Claudia López’s inauguration picnic outlines sustainable future for Bogotá

In a picnic setting in Bogotá’s Parque Simón Bolívar, Claudia López took the mayoral oath January 1, becoming the first woman to occupy the office in the Colombian capital’s 481-year history.

As spectators gathered on the lawns of the grounds, many shielding themselves from the bright Andean sunshine under colorful umbrellas, López’s inauguration not only broke with tradition of previous ceremonies held in the city’s historic square, Plaza de Bolívar, but was also accompanied by a slate of Grammy Award-winning recording artists, among them pop-folk duo Aterciopelados, Toto La Momposina and Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra.

Invited to the “picnic” were newly elected city councilors also taking their oath in the park on Tuesday, representatives of the national government and two former Bogotá mayors: Luis Eduardo Garzónn and Enrique Peñalosa.

As the 49-year old Claudia López received the mayoral sash from her mother María del Carmen Hernández, she was cheered by well-wishers, friends and family, including her partner Angélica Lozano, whom she married in a civil ceremony on December 17. “Sorry Angélica for the short honeymoon,” remarked López, all smiles from a small wooden elevated stage.

As the first openly lesbian mayor to govern a Latin American capital, and one with close to nine million inhabitants, López arrived at her swearing-in ceremony on a bike, riding seven kilometers from her apartment near Parque de Los Hippies in central Chapinero to the city’s largest green space.  After reading a congratulatory letter from President Iván Duque, a beaming López thanked attendees for getting an early start on the day and referenced Bogotá as a “capital of reconciliation” that “chose change” with her victory at the polls on October 27.

Recalling a Bogotá childhood as the daughter of an educator and the eldest of six siblings, López also highlighted the differences between the country and the country’s largest city. “Unlike the democratization of Colombia, which has been slow, violent and painful, that of Bogotá has always been dizzying, bold and generous. But even in Bogotá, inclusion, and representation of young people and women has been very elusive,” she said. “This will be the first, but not the only government, led by a woman.”

With the promise that her incoming administration will be “open to the public and one that listens,” the new mayor’s speech marks, in her words, “the start of a citizen’s coalition government” representing the aspirations of “young people, women, civic movements, ethnic groups, environmentalists and animal rights movements,” and those who “have spontaneously taken to the streets to express themselves to the rhythm of the cacerolazos, beyond political parties and leaders.”

Presenting five pillars of her four-year administration, López also vindicated the petitions of tens of thousands of Bogotanos who have participated in the marches of the Paro Nacional – national strike. “This city is talking to us. Every street, every square and every park speaks, sings, moves to the demands of the city and a country that dreams and deserves the citizenship of the 21st century,” remarked López. “We are not going to allow them to steal our hope, to steal more lives from this new generation that today shouts out.”

López’s inaugural speech touched on pressing urban issues as well as presenting a macro-vision for social inclusion, diversity and tolerance. “We must live without fear,” she emphasized, while in the same lines promising free and quality education. The mayor also stressed the need to consolidate the greater metropolitan area with the central city, and department of Cundinamarca at large; highlighting the construction of the Regiotram along derelict railway lines, as well as the construction of new commuter lines connected to both TransMilenio and planned Bogotá Metro. “Bogotá, during the next four years, will be a more caring, inclusive and sustainable city-region.”

As López outlined the key points of her campaign that resulted in more than 1,1 million votes in her favor, the new mayor requested the Bogotá City Council elect her closest campaign rival Carlos Fernando Galán, as President of the corporation. Galán of the political movement Bogotá Para La Gente later on Tuesday received the majority of votes from councilors across the political divide, including those from López’s Green Alliance Party, Liberal Party, Polo Democrático and leftist coalition Colombia Humana. “This is what building empathy and trust are all about, how it is done, and how citizen culture is exercised. Let’s learn to recognize how much unites us, learn to value and respect each other’s differences, build empathy and trust instead of constant pugnacity and distrust,” she said.

With an emphatic focus on environmental issues from giving Bogotá clean transportation alternatives to protecting the high altitude wetlands – páramos –  that give the capital clean water, López stated that achieving a sustainable future  “is not science fiction nor nuclear physics,” but rather a citizens pact that entails collective corrective measures and long-term vision. “I will be blunt: we have to move forward instead of retreating, and we will do so,” she said.