Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro calls for permanent protests if removed from office
Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro raised the possibility of permanent protests if Colombia´s inspector general goes ahead and fires him from office.
“We need to gather for the largest protest in the history of Bogotá – which will be permanent – on the day that the prosecutor ratifies his arbitrary decision,” Petro said Friday night in a fiery, defiant speech in Bogotá´s Plaza de Bolívar.
Petro attacked Colombia´s Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez for firing him for alleged mismanagement of the city´s garbage collection systems.
Ordóñez claimed Petro – a former M-19 guerrilla leader turned politician – endangered the health of Bogotá residents and violated principles of free market economics when he brought garbage collection into the public sphere in December 2012.
Friday´s protest was the fourth massive demonstration by Petro supporters since it was announced in December that he would be removed from office.
Petro challenged Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to allow Bogotá voters to decide whether he keeps his job. Petro also faces a vote in early March as the result of a recall campaign his opponents have organized in another attempt to remove him from office.
Petro – who made his mark in Colombian politics exposing massive corruption and government connections with paramilitaries – charged his opponents are attempting to toss him from office so they can resume their corruption.
In an apparent reference to Ordóñez´s strict Catholic beliefs which often guide his decisions, Petro charged his opponents want “government officials who in the day kneel and pray in front of the Virgin Mary and in the evening sign contracts with the mafia.”
He said the battle was not to protect his personal career – which includes a ban from politics for 15 years – but to protect Colombian democracy.
“That is why we need to gather for the largest protest in the history of Bogotá – which will be permanent – on the day that the prosecutor ratifies his arbitrary decision.”
He repeated allegations that the private garbage contractors ordered employees to leave tons of garbage in the street to sabotage his plan to have public collection.
Colombia´s national prosecutor now is investigating those allegations and that the Ordóñez met secretly with Petro´s enemies so they could prepare to replace Petro even before he made his disciplinary decision public.
Petro is fighting his removal on a number of fronts. He has petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to overturn the decision. And he has also unsuccessfully asked Santos to intervene, and unsuccessfully challenged Ordóñez´s right to hear decide his appeal.
Petro on many occasions suggested the battle to control Bogotá would impact Colombia nationally.
“If they can do this in Bogotá, what will happen in the rest of the country?” Petro asked the crowd of tens of thousands.
“What they are removing is democracy and liberty,” Petro said. “It´s not Petro´s problem, it´s the democracy that we need to save.”
Petro suggested Ordóñez could sign the order removing him as mayor as early as next week “believing he is following the law of god.” Ordóñez has also been a rigid opponent of gay rights and women´s rights to abortion.
The tens of thousands who gathered in Plaza de Bolivár stood in silence for one minute to pay their respects to Gerson Martínez a hip hop artist, poet , graffiti artist and local Petro organizer who was found murdered last week. Next to his body was a “Bogotá Humana” banner, Petro´s slogan for making Bogotá a safer, better place to live.
Petro did have one certain victory. He was allowed to make his dramatic speech from the palace balcony, despite earlier reports city architects were going to bar him from the historic stage, because of concerns it would not support the weight of he and his entourage.
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