A controversial public cleaning plan marked Gustavo Petro’s term as mayor of Bogotá. The current president of Colombia took over the mayor of the country’s capital in 2012 and decided to nationalize the garbage collection service, causing chaos in the sanitation of the city of eight million inhabitants. The decision led to Petro’s removal from office by the Attorney General’s Office, which also disqualified him from holding public office for 15 years. The measure, however, was reversed months later.
In his first year in office, Petro tried to remove Bogotá’s cleaning contracts from the hands of private companies that provided the service, transferring responsibility to the Aqueduct and Sewer Company (EAAB), which is public and had no experience in garbage collection, according to independent news website La Silla Vacia.
Gustavo Petro inherited from the previous mayor, Samuel Moreno, extended concession contracts, after the Constitutional Court dropped a bid for failure to comply with the order to include recyclers in the service. For the new bid, Petro management began to consider a public 100% model or a shared operation between public power and private initiative. At the beginning of September, however, the City Hall surprised by announcing – without previously informing the operators or conciliating with the City Council – that it would create a public company in charge of public cleaning.
The leftist was alerted by the Comptroller and Attorney General’s Office, in addition to commissions that regulated the services and the providers themselves, that the sudden change in the management model violated the principle of free competition. The plan also failed because the municipality was not prepared to take over the cleaning service, which led the citizens of Bogotá to face garbage collection chaos during several days of December, when the new model came into operation.
The garbage episode also included problems in the bidding processes for the purchase of collection trucks. At the time, one of the bidders informed Aqueduto that one of the proposals did not meet all the requirements of the public notice and, even so, the contract was signed. The municipal administration justified that no one had met all the specifications and that the winners had to sign commitment letters to adapt their cars to the requirements of the event.
One year later, in December 2013, the Attorney General’s Office removed Gustavo Petro from the mayor’s office of Bogotá and disqualified him from holding public office for 15 ) years, accused of a very serious and intentional lack of sanitation management in the Colombian capital.
In a press conference at the time, prosecutor Alejandro Ordóñez said that the mayor, “freely, consciously and voluntary, ordered to assign the cleaning service to two entities without any experience, knowledge and capacity”. Other points of criticism by the Prosecutor’s Office were the “deliberate improvisation in the purchase and rental of new and used compactors (cars) with evident damage to public property” and the fact that “the District has resumed hiring private operators” after the failure of the measure. .
Via Twitter, Petro classified the removal as “a coup d’état over the progressive government in the city of Bogotá”. He also called on his supporters to demonstrate: “The fate of Bogotá Humana only depends on popular mobilization, I ask that it be peaceful”, he wrote.
The growing demonstrations and their speeches from the balcony of the Liévano Palace were the scenario for the birth of Petrism.
Renewal to office
There were almost five months of legal battle and one month away from office, until, in April 2014, then Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos was forced to re-appoint Gustavo Petro to the mayor of the capital.
“In this case, the laws, the judges, I was ordered to restore Mayor Petro’s office and I signed the corresponding decree. I have no alternative, it’s my obligation, it can please some and not others”, said the president in a statement.
Gustavo Petro’s return to office was made possible through the guardianship, a legal tool which allows anyone in Colombia to ask a judge to protect their constitutional rights. At the time, two judges of the Superior Court of Bogotá accepted the argument of an injunction filed by a citizen, who asked for the application of precautionary measures granted to Petro by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) the previous month.
The battle waged for the defense of Petro and his followers earned the nickname of “tutelatón”, a kind of war to block the sanction through precautionary measures.
Again via Twitter , upon receiving the news Petro attacked the Prosecutor’s Office and celebrated his return to the city hall. “This time we will see the Prosecutor’s Office naked and raw. Not as an institution protecting human rights, but as the Inquisition provoked.”