While largely ignored by the U.S. press, last month what was in essence another right-wing coup was launched against a progressive elected official in Latin America. This time the maneuver was carried out in the Colombian capitol Bogotá with the removal of Mayor Gustavo Petro from his political office.
The pretext given for the removal of Petro is that he tried to de-privatize the garbage collection system in Bogotá. Petro is not a revolutionary, but is carrying out many of the programs demanded by the country’s large, progressive social movements. The rich did not want to return public control over trash removal, and their opposition completely sabotaged Petro’s efforts. For supposedly taking illegal measures towards this end, Colombian Inspector General Alejandro Ordonez ordered Petro banned from all politics for 15 years and his immediate removal from the mayoral office!
Gustavo Petro, speaking to rallies of tens of thousands of his supporters, correctly pointed out the cowardly nature of how the unelected “Inspector General” had taken this decision against him during the Christmas holidays, which he thought would dampen protests. He has also mentioned how this attack on him is an attack on all those who want peace to come to Colombia, after so many years of U.S.-made war there. It is an attack on the citizens of Bogota who should have the opportunity to themselves decide if the mayor stays in office or is removed.
Gustavo Petro was once a leader of the guerilla group M-19, which set down their arms to run in elections. Instead of peace happening then, the Colombian rich killed many of those very same leftists who agreed to abandon the armed struggle in search of a more peaceful resolution to the class conflicts in the country.
Once again, the Obama administration has spoken with only a very few mild words of bogus and feigned rebuke, while its actual actions have continued to show nothing but the most full accord with the undemocratic actions of the current U.S.-backed national government.
This is in line with previous actions by the Obama administration. The U.S. government supported the Honduran military as they removed the radicalizing Honduran President Manuel Zelaya from office on June 28, 2009. Later, on June 22, 2012, it did the same thing, sitting by in quiet support as the leftist Paraguayan president, Fernando Lugo, was also undemocratically removed from presidential office.
The removal of Gustavo Petro from the mayor’s post in a capitol city of nearly 8,000,000 can be compared to these other U.S. government-supported coups. It deprives the people of Colombia’s capitol city of their mayor, sabotages the peace talks with the FARC taking place in Havana, Cuba, and eliminates possibly the strongest left candidate able to unseat current right-wing Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos in the elections to be held in May 2014. Santos does not want any real referendum regarding his current rule, or that of ex-Colombian President and right-wing death squad organizer, Álvaro Uribe.
In the Dec. 26, 2013 issue of the New York Times, Petro states in an op-ed that the United States should demand respect for democratic institutions by officially opposing his removal from office, rather than continuing to attempt to defeat the Colombian people through military and governmental violence.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems intent on continuing on the current course. And of course, that will mean more war and more money from the U.S. military machine as well. As Petro has stated, his top-down removal from elected office represents yet another political slap against anybody on the left struggling against the criminal oligarchy that rules over Colombia. His removal, if allowed to stand, can only worsen prospects for a future peace in Colombia, or for that matter, the rest of Latin America as well.