The United States’ incoming ambassador to Colombia on Wednesday expressed his concerns over the recent dismissal of Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro, saying it could “erode” ongoing efforts to negotiate peace with leftist rebel group FARC.
During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, current Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South America Kevin Whitaker said that the decision to dismiss Petro could affect the peace talks as the FARC could come to the conclusion there are no political guarantees for leftist political actors.
Before taking part in mainstream politics, Petro was a member of the leftist M-19 guerrilla movement that was demobilized in 1990 and then took part in the formulating of Colombia’s 1991 constitution.
“Colombia is now committed to this important effort to figure out how to end the internal conflict. And it isn’t by accident that the second point of discussion is about political pluralism, about how to integrate individuals from the left in the democratic process,” Whitaker was quoted as saying by Colombian media.
“If these individuals come to the conclusion, based on this fact or any other, that this space does not exist, then the basic conditions for peace will in some ways erode,” said the nominated ambassador.
Whitaker supported protests within Colombia’s democratic system over the decision of Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez to ban Petro for 15 years.
According to the incoming ambassador, calls to revise the responsibilities of the country’s Inspector General show “the vitality of Colombia’s democratic system” in a way “that isn’t necessarily always pretty.”
The decision by Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez to dismiss Petro and bar the politician from holding office for 15 years caused a wave of criticism both domestically and internationally.
The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, Todd Howland, told press that Ordoñez possibly had violated the rights of Bogota citizens who voted for Petro.
Some 20 members of the European Parliament sent a letter to President Juan Manuel Santos protesting the dismissal for similar reasons.
“It’s not possible that an official dismisses an democratically elected governor,” the lawmakers said, stressing that Petro was elected “with a majority of votes” and “has a popular mandate in the most important city of Colombia.”
The Bogota mayor, who has until January to appeal the decision, was dismissed after Ordoñez had established there had been irregularities in a process to reform the city’s trash collection.
According to Petro, the ban is a “political death sentence” for the politician who, while in Congress, played a big role in the uncovering of major scandals regarding the illegal wiretapping of government critics and the Supreme Court, and ties between members of Congress and right-wing paramilitary death squads.
Newspaper El Tiempo reported on Thursday that sources within Colombia’s diplomatic corps had said that Bogota was not amused by Whitaker’s statement regarding internal judicial matters, but didn’t want to create further controversy with its most powerful ally in the hemisphere.