The Senate seat of one of Colombia’s leading opposition politicians, Gustavo Petro, have been thrust into limbo after a high court revived controversial fiscal sanctions against the leftist politician.
Those sanctions, without appeal, would act as a major political barrier for Petro who, along with his “Humane Colombia” movement, received massive public support in presidential elections this year, but is struggling not to be excluded from politics.
Petro’s controversial fine for lowering bus fare
The recent ruling by the State Council relate to a staggering $70 million fine slapped on Petro in 2016, on charges that the former Bogota mayor hurt the city’s finances when lowering public transport fares in 2012.
The fine was lodged against the former presidential candidate by Bogota’s comptroller, Juan Carlos Granados, a former governor and member of the notoriously corrupt Radical Change party.
Granados has developed bitter political rivalry with anti-corruption advocate Petro, who has criticized both Granados and the powers of the Comptroller’s Office.
The Radical Change politician is currently facing corruption charges in connection to the Odebrecht bribery scandal.
Colombian law dictates that individuals who have outstanding penalties cannot work as a public servant or contract with the state and a recent Constitutional Court ruling said that previously sanctioned politicians will not be allowed to run for office.
State council knocks down Petro’s appeal
The hefty sanctions imposed against Petro, a vocal anti-corruption advocate, were temporarily suspended by a magistrate at the Administrative Court of Cundinamarca after Petro filed an appeal against Granados’ fine.
But now, the State Council has knocked down the magistrate’s temporary protection because the decision to suspend the Bogota’s comptroller sanctions was made by a single Cundinamarca magistrate and not an entire courtroom.
The move by the high court does not necessarily mean Petro, one of the prominent leftist politicians in the country, would be forced out of Congress.
Rather, it leaves the former presidential candidate in a teetering limbo.
But it’s a line Petro has gotten used to walking in recent months.
Petro’s struggle for political rights
Despite receiving 42% of votes in the second round of the presidential election in June, Colombia’s National Electoral Council (CNE) refused to recognize Petro and his “Humane Colombia” movement as a political party, effectively barring the popular politician from taking part in local elections next year.
While Petro is taking the administrative steps that would allow his movement to take part in next year’s elections, the Inspector General’s Office is investigating whether the CNE illegally violated opposition rights.
Although, the decision by the high court is not a “firm” one. It returns the judicial proceedings to the Court of Cundinamarca. As he waits for the court proceedings, Petro can once again appeal for a temporary protection, called a precautionary measure, like the one he had before.
And because of the language written into Colombian law, the politician’s lawyer Dagoberto Quiroga told El Tiempo, removing Petro from office would likely require a lengthy tangle of court proceedings.
“The magistrate of the Court of Cundinamarca who granted the precautionary measure had initially denied it and reconsidered our arguments against the effects of an unfounded trial,” Quiroga said. “We are sure that the court will make the same decision and revive the precautionary measure.”
But as Petro attempts to clear the way for another bid at Colombia’s presidency, the judicial and political tangles may act as a significant political barrier to the opposition leader.