Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Adiós Petro?

'Petro Stays, Damnit!' says a poster at a pro-Petro march this afternoon. 
How much longer will Mayor Gustavo Petro govern Bogotá?

Petro's first challenge was a recall referendum. Petro first tried to stop the recall, then said he would not try to stop the vote from going forward, and then mounted a series of legal challenges, which look likely to create long delays for the vote. (But today Petro lost in two court challenges to the recall.)

Petro has battled the recall referendum despite the fact that it appears unlikely to succeed. Petro may not win a popularity contest, but his opponents will have a hard time fulfilling the voter participation requirement for a special election. By opposing the recall referendum, Petro also looks like a hypocrite, since he participated in the 1991 Constitutional Convention which wrote the right to a recall into Colombia's Constitution.

Bogotá's vacant La Santamaria bullring. If Petro goes,
bullfighting may return here.
Petro also added a threatening note by saying that, if he is recalled, it could cause a response like the one which followed ex-dictator Gustavo Rojas Pinillas' controversial 1970 presidential election defeat. After official results gave a narrow victory to a conservative candidate, the supporters of Rojas Pinilla - then a populist, nationalist figure - cried fraud and founded the M-19 guerrillas, of whom Petro was a leader. Petro's comment is disturbing and worrisome coming from a man who supposedly abandoned the insurgency and decided to work within the democratic system.

But now Petro faces a more immediate
Cyclists on Ave. Septima. If Petro goes, the pedestrianization
of La Septima and the city's bike-lending
program probably will, too.
threat. Attorney General Alejandro Ordoñez wants to oust Petro for incompetence. Petro has certainly made mistakes, in particular involving last year's reorganization of the city's trash collection system, which resulted in huge piles of garbage on streetcorners and sidewalks late last year.

But if mishandling city policies were a legitimate basis for removing a mayor, then few city halls would be staffed today. Rather, Petro should have to pay at the polls next year for the garbage problem. It's hard to ignore the fact that Ordoñez is an arch conservative who would undoubtedly sigh with relief if Petro, an ex-leader of the M-19 guerrilla group, were ousted from office.

Petro has until Nov.6 to respond to Ordoñez's charges against him.

Petro has alienated voters in other ways, with a controversial urban land-use plan and new tax liens for infrastructure projects. He's also created allies, including animal rights supporters, who appreciate his decision to stop bullfighting and bicyclists, who like the fact that part of Ave. Septima is closed to cars.

But Petro's suporters can't measure up to his powerful opponents.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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