Gustavo Petro sworn in as mayor of Bogotá, vowing to ban the carrying of guns in the city. Neo-paramilitary group shut-down the North-West of the country after leader killed.
Colombia saw in 2012 with the inauguration of the more than 1000 mayors and 32 governors elected in the 2011 local elections. On 1 January Gustavo Petro, who was elected mayor of Bogotá on 30 October last year, was sworn in to the most important post in the country after the presidency.
In his inauguration speech, Petro – a left-wing politician, vociferous opponent of the Uribe administration, and ex-member of the demobilized guerrilla group M19 – laid out his plans for the capital during his period of office, which will last until 2015.
His major priorities include the provision of free clean drinking water and education to the city’s lower classes, improving the city’s environmental policies, and the transport system.
Transport is one of the most vital issues facing the congested capital: Petro proposes to tax car owners and use the funds for the creation of a long-awaited metro and the extension of the transmilenio system through Seventh Avenue. The ex-mayor of the city, Samuel Moreno, is on corruption charges for the embezzlement of public funds designated for transport infrastructure projects.
However, the most important proposal by the new mayor was in terms of the security of the city, as Petro vowed to ban the carrying of weapons in the capital to decrease the city’s crime rate. Petro’s declaration that, ‘we want Bogotá to be a city free from weapons’ – in the capital illegal arms are used in 70% of homicides – opened up a debate this week in Colombia.
Although the mayor does not have the power to ban the carrying of weapons, in Colombian law this is accorded to the military, his proposal has prompted a discussion throughout the country. Three senators from the Polo Democrático party, close to Petro, announced on Tuesday that they will present to Congress a proposal to prohibit the carrying of weapons in the whole country and to pass a law to ensure this decision is in the hands of mayors rather than the army.
This is not the first time such a proposal has been suggested; in Cali, Medellin and Bogotá in previous years similar plans have been proposed to lower the country’s murder rate. Analysts suggest, however, that these have failed due to the lack of a coordinated national effort.
Large parts of North-West Colombia were shut down on Thursday and Friday as the neo-paramilitary group ‘Los Urabeños’ ordered an ‘armed strike‘ in retaliation for the killing of their leader alias ‘Giovanni‘ on 1 January by government forces.
In the departments of Magdalena, Antioquia, Chocó, Córdoba, Sucre and Bolívar all trade, commerce and transport were effectively shut-down as the armed group – formed of demobilized paramilitary members – imposed a curfew on the population.
The situation was slowly being restored on Saturday; President Santos announced on his Twitter account that the authorities had captured 13 members of the group who had participated in the strike. A reward of 2,000 million Colombian pesos has been offered for the capture of the new leader of the Urabeños, alias ‘Otoniel.’ 6,000 members of the armed forces were transferred into the area as President Santos called a security council in Santa Marta on Friday.