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For some, he’s seen as the moral standard-bearer of Colombia; the man ensuring the country stays on the right path. For others, he’s a dangerous, out of touch, official whose opinions and decisions hinder the country’s painstaking development.
Whatever your view, there can be no disputing the fact that Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado, Colombia’s Procurador General (Inspector General), is a man with a lot of power at his disposal. Thus for ‘ordinary’ folk to get close to such a man in this security paranoid country (there are historically solid reasons for that) is a rarity.
In that regard, a recent opportunity to have an audience with him in an intimate setting was something not to be turned down.
For many expatriates, and perhaps for a lot of Colombians too, Ordóñez shot to ‘fame’ with his decision to remove the Bogotá mayor, Gustavo Petro, from office last December. In what turned out to be a long-running saga, with counter-appeal after counter-appeal, together with the swearing in of a very temporary interim mayor, the procurador’s decision was eventually overturned and Petro reinstated. Order was restored to the country’s capital; well that is to say that Bogotá returned to its normal levels of chaos.
So it was no surprise that this whole messy episode formed a large part of the recent lecture-come-interview, organised by the Cámara de Comercio Colombo Británica (British-Colombian Chamber of Commerce).
Unsurprisingly, the procurador was unapologetic about it all. He explained how he followed what he saw to be correct procedure and taking everything into account believed that the mayor should be sacked and banned from office for 15 years. The length of that ban was decided on by taking the severity of the ‘wrongdoing’ and matching it to existing legislation outlining appropriate punishment. Of course this doesn’t appease those who believe that Petro’s misdemeanours were not of a grave nature, especially compared to other instances of corruption and toxic political-underworld links in this country.
Like many things in Colombia – such as its rather lengthy constitution – this kind of thing is open to a potential myriad of interpretations and therefore, you could argue, bias. Had there been a conservative, staunchly Catholic mayor in office in the mould of Ordóñez, would the same conclusions have been reached?
As regards the current peace talks, while Ordóñez made a point of stating he wants to see an end to the 50 year-plus conflict, he is not in favour of the present process. Contrasting the Colombian situation with other relatively successful peace agreements across the globe, such as Northern Ireland and South Africa, he said that the state has certain international obligations to meet since signing up to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
This, he said, laid down parameters that other peace accords didn’t have to deal with. So, for one, the whole question of offering impunity to guerillas is a stumbling block. As he sees it, the talks in Havana are purely political and he believes nothing judicial can come from them in their current format.
When asked to give one word/phrase responses to a list of public figures, Ordóñez’s replies were quite revealing. He described incumbent president Juan Manuel Santos, currently seeking re-election, as a ‘candidate’. Former president and current senator-elect, the ever-controversial Álvaro Uribe who continues to have a big say in Colombian politics, was labelled a ‘steady hand’ (‘pulso firme’). While he refused to give his own reply when Gustavo Petro’s name was announced, he certainly didn’t disagree when a man in the audience said ‘ex-mayor’; indeed he seemed to take great amusement from it. In an international context, for what it’s worth, the procurador called U.S. president Barack Obama a ‘leader’.
The whole evening certainly gave an interesting insight into the man who, theoretically, stands up for ‘El Pueblo Colombiano’ (the Colombian people) against corruption, malpractice and bad management by state officials.
Yet considering some of the recent decisions Ordóñez has presided over, you can’t help but ponder the age old question: ‘Who watches the watchdog?’
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