Bogotá stand-off amid renewed repression

Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro, ordered to step down last month by Colombia's Prosecutor General Alejandro Ordóñez, won a reprieve Jan. 14, when Magistrate José Armenta of the Supreme Tribunal of Cundinamarca department ruled that the order should not be carried out until it has been established that it complied with the law. Petro, who is allowed to remain in office while the case is on appeal, responded to the ruling by saying "justice had won." But Ordóñez did not say that he would honor the court's ruling, and Petro told supporters in the Plaza de Bolívar just one week later that he believed he will be ordered to step down by the end of January. He suggested he would acquiesce, saying: "This is the final week; this story is over." (Caracol Radio, Jan. 23; BBC News, Jan. 15; El Tiempo, Jan. 14)

On Jan. 18, four days after his decision, Judge Armenta requested urgent protective measures from the authorities, saying he had received threats in reprisal for his ruling. He said that his wife Cecilia Calderón had also been threatened. Calderón was identified in the press as a director of the Bogotá Aqueduct, Drainage and Sewer Company (EAB)—the same public entity that Petro last year awarded the city's first centralized sanitation contract to, sparking the crisis. Ordóñez charged that a bidding process including private firms had been improperly by-passed, and ordered Petro to step down. The order also barred him from holding public office for 15 years. Petro, a populist and former rebel leader with the M-19 guerrilla group, said the order was politically motivated, and rallied his supporters to occupy Plaza de Bolívar. (Prensa Latina, Jan. 18; El Tiempo, Jan. 17)

Bogotá's Metropolitan Police are meanwhile investigating claims of a politically motivated attack by police agents on a member of Colombia’s leftist Unión Patriotica political party. UP leaders said police raided the local party headquarters in Bogotá's Teusaquillo district Jan. 20, and attacked one of the workers there, brutally beating him while calling him "communist." Founded 30 years ago by demobilized followers of the FARC guerillas, th UP has historically been a target of state-sponsored political violence. Longtime party leader Aida Avella, who announced the attack at a press conference, is the UP's first presidential candidate in 16 years. (Colombia Reports, Jan. 23)

The Metropolitan Police are a unit of Colombia's National Police, and under the command of the National Defense Ministry, not Bogotá's mayor.

Bogotá stand-off continues —and paramilitary threats

As of now, Mayor Gustavo Petro remains in office, with Prosecutor General Alejandro Ordóñez apparently gambling that he will not survive a recall referendum organized by the city's right-wing opposition. The referendum was originally slated for March 2, but this week Colombia's treasury, the Ministerio de Hacienda, announced that it would be indefinitely postponed because there is no budget available for it. Petro charges this is a subterfuge to allow the opposition more time to campaign against him, and that if the vote were held on schedule, he would win a "thunderous victory." (Prensa Latina, Europa Press, Feb. 12; AP, Feb. 11)

Threats against Petro and his supporters also continue. Left-opposition lawmaker Iván Cepeda last week received an e-mail signed in the name of the Capital Bloc of the Águilas Negras paramilitary group, demanding: "Retire from politics or die, terrorist!" It added: "We also accuse those who are defending the terrorist mayor Petro and attacking the Señor Prosecutor. Colombia is democratic, and we will win the peace without terrorists, nor communists! Petro's head will roll, and we will play football wth it!" (Polo Crítico, Feb. 5)
 

Colombian president orders removal of Bogotá mayor

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ignored a ruling of an international court March 19 and signed off on the controversial impeachment of Bogota's embattled mayor, Gustavo Petro. Following the signing of the decree, Santos took to the airwaves to state that the removal of the mayor of the country’s capital was consistent with all Colombian laws and that international law did not apply. With his decision, Santos ignored a clear ruling issued earlier on Wednesday by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR), ordering the Colombian government to keep Petro in office. (Colombia Reports, March 19)