The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) has finally stepped into a two-month long dispute over whether Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro should lose his job over a 2012 trash-collection scandal. The CIDH sent Petro a letter asking the mayor to state his case. The letter asked seven questions of the former guerrilla-turned politician about the current state of the dispute, the time frame of the ongoing dismissal process, President Juan Manuel Santos’ role, and a potential constitutional court ruling.
Specific questions included, “What is the current state of the decision handed down by the Inspector General and, effectively, could the said decision be suspended? What would be the timeline that the executive would have to carry out the decision of the Inspector General for there to still exist a revocation by the High Court of the State?”
The letter was signed by Emilio Alvarez-Icaza, General Secretary of the CIDH.
The now real possibility of an intervention by the CIDH might provide the political pressure and the international weight to keep the mayor in office and strike fear into the heart of the nation’s Inspector General, who would have to answer for his actions if found to have violated human rights.
This news comes at long last for Petro and his supporters, who have been hoping that an international human rights organization would step in to assert that Inspector General Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez had crossed a line when in December 2013 he ordered for the mayor to be removed from his position and banned from holding political office for 15 years.
Ordoñez carried out this harsh punishment after Petro converted Bogota’s garbage removal contracts from private to public services in 2012. This allegedly resulted in 9,920 tons of uncollected garbage on the streets of Colombia’s capital.
After an initial appeal, a striking down of that appeal, a judge putting a hold on the Inspector General’s decision, and then the disregarding of that hold, Gustavo Petro had all but admitted defeat late last week announcing that the story had finished for the moment, and that he anticipated leaving office January 30.
One of the few chances that Petro has left–short of President Santos stepping up to his defense, a political risk that Santos might not be willing to take in an election year–is this human rights commission declaring that Ordoñez has abused his power as Inspector General and violated international human rights law by inappropriately dismissing a democratically elected official. The commission does not allow political prohibition without due process.
This could open pandora’s box for the Inspector General and his office, which has caused the political death of over 800 public officials by using an equally firm hand.
Profile: Alejandro Ordoñez
Meanwhile, Mayor Petro, who was once a relatively unpopular mayor, has enjoyed a meteoric rise in positive public opinion due to this scandal, becoming a martyr in the eyes of many leftist and liberal supporters. Now he is the most popular mayor in Colombia.
The clock is ticking on this case as Ordoñez is expected to make a definitive ruling on Wednesday, yet this case seems far from over. For now, Bogota and Colombia will wait to see what conclusions the CIDH draws in the coming days.
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