Gustavo Petro’s Dismissal: A Blow to Democracy and Human Rights

(Translated by Susan Tritten, a CSN Volunteer Translator)
Source: IPC

Friday, March 21, 2014
Yhoban Camilo Hernández Cifuentes

The Colombian Government Makes a Serious Break from the Inter-American System of Human Rights to Hand Bogotá over to a Corrupt and Rentier Elite

Gustavo Petro will not let the corrupt public-private scheme against Bogotá Humana (Petro’s development plan for Bogotá, 2012-2016) take effect.

The elite can neither excuse nor permit this, the elite that has governed this country for 200 years, allied in its interests with the leaders of the far right, represented now by Senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez and his major backer, Attorney General Ordóñez. The decision to carry out this sanction, in every way illegitimate, administered by the attorney general, promoted by the whole powerful media circus, and accepted by the national unity parties, which Uribe’s “democratic center,” in the spirit of this government, has joined, ignoring the CIDH’s (Inter-American Court of Human Rights) petition for precautionary measures, demonstrates that they are not willing to permit the real estate business and the obscurantist attorney general to stop governing this country’s “urban projects.” William Vélez, garbage czar, Alberto Ríos, and all the economic interests of the Santos and Uribe Vélez families, through crony capitalism, have influenced the government to back their strategy and give them carte blanche to use the city as their own base of business, and economic and political power, which serves neither democracy nor human rights.

They could not permit Bogotá Humana or human rights to continue in the city; they plotted against this since before Petro came to office.

Bogotá Humana’s dreams, the right to the city for all as a collective human right that surpasses individual human rights, are far from the “right” of the so-called free competition that only sees the city as a juicy, ripe real estate market of land, garbage, and diverse opportunities for personal gain.

As Harvey states in his work on rebel cities,1

The traditional city is dead, assassinated by unrestrained capitalist development, victim of its insatiable necessity to dispose of excess capital, eager for investment in a growing urbanization, swift and unlimited, without considering the possible social, environmental, and political consequences. Our political task, suggested by Lefebvre, consists of imagining and reconstructing a totally different type of city, far from the repugnant chaos created by frenetic, globalized, urbanizing capital (author’s emphasis) . . .The right to the city is therefore much more than individual or collective access to the resources the city accumulates and protects; it is a right to change and reinvent the city according to our wishes. It is, moreover, a right more collective than individual, since the city’s reinvention inevitably depends on the exercise of collective power on the urbanization process. The freedom to invent and reinvent ourselves and our cities is, as I will argue, one of the most precious human rights. Then how can we do it better? (Page 20)

The dismissed–by the elite that concentrates the wealth and power of Colombia in its hands–mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, seems to respond to this question through the untiring work he has carried out during his two years in office not only to cement a democratic coalition with society for a city project that breaks the parameters of rents and accumulation, but defend it from those who would want to sink the project before it begins, from those who, with talk that Petro is a bad mayor and ought to leave, and with types of institutions that do not respect democratic precepts, are able to perpetuate rent-seeking and political power for a few minorities, which permits them to plunder the city for their personal gain.

For that reason, the Colombian state, led by Juan Manuel Santos, is trying to completely erase what Francisco Santos considers the nightmare of Bogotá Humana defended today by Petro, his team, a significant part of society mobilized by shared interests in Bogotá, and the decision that the CIDH has just made demanding preventative measures to protect the political rights of the mayor of Bogotá. Francisco Santos, interested in taking over the destiny of Bogotá on behalf of the elite asserts, “With Petro’s dismissal, the nightmare ends. Now all we have left to do is turn the page, close the chapter; awaken, respond, and clean out the previous administration that destroyed the capital and our wish for a better life.”

Those making up “our” have names: José Obdulio Gaviria, Pacho Santos, Álvaro Uribe, Juan Manuel Santos (the Santos family—200 years in power), their new influential conglomerate and labor leaders such as William Vélez and Alberto Ríos, construction company associations like Camacol, small dictators of communications media such as Darío Arismendi and María Isabel Rueda, and their representative inquisitor in this struggle over the city, Attorney General Alejandro Ordóñez. In reality, this is a nightmare that has permitted them little sleep since the polls in 2011 began to give the advantage to Gustavo Petro to win the popular vote for the mayoralty of Bogotá. Let’s look at some of the medicine they have taken to get rid of the nightmare.

• José Obdulio Gaviria thought he already had the strategy ready to prevent Petro from taking office if he won. On September 21, 2011, he stated, “The candidate for mayor of Bogotá is unsuited in his political aspiration because of the two criminal proceedings he faced in the past, which in accord with the norms of the Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council) leave him out of the race.”2

• María Isabel Rueda, 14 days after the mayor took office, in her column of January 14, 2012, stated, “It is a reality that Petro won the mayoralty by coming close to lying. Ninety-five percent of his proposals were not feasible, as he has demonstrated in the few days he has been in office.”3 (Author’s emphasis)

• Before completing his first year in office, Representative Miguel Gómez was already preparing a recall referendum for Petro with a speech in which he attempted to impose an ideological assessment with the phrases “he doesn’t know how to govern,” “he is not a manager,” and “ he violates free competition.” This last argument is what really gets to those who see themselves as the owners of Bogotá. Thus, in his decision to dismiss Petro, a popularly elected mayor, Attorney General Ordóñez stated that Petro “violated the constitutional principles of free enterprise and competition.”

• Another strong issue that obstructed the business of the elites was the decree of the Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial, or POT (Land Management Plan), which caused several Bogotá trade associations to unite in bringing proceedings against the POT.4

• The last three months have deepened the struggle between the defense of democracy and political rights, led by the mayor and activist citizens, and the rentier class, represented mainly through agencies such as the Consejo de Estado (Council of State) as well as through the attorney general’s office.

• All the above were attempts to strengthen the investigation by the Superintendencia de Industria y Comercio (Department of Industry and Commerce) of the “possible violation of free competition in the design, execution, and implementation of the new plan for sanitation services.” According to reports, the agency “opened the investigation after several private operators lodged complaints when they saw their right to free competition violated when the mayor Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, decided that the EAAB (Empresa de Acueducto y Alcatarillado de Bogotá—the Drainage and Sewer Company) would manage garbage collection in the city.” Information from the newspaper El tiempo states, “Nine high officials in Bogotá, including the dismissed mayor, Gustavo Petro, are very close to a fine that could surpass 62 billion pesos. This is deduced from confidential information that German Bacca, a representative to the Protección de la Competencia (Antitrust) section of the Superintendencia de Industria y Comercio, put together. According to Bacca, the mayor, as a member of the board of directors of the Empresa de Acueducto y Alcantarillado of Bogotá (EAAB), committed restrictive, obstructive, and exclusionary practices through the implementation of the new plan for sanitation services. The report reads: “They used practices and procedures that they put into practice to limit the continuation of present companies in Bogotá’s sanitation market.”5

Finally, they could not permit this scheme, which they had been planning since before Petro was legitimately elected as mayor, to come to nothing through the implementation of the CIDH decision. “The commission petitions the government of Colombia to immediately suspend the effects of the decision of December 9, 2013, issued and ratified by the Procuraduría General de la Nación (the attorney general’s office) on January 13, 2014, in order to guarantee the fulfillment of the political rights of Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego and the completion of the term for which he was elected as mayor of the city of Bogotá D. C. on October 30, 2011, until the CIDH has pronounced a decision on his personal petition.” (El espectador, March 19, 2014). For this reason the president- candidate Santos broke the tradition of complying with the measures of the Inter-American system of human rights and created a serious turning point for the defense of complete human rights for persons and territories. In spite of the fact that the Corte Constitucional (Constitutional Court) has traced the precedent to show that cautionary measures issued by the CIDH are immediately binding, a practice that was endorsed in sentence T – 558 in 2003 (see the article “Medidas cautelares emitidas por la CIDH tienen efecto vinculante,” El espectador, March 19, 2014). “The Corte Constitucional determined that juridical acts issued by international organs should be accepted immediately.” The president-candidate is landing a tremendous blow to democracy and human rights.

Perhaps this antidemocratic and rentier plot is provoked because, while Petro’s proposal may take away a portion of their business in Bogotá and return to the public part of that expropriated from private interests, the larger problem is the extent the influence of Bogotá Humana’s model could have beyond the capital. In one conversation quoted between representatives of the communications media and Alberto Ríos, they affirm that one of their worries is “if Petro’s plan works, the asshole will become president.”6

William Ospina analyzed this possibility in his column in El espectador, stating:

“We all know the reason. The office of mayor of Bogotá is a training ground for future presidents of the republic. They cannot permit someone who belongs solidly to the opposition to be successful in the second most important office in the country. Thus began a sleepless and laborious campaign to discredit the mayor, a vigilant effort to find a way to bring him down. He hadn’t been in office a year, and they were already implementing a recall campaign, supposedly because he had not carried out his program.

But nothing has inspired more resistance in certain sectors than Petro’s attempts to find a way to put his governmental programs into effect. Because his model differs from the one that has been applied in the city for many years and although the left has governed several times, none of those mayors attempted to defy the power of the companies that manage the large metropolitan businesses; he has not been ignorant of the resistance they are willing to use to oppose whoever might want to open the way for other interests in the community.”

María Soledad Betancur Betancur

Directora del Observatorio de Derechos Humanos del IPC (Director of Human Rights Observatory of the International Peace Commission)

1 Harvey, David (2012). Ciudades Rebeldes. Available at:
2 Gustavo Petro está inhabilitado: José Obdulio Gaviria. Available at: 21 de 2011.
3 La paja de Petro. María Isabel Rueda. Enero 14 de 2012. Available at:
4 Gremios se unen para demandar el POT decretado por Petro. 17 de septiembre de 2013. Available at: – 13068735.html
5 El Alcalde de Bogota está a punto de recibir millonaria sanción. Febrero 6 de 2014. Available at:
6 Hector Pineda. (SF) “Si el esquema de Petro funciona, el huevón queda presidente”: Alberto Ríos. Available at:

(This translation may be reprinted as long as its content remains unaltered and the source, author and translator are cited.)

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