Bogotá's left-wing mayor Gustavo Petro assumed office on 1 January 2012
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Mayor of the Month for June 2012
Mayor of Bogotá
Profile by Adriana Maciel
with research by Alidad Vassigh
2 June 2012: The election of former guerrilla Gustavo Petro as Bogotá mayor has raised hopes among Colombians that 50 years of civil war might be coming to an end. Petro, who assumed his new post on 1 January 2012, fought as a young man with the now defunct leftist M-19 rebel movement and later, as Colombian senator, became the most outspoken opponent of right-wing president Alvaro Uribe. Gustavo Petro’s hefty plurality in the Bogotá mayoral race represented a stunning victory for Colombia's democratic process and a severe setback for US Latin American policies promoted by presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama.
Update 24 April 2014: Following a court decision, Colombian President Santos has re-instated Mayor Gustavo Petro.
Update 21 March 2014: The Colombian President has confirmed the dismissal of Mayor Petro despite a ruling to the contrary by Inter-American Human Rights Commission
Update 9 December 2013: The Colombian Inspector General has sacked Mayor Gustavo Petro over alleged mismanagement. The mayor called the order a coup d'état and announced an appeal.
• The making of Gustavo Petro
• Opposition to President Alvaro Uribe
• Opposition to FARC
• Mayor of Bogota
Former guerrilla and later diplomat, Mayor Gustavo Petro was born in Cienaga de Oro, Córdoba, Colombia, in 1960. He is a graduate in economics from the Externado University of Colombia. He specialised in public administration at the School of Public Administration ESAP and gained an MA in economics at Javeriana University. He later studied Environment and Population Development at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, and afterwards was awarded a PhD in New Trends in Business Administration by Salamanca University, Spain.
From 1990 to 1991 Gustavo Petro was adviser to the provincial government of Cundinamarca and later in that decade served as a diplomatic attaché at the Colombian Embassy in Belgium. Petro has been successful in several legislative elections - including the office of senator, on behalf of the Alternative Democratic Pole (ADP), in 2006. In 2009 he resigned his seat to run for the presidency of Colombia in the 2010 elections as candidate for the ADP. After achieving a credible fourth place in the elections, Petro left the party and on 30 October 2011 was elected Mayor of Bogota on behalf of the Progressive Movement for a three-year term, starting 1 January 2012.
The making of Gustavo Petro
As a teenager Gustavo Petro joined the guerilla organisation M-19*, which had its stronghold in the city of Zipaquirá. In 1981, aged of 21, Petro served as a spokesman for the city of Zipaquirá and later, between 1984 and 1986, was an independent councillor for the city.
During his 10 years with the guerrillas, Petro contributed to the construction of a neighbourhood in Zipaquirá, where he lived for two years with the poorest of families. With them he built homes and led the installation of public services through communal construction in what was known as the Bolivar 83 district.
Owing to the growing strength of the popular movement in Zipaquirá, led by the young Petro, his persecution was inevitable despite M-19 by then being a legal party. In October 1985 the neighbourhood was the victim of brutal military repression. Petro was arrested under a siege decree that took away his freedom and human rights enshrined under the Constitution of 1886. Petro was in custody for almost two years on the say-so of a Republican general.
While in jail Gustavo Petro spent his time teaching, reading and writing to hundreds of prisoners. Once freed, he established links with the guerilla leader turned politician, Gustavo Carlos Pizarro, and the former M-19 commander and now governor of Narino, Antonio Navarro, in an effort to build peace in Colombia. After the assassination of Carlos Pizarro during the presidential elections of 1990 (Pizarro was a candidate), Petro and Navarro won the elections of the Constituent National Assembly and drafted the 1991 Constitution, which is still in force and became the main platform for Petro’s 2010 bid for the presidency.
Opposition to President Alvaro Uribe
As a senator (Juy 2006 to July 2010), Petro led the opposition to the government of Alvaro Uribe, denouncing government actions as well as their political allies. In 2005, as a congressman, Petro reported that the betting entrepreneur Enilse Lopez, who is being investigated for alleged ties to the extreme right paramilitary in Colombia, had financed the campaign of President Uribe in 2002, which the government denied at the time.
However, in the campaign for re-election in 2006, President Uribe acknowledged that financial support. During Uribe's second term, Petro provoked a debate in Congress following the para-politics scandal. In February 2007 he waged a verbal war with President Alvaro Uribe, calling for the president to be disqualified from intervening in the demobilization of paramilitaries based on allegations of presumed links of the president's brother, Santiago, to a former paramilitary group known as "The Twelve Apostles" in Antioquia in the mid-1990s.
The president replied in the media, accusing Petro and members of the opposition of being "terrorists in civilian clothes" - and called for a debate. But the president decided to withdraw from such discussion two days later when Everth Bustamante and Rosemberg Pabon, two former M-19 guerrillas and former Petro comrades, but by then linked to the government of Uribe, accused Petro of being a "psychological terrorist" who "doesn’t tell the truth", asking the president to leave the fight to them. Petro replied: “I think there are terrorists wearing suits and ties and most of them are friends of President Uribe". He was referring to the growing para-politics scandal over which several members of the Congress, mostly from the ruling coalition, had been arrested.
On 17 April 2007 Senator Petro held a debate in Congress on the CONVIVIR (private security and surveillance cooperatives for agrarian self-defence against guerrilla groups) and the development of para-militarism in Antioquia. Petro produced several documents on the alleged relationship between members of the security forces and politicians with para-militarism and drug trafficking. During the debate, Petro questioned the actions of President Alvaro Uribe when he was governor of that department. He exhibited a photograph of the president's brother, Santiago Uribe, in which he appears next to the known drug trafficker Fabio Ochoa.
The Minister of the Interior and Justice, Carlos Holguín Sardi, and the Minister of Transport, Andrés Uriel Gallego, led the defence of the president and his government. Both questioned Petro’s past in the guerrilla movement and accused him of not condemning violence.. They rated several of Petro’s arguments as slander.
Petro, at the last debate, produced evidence against the Department of Administrative Security (DAS) on ‘discreditable spying activities’ on the opposition.
Petro said that on several occasions that his life and those of his relatives were threatened. He also condemned the prosecution on the part of state security agencies over allegations he had raised in Congress. On 7 May 2007 the army confirmed the arrest of two intelligence officials who were held days before a presumed attack on Petro’s family in the municipality of Tenjo in the Cundinamarca department. The agents initially identified themselves as members of DAS, but the institution’s director, Andres Peñate, denied it. The commander of the armed forces, General Freddy Padilla, said it was "incredible stupidity" on the part of the intelligence officials.
In October 2008 Gustavo Petro, based on documentary evidence, denounced the fact that DAS agents had been ordered to follow him and other members of his party simply for opposing Alvaro Uribe’s government. On that count, Maria del Pilar Hurtado, director of that organisation, assumed political responsibility and tendered her resignation, which the government accepted, but she denied giving the order to follow opposition members.
Opposition to FARC
During his years as senator, Gustavo Petro severely criticized the FARC guerilla organization on several occasions. In an interview he compared FARC to Pot Pol and said they weren’t left-wing revolutionaries but right-wing thugs. In 2008 Petro decided to take part in a demonstration against FARC against the wishes of his party. Some of his leftist comrades accused him of having become an ‘’Uribist’.
Mayor of Bogota
Gustavo Petro registered as a candidate for the Mayoralty of Bogota, representing significant numbers of citizens under the Progressive Movement, and was elected mayor on 30 October 2011 for the 2012-2015 term. He polled 721,308 votes.
Among the goals set by the new Mayor of Bogota are those that underpin the government's “Bogotá Humana” programme:
• Reducing social segregation and discrimination
• Reducing inequality and social, economic and cultural discrimination
• Reducing discrimination on grounds of gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity
• Increasing the financial capacity of the poor
• Ensuring the defence, protection and restoration of human rights
• Recognising the rights of victims
• That a territory facing climate change is organised around water issues
• Reformulating the expansive model of the city
• The Technological change of transport
• A Bogota that defends and strengthens matters of public interest
• Encouraging the participation and decision-making of citizens over city affairs
• Strengthening local democratic governance
• Building peaceful territories with security
Furthermore, that 30 per cent of the budget is allocated to mobility, followed by social, education, health, social integration, and housing - in that order. The administration proposes to fund this plan with own resources, income from taxation, transfers from the nation and the surpluses of public enterprises. It has been announced that the debt quota will be solely for mobility plans, which addresses the TransMilenio trunk (Boyacá and 68), a light rail, heavy metro and a cable system in the south.
Moreover, for a period between February and August 2012, a prohibition in Bogota will be enforced on the carrying of guns in public places. This was adopted at the request of Mayor Petro in order to assess the effect on crime reduction and with a view to promoting a policy for the formal abandonment of weapons.
According to official figures, out of the total number of homicides in Bogota in 2011 (1,632), some 62.3 per cent (1,016) were gun-related. Of these 1,016, it is estimated that between 10 and 13 per cent of the weapons used were legal. The measure excludes those who exercise surveillance in the workplace, officials of the Attorney General, authorised escort services such as the diplomatic corps, and the police and armed forces. The city of some eight million people has a rate of 21.9 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
Mayor Gustavo Petro is married with six children.
*The M-19 The April 19 Movement (M-19) was a Colombian guerrilla organisation founded in the aftermath of an alleged election fraud in the presidential elections of April 19, 1970, in which Misael Pastrana Borrero was declared winner. As a political organisation M-19 was born in rebellion and later became an armed front. After demobilisation it became a leftist political movement known as AD-M19 (Democratic Alliance M-19), which won significant popular support. It became defunct in the mid-1990s, with some of its members joining other political groups.
The ANAPO (Popular National Alliance), on the other hand, was a Colombian political party, founded as a movement in 1961 by Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, which expired in 1998. Several of its leaders and activists are now part of the leftist Alternative Democratic Pole.
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