BOGOTÁ, Colombia -- Thousands of people, once again, began gathering in downtown Bogotá Friday night in support of embattled Mayor Gustavo Petro. But it’s unclear if the public show of force will give him the one thing that might save his job: time.
A month after the Inspector General’s Office ruled that Petro should be fired and banned from politics for 15 years for mishandling waste collection in 2012, the mayor has taken his case to international tribunals and filed an appeal.
He’s hoping he can delay a final judgment from the Inspector General until March 2, when he will face a recall vote.
Sitting in City Hall with the sound of drum-beating marchers outside, Petro said he believes he can win the “no” vote — beating the recall. But he acknowledges that the Inspector General has the power to oust him before then.
“We think we have the majority [to win the recall] but the Inspector General, today, with a decision, can damage the political rights not only of those who want to vote for ‘No’ but those who also want to vote ‘Yes,’” he said. “That’s not democracy.”
The Inspector General’s Office said it has no deadline to rule on the appeal and hasn’t signaled when a decision might be made. Even if Petro did survive the recall, the Inspector General could still oust him, legal analysts say.
The mayor’s troubles began in late 2012 when he ordered the city to take over waste-management contracts, arguing that they were inflated.
But the city botched the transition. In the initial days, tons of garbage was left on the street and the city was forced to use dump trucks because it didn’t have enough garbage trucks.
In December’s ruling, Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez said those changes violated the constitution by not respecting free enterprise and competition, and that the dump trucks fell afoul of the law and environmental regulations.
Almost everyone agrees that Petro mishandled the garbage crisis and his poll numbers had been anemic at best. But the severity of Ordóñez’s punishment, including the 15-year ban from office, outraged many and has led to groundswell of support for Petro, a former presidential candidate.
Last month, the mayor took his case to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and asked the body to take emergency “precautionary measures” in his favor. Earlier this week, the commission asked the government for clarification on Petro’s case, but a decision is still pending.
A former member of the now-defunct M-19 guerrillas, Petro has accused Ordóñez of targeting him for his progressive politics and says his ouster is tantamount to a coup that could have national implications. In particular, he’s suggested the move could have an impact on peace negotiations with the country’s largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, who are mulling putting down their guns to play a role in politics.
Petro said he has no problem being forced out in a recall, but would not go quietly if Ordóñez ousts him first.
“We would leave here and go fill every plaza in the country” and demand constitutional reforms to rein in the Inspector Generals’ power, he said. “There would be no other peaceful option.”