It has been months since the mayor of Medellín, Daniel Quintero, went from being considered “refreshing” for the politics of the second most important city in Colombia or from “independent of the traditional powers” to having a disapproval that borders on 40% —according to October’s latest Invamer poll – and to be on the verge of a recall that has become a national political discussion, amid the campaign heading into the 2022 presidential and congressional elections.
The National Registry validated 133,248 signatures to advance in a recall process, which would be unprecedented in the city. In the midst of the polarization that has characterized society in recent years, the debate has been extrapolated to that of Uribism versus Petrism, due to former President Álvaro Uribe endorsing the recall while the leading candidate in the polls, Gustavo Petro, has defended the president of Medellín.
“The corrupt want to revoke the mayor of Medellín. I propose to the citizens of Medellín not to support the corrupt, “Petro wrote on his Twitter account. The left-wing candidate has recently received the support of former Antioquia governor Luis Pérez, a questioned political figure linked to Quintero. The closeness between the Medellín president and Petro’s campaign was also revealed by the controversial inclusion of his files in the lists of the Congress of the Historical Pact headed by the former mayor of Bogotá.
Uribe, for his part, tweeted that “the mayor of Medellín has been a liar and a bad administrator.” “It has been a disaster in the management of the entities, 90% of the hiring is direct and Medellín has more than 40% poverty,” said the former president, whose candidate Alfredo Ramos lost to Quintero in 2019.
Also on Twitter, where Quintero usually makes official announcements that surprise the people of Medellin, the mayor has said that a “beautiful campaign of citizen endorsement” is coming and that “there are false signatures” although he has not yet presented the evidence to the Prosecutor’s Office. For him, the situation he faces is reduced to “hatred and corruption of uribismo.”
However, the discontent over his management in the city goes beyond Uribism, which does promote the recall. In the last two years, criticism has been evident even among several of his voters, who reproach him for having surrounded himself with traditional politicians, betraying his promise of independence and a style that some sectors call populist.
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The management that Quintero has given the Public Companies of Medellín and the case of Hidroituango, an energy megaproject that would generate 17% of Colombia’s energy when starting operations, has generated a true political crisis in the city. “EPM went from being a buoyant company and national pride to having 4 managers in 2 years and scandals every day. We have lost the investment grade and the market no longer trusts the company, “wrote Councilor Daniel Duque, of the Green Alliance and who has been punished by his party for opposing Quintero.
At the center of the discussion is the relationship between the people of Medellin and the business community. Quintero campaigned criticizing the businessmen and has said that the EPM board had interests that did not favor the citizens. For some analysts, with statements and tweets, the mayor has tried to erode that alliance scheme between the public and private sectors that settled in Medellín after the bloody period of terrorism that the city experienced in response to that history of violence.
That has been perhaps the mayor’s best-known controversy, due to the national scope. But in the city other criticisms have been unveiled for the management of Buen Comienzo, the program that serves minors from zero to five years of age from vulnerable sectors and in which the Comptroller’s Office investigates cost overruns; or the neglect of the green areas of the city, after the contracts were handed over to traditional political parties, among other complaints about corruption in institutions in the city.
There are still many steps to be taken in the recall process, which until now has never been successful with the mayors of large Colombian cities. It is not yet clear if it will go to the polls, but what would be a local decision is already looming as another great polarization issue, one more, in the 2022 presidential contest.
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