By Libardo Cardona and Joshua Goodman, AP
BOGOTA, Colombia–Colombia’s capital was changing hands for a third time in little over a month after President Juan Manuel Santos said Wednesday he would execute a court order reinstating Bogota’s ousted leftist mayor.
The surprise ruling late Tuesday by the Superior Tribunal of Bogota was the latest twist in a legal saga pitting former guerrilla firebrand Gustavo Petro against Colombia’s more conservative political establishment.
“My obligation, as president of the republic, is to follow the law and what the justices decide,” Santos said after signing a decree ordering the immediate reinstatement of Petro as mayor.
The court, in giving Santos 48 hours to return Petro to his job, cited the president’s failure last month to heed a ruling by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission that Colombia’s inspector general violated regional human rights charter by ordering Petro’s removal and barring him from politics for 15 years.
In ordering Petro’s ouster in December, Inspector General Alejandro Ordonez said Petro overstepped his constitutional authority in a heavy-handed but ultimately failed attempt to replace the capital’s private trash collectors.
Surrounded by supporters, reporters and police, Petro marched toward the mayor’s office Wednesday night to retake his post. He has denied any wrongdoing and accuses Ordonez of mounting a witch hunt against politicians who don’t share his conservative views.
“Today, triumphant and happy citizens … accompany us,” Petro said. “There is an indignant demand for democracy now.”
Petro, 54, was taking over from acting Mayor Maria Mercedes Maldonado, who Santos had named this week to replace another caretaker, Rafael Pardo.
His job is far from secure, however. Ordonez said he will appeal Petro’s reinstatement to the country’s Supreme Court as early as Thursday.
In addition to another legal ruling by a higher court, Petro could face a recall vote that had been scheduled for April 6 but was cancelled after his removal.
Jaime Castro, a former mayor of Bogota, said the legal back and forth has made a mockery of Colombia’s justice system and created a power vacuum in the management of the city of 8 million. Of the more than 30 injunction requests filed on Petro’s behalf since his removal, this is the first to come back in Petro’s favor, he said.
“This is a judicial farce, like something you’d see in a banana republic,” Castro told The Associated Press.
But human rights activists celebrated the decision, saying Santos’ action restores respect for international human rights law.
The decision may also help Santos remove what had become a political thorn as he seeks re-election next month amid criticism he was too quick to sign off on Petro’s ouster.
Santos, a centrist from one of Colombia’s richest families, is counting on support from leftist parties to push through Congress a bold peace deal that his government is negotiating in Cuba with the country’s largest rebel movement.