The Internal Affairs Office chief’s finding against [Bogotá mayor Gustavo] Petro could become the drop that overflows the cup of his growing power. Because while that of the Mayor of Bogotá is the firing that has generated the most reactions, [Alejandro] Ordoñez has disqualified dozens of mayors, including those of four of the five principal cities, for issues that didn’t seem so serious.
By Juanita León in the Colombian online journalism website La Silla Vacía.
The Colombian government’s Internal Affairs Office (Procuraduría) is an odd construct. It is a separate branch of government that investigates public officials for wrongdoing. While the Office cannot send officials to jail, it can fire them and ban them from holding office.
The current Procurador, Alejandro Ordóñez, is in his second term. He is one of the most conservative figures in Colombian politics, a fierce opponent of abortion, gay marriage, and President Juan Manuel Santos’s negotiations with the FARC guerrillas. The church he attends belongs to a dissident Catholic order, the “Society of St. Pius X,” which was founded in 1970 to reject the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
As Internal Affairs Office chief, Alejandro Ordóñez has demonstrated a zeal for firing and suspending mayors, especially those who do not share his political views. As Juanita León points out, he has fired a mayor of Bogotá “for ineptitude;” banned a Medellín mayor from politics for his statements about the criminal ties of a candidate to succeed him; suspended a Cali mayor for 6 months after he failed to attend a social policy advisory meeting; fired a Bucaramanga mayor for a contracting procedural matter; and retroactively suspended a Cartagena mayor for allegedly selling a stretch of beachfront to a hotel.
But today, Alejandro Ordónez took his most audacious step yet.
He abruptly fired Gustavo Petro, a demobilized guerrilla (member of the M-19, which negotiated peace in 1990) who since January 2012 has been mayor of Bogotá, Colombia’s capital and the 5th largest city in the Western Hemisphere. Petro made his name politically as a senator who denounced connections between supporters of rightwing President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) and paramilitary death squads.
Today, Ordoñez kicked out Gustavo Petro, effective immediately, and banned him from politics for 15 years. The decision cannot be appealed.
The pretext is Petro’s December 2012 effort to de-privatize trash collection, which the mayor argued was firmly in the hands of organized crime. The resulting transition went badly, with trash piling up on the city’s streets for several days. But very few in Colombia’s media are making the case today that the crisis was severe enough to justify firing the mayor.
Ordoñez’s move could hardly appear more ideologically motivated: an ultraconservative in a position of (bizarrely) unappealable power acting unilaterally to take down the country’s most prominent leftist politician.
The message for Colombia’s peace process is poisonous. Gustavo Petro and the FARC guerrillas are not friends: the FARC have attacked him as a sellout, and Petro has criticized their extremism and human rights abuses. But today, the guerrillas’ leaders—many of them eyeing their own possible demobilization and future participation in politics—just got a good look at what happens to leftist politicians who try to operate within the system.
Here the center — including the president — must negotiate with the owners of power out in the regions. The state has never been able to exercise normal control over large parts of the country, and that creates an enormous vacuum, where there’s a lack of law, public policy, infrastructure. … This country functions in a very particular way. For example, in La Silla Vacía there was an article about how last Christmas President Santos went to Cartagena to eat sancocho with Piedad Zuccardi. Everyone knew that she was in trouble with the law. So, what was the President doing with her? The answer is that he was insuring his power in Bolívar department. Another example is the late Víctor Renán Barco. In Bogotá, he’d go around with The Economist under his arm, but in La Dorada he was the classic incarnation of a vote-buyer. I find this paradox very interesting, and it could be the origin of a response to the question of why Colombia never gets out of its troubles.