Bogotá Mayor Dismissed, Barred from Politics Over Imperfect Trash Collection

Bogotá's Mayor Gustavo Petro riding a waste collector truck, part of his 'Basura Cero' (Zero Trash) programme. Photo shared by Bogotá Humana on Flickr under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Bogotá's Mayor Gustavo Petro on a waste collector truck from his ‘Basura Cero’ (Zero Trash) programme. Photo shared by Bogotá Humana on Flickr under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Colombia's Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado announced through a press release [es] that his office dismissed Bogota's Mayor Gustavo Petro and banned him from public office for 15 years.

Though the decision did not come as a surprise for most Colombians, the reaction on social networks divided the country on these two controversial public figures: Ordóñez, 58, a staunch Catholic opposed to gay rights, abortion, and the current peace talks with FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in Havana; and Petro, 53, a former guerrilla fighter of the M-19 group, praised for his combativeness as a Congressman and his social policies, but criticized for being populist and authoritarian as mayor of the country's capital.

The Inspector General's official YouTube account shared a video [es] of the announcement:

The incident for which Petro has been dismissed happened a year ago, when he decided not to renew the licences granted to private companies for rubbish collection, wishing to take back the service and promote recycling [es]. But garbage compacting trucks rented in the United States for the mayor's “Basura Cero” (zero trash) programme were still in customs and did not arrive on time. Over the course of three days, trash bags were all over the streets of the city. Eventually, Petro had to silently extend the licenses for three of the four private companies formerly responsible for waste collection, while at the same time contracting the public water company (Empresa de Acueducto y Alcantarillado de Bogotá, in Spanish) for some of the trash collection.

The inspector general believed that Petro “consciously” ordered “two companies without any experience, knowledge, and capacity” (the public water company and the spun-off entity “Aguas de Bogotá”) to pick up the rubbish, implemented an “unlawful” new model for trash collection breaking “the constitutional principles of free enterprise and competition,” decisions which Petro knew were “irregular,” and that he dealt with the emergency by using dumper trucks for trash collection, which is not allowed. The complete ruling has not been published yet.

Despite all this, many see the decision as political, given the opposite sides in which Ordóñez and Petro fall in the political spectrum. The severity of the ban contrasts with the mild sanction handed down to Petro's predecessor, Samuel Moreno Rojas, who was only suspended by Ordóñez for a corruption scandal (he would later be sent to prison).

On Twitter, user Daniel Arango praised Inspector General Ordóñez:

I've already said it and will always repeat it; Alejandro Ordóñez is the best public servant in Colombia. Standing ovation. #byePetro

But Juan Camilo Dávila regretted the decision:

In Colombia, being left-wing, winning an election and ruling as a left-wing politician has just been declared a disciplinary offence.

In 2010-2011 alone, the Office of the Inspector General disciplined [es] 302 mayors and 29 governors. The following year, it punished [es] 258 mayors, 177 town and city councillors, nine governors, five senators, two department deputies, and one legislator from the House of Representatives. As of November 2012, Ordóñez (in office since 2009 and re-elected through 2017) has imposed sanctions [es] on 22 congresspeople from political parties across the spectrum.

María Isabel Ángel questioned:

The Inspector General has for a long time dismissed many people elected by popular vote. Why does it bother you that he does that with Petro?

The discussion over the powers granted in the Constitution to the Inspector General has just begun [es]. Juan Manuel Reyes (@machecor) stated [es]:

La Procuraduría en las manos de Alejandro Ordóñez se ha convertido en una inquisición que busca a cual más imponer las visiones de su jefe, en vez de convertirse en el supuesto vigilante de la función pública.

The Inspector General's Office in the hands of Alejandro Ordóñez has become an inquisition eagerly seeking to impose the views of its boss, instead of becoming the supposed guardian of public service.

Andrés Segura made several points (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6):

1. Si un funcionario viola la ley, y toma decisiones que perjudican a la sociedad dolosamente, los órganos de control SI deben actuar.
2. El voto popular NO es un comodín que garantiza impunidad cuando se viola la ley.
3. Lo feo de lo de hoy es como los órganos de control se ensañan para beneficiarse políticamente y no ejercen su labor con todos.
4. “Mal de muchos consuelo de tontos”: Que haya muchos funcionarios que la embarren no quita que alguno deba ser castigado.
5. El uso político de los órganos de control es un pésimo antecedente para la democracia.
6. 15 años me parece desproporcionado. Y eso no es justificación para llamar a la “movilización social” así sea “pacífica”

1. If a public employee breaks the law, and intentionally makes decisions harmful to society, the regulatory bodies MUST act.
2. Popular vote IS NOT a wild card guaranteeing impunity when breaking the law.
3. The ugly thing about today is how regulatory bodies take advantage in order to profit politically and they don't do their job with everyone.
4. “Two in distress make sorrow less”: just because there are many public employees screwing up doesn't mean that someone shouldn't be punished.
5. The political use of regulatory bodies is a lousy precedent for democracy.
6. 15 years is disproportionate to me. And that's not a justification for calling for a “social mobilisation” even if it's “peaceful”

After claiming [es] that the decision was a “coup d'état”, Mayor Petro called people to support him by going to the Plaza de Bolívar in downtown Bogotá. Meanwhile, the building of the Inspector General's Office was closed and surrounded by the anti-riot police. Around 19:00, Petro made a speech [es] stating that his dismissal was arbitrary, relating it to the political participation of the left, and making allusions to Cairo's Tahrir Square.

User Rodolfo Otero uploaded Petro's speech [es] to YouTube:

Some users criticized the speech:

When Petro invites [people to turn] Plaza de Bolívar into Tahrir [Square], he's ignoring the same democracy which elected three consecutive left-wing mayors.

If Petro is dismissed by his guerrilla past, why has Antonio Navarro [former commandant and leader of guerilla group turned political party M-19] been able to complete his terms by popular vote?

But others supported it:

Strong speech by Petro. Necessary.

Petro called [es] for another mobilisation on 10 December, the day after his dismissal. He may remain in office while the ruling is appealed (before the same Inspector General), but he could also decide to defend himself out of office. It is not quite clear [es] if elections should be called, though it is the most likely scenario [es]. Petro's term was due to end 31 December 2015.

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