia.

We have seen in Uruguay, its Frente Amplio win the last two presidential elections, and as Jose Pepe Mujica is winding down his current term, the coalition is already working together to secure a third presidential mandate. Frente Amplio of Uruguay has been able to unite diverse sectors like the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Socialists, Communists, and even some Liberals. We have also seen center-left coalitions succeed recently in Ecuador and Venezuela.

Although Navarro Wolff seems to have set out to seduce the center parties first, he has revealed that ideally a next stepwill permit an accord with the parties and diverse social movements of the left. For the former M-19 Commandant, and ex Governor of Nariño, one thing is clear; “If we want to be a competitive option, we have to construct a diverse coalition, if not, Santos will easily defeat us, like a knife going through butter.”

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.

Colombia: On the path to social transformation?


Guest piece by Christian Ortiz in response to a Colombia Politics editorial critical of Bogotá Mayor, Gustavo Petro

Over the past decade, we have become accustomed to hearing daring stories of struggle for political, social, and economic reform throughout Latin America. Recently, the renowned Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón stated in recognition that, “The world’s future is being constructed in Latin America.”

In contrast, Colombia has always been viewed as a Conservative stronghold, and a staunch U.S. ally, for which it became known by its neighbors as the “Cain of the Americas.” Nonetheless, over the past year, Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá has become the scenario of an audacious progressive spring.

Elected city Mayor back in November of 2011, Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla fighter of the 19th of April Movement (M-19) and Founder of the independent political Progressive Movement (Progresistas), has set out to demonstrate that Colombia too can jump on the social justice bandwagon that we have seen travel throughout Latin America in recent years. Is Colombia on the path to a democratic social transformation?  Could Colombia be the next country to become part of the Latin American Pink Tide?

Even though Petro recently completed his first year in office, he has been able to bring about substantial change for the city. His administration has made a historic dent in homicide rates, reducing it from a whopping 22.1cases per 100,000 habitants in 2011, to 14.4 in 2013, their lowest in over 34 years. Along with homicide rates, suicide rates have fallen by 12.6%, while bank, house and other commercial robberies have also dropped by almost 30%. Furthermore, the locality of Antonio Nariño, located in the south of Bogotá has gone 200 days without one single homicide in their community. According to the local mayor of that community, Giovanni Monroy Pardo, this milestone wouldn’t have been possible without Petro’s citywide ban on carrying weapons. For Jairo Libreros, a well known security expert analyst, and skeptic of Petro’s administration, “policies like these allow firearms to have less and less influence in times of conflict resolution.”

Petro’s administration, also known as Bogotá Humana, has additionally set out to bring an end to widespread animal violence, by banning all bull fights from the capital city. At the historic bullfighting ring located in the heart of Bogotá, Plaza Santamaría, blood baths and animal cruelty are a thing of the past. Now, an arena full of life, art and culture, this plaza has hosted more than 30,000 people for more family friendly venues such as free ice skating, an opera festival and a massive youth chess tournament. Bogotá’s progressive government has also initiated efforts to eliminate torturous animal-drawn vehicles from transiting its streets. By kick starting an alternative vehicle substitution program, Petro hopes to take in around 3,000 horses, and in exchange, offer the former buggy drivers incentives to acquire small modern motorized cargo vehicles. So far, some 450 horses have been turned in to authorities, where they’ve received medical treatment, a temporary home, and a renewed hope to be lined up with a new family through an animal adoption agency.

But for the 53 year old mayor who originates from a small coastal town called Ciénaga de Oro, it’s the fight against social inequality and discrimination that occupies the very top of his agenda. Already, Petro has created the first ever Sub Secretary for LGBT affairs, along with doubling the district’s education budget. Petro then boldly slashed water bills for Bogotá’s most underserved families’ by granting discounts of up to almost 30%.

Whereas costs for transportation are going up everywhere else in the world, Petro, by decree, lowered the cost for public transportation users in the city. Petro argues that by lowering the cost of living for most of Bogota’s underserved communities, they will have more flexibility to allocate funds to bettering their living conditions, thus tightening the gap between the most rich and poor. Back in 2002, the GINI index for Bogotá was at 0.58, making it one of the most unequal cities in the world. Last year that ratio found itself at 0.49, meaning it fell ten points over the past decade. During Petro’s first year alone, the city’s GINI index has dropped three points. According to the Mayor, Bogotá has been able to reduce its inequality “not because the wealthy have become less wealthy, but because the poor have increased their own wealth” (Petro, 2013).

But like any other struggle for social justice, Bogotá Humana has met a fierce resistance. Petro has not only set out to transform the capital city of Colombia, but he has also set out to rebuild a city recently hit by a tornado of corruption that led to the ousting and incarceration of his predecessor. Petro’s unorthodox and progressive style of leadership has earned himself a very staunch and powerful conservative opposition in the city council, private sector, and different State institutions. His opponents, including much of the private media seem unified to smother Petro’s image, and Bogotá’s progressive spring along with it. Conservative opposition groups recently collected 600,000 plus signatures in efforts to revoke Petro’s democratic mandate as Mayor. If national authorities approve the signatures, Bogotá would undergo a referendum vote to decide Petro’s future at the Liévano Palace. Only time will tell how this story ends.

Bogotá under Petro is beginning to revive itself, because of the achievements mentioned above, and for the many more that were left out of this article. For now, let it be known that one of the most significant, daring, and poetic attempts to democratically transform society is at stake in the city, turned battleground, of Bogotá. With Presidential elections just around the corner, the success, or failure of Petro’s Progressive movement may very well determine the future path of Colombia.

Christian Ortiz, is a graduate student of International Affairs at Universidad Externado de Colombia

Photo: Agustin Fagua