Bogotá: Urgent action required

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Mayor Gustavo Petro’s time in office is slipping away, and slipping away fast. With five months to go before a new Mayor is sworn in to the second highest office in the land, Bogotá is in dire need of determined leadership. It needs a mayor. Yes, a Mayor with a capitalized “M”. Someone who can govern in the name of 8 million rather than the party’s faithful. After 12 years of POLO-rized political doctrine, we are all too aware of the growing list of issues facing the capital.

Bogotá has never been in such a state of disarray, and popular discontent won’t be contained by the five experienced leading candidates who have committed themselves to the electoral race. October 25th is election day in Bogotá and for Bogotá. Many resident foreigners probably aren’t aware that they too have a vote and a voice in the upcoming elections; the only catch is having to register your Residente cédula with the National Register Office (Registraduría Nacional). So do it soon if you have lived here for more than five years because time is literally running out for our city.

Many of the candidates are very familiar to us. There’s the Liberal Party candidate Rafael Pardo, the former minister of labour who was elected interim Mayor of Bogotá for one month while Petro was re-ousted in 2014. Pardo appeals to the Liberal faithful, the moderate, the pragmatic. Pardo has shown he can govern with discretion and sensibility. He also has the profile of a senior statesman. Enrique Peñalosa, who was Mayor of Bogotá from 1998 to 2001, has thrown his hat back into the race and is always a serious contender for Mayor. But at the eleventh-hour the Peñalosa momentum tends to lose ground, and even though this mega-project manager who has executed large scale-public works for the city has shown he can deliver on mobility-related issues, (Peñalosa envisioned and gave us TransMilenio), the campaign has to broaden its support base and keep voters convinced in the weeks leading to election day.

Never afraid to speak his mind, passionate about Bogotá (especially his team Santa Fe) and determined to fix the many wrongs of the Petro years, Francisco “Pacho” Santos could well be the wild card of the elections. As the campaign gathers steam, the “Pacho” effect will surely be felt. And then there’s Clara López, running on the POLO ticket and having to dispel fears that she is not the four-year sequel to Petro. Even though she is likely to tow the line on many of the social programs of Bogotá Humana, López must find a political center, a sense of compromise, if the Left is going to be handed yet another chance at running the city. But then again, in Bogotá, political affiliations are rarely game changers.

All candidates have impressive track records and know the issues at hand. What we can’t afford is a repeat of the 2011 elections when too many candidates diluted the ballot and opened the floodgates for Petrismo, which won with a less than impressive 34% of the total vote.

Too much is at stake in these elections for candidates to put precedence on personal ambition over the well being and quality of life of millions. But one thing I am sure of: as the election draws closer and September begins to define the characters of our candidates, their agendas and possible coalitions, our next mayor will have a monumental task of restoring the public’s trust in the city.

I have lived more than two decades in Bogotá and never felt so unsafe. Crime has spiraled out of control with burglaries and muggings striking close to home. The street in front of where I live has become a recycling depot for trash collected across the Zona G, and everyday there are more plastic bags piling up on street corners. Our current mayor made trash an insignia of his socialist policies. He turned district subsidies into a cycle of dependency, difficult to break, and embedded in a culture of resentment. He pitched “rich” against “poor” during his many speeches and internalized criticism against his many improvised programs as an attack by “them” against “us”. He leaves us a city without sidewalks, a single large-scale project, and worsening air quality and traffic.

Now don’t get me wrong. Not everything Petro has implemented in this city has been ill conceived. He had it clear with animal rights and stopping the cruelty to our four-legged friends. He took horses and carts off the streets and that is commendable. He stopped bull fighting in the Plaza Santa María, which was necessary as there are other ways to spend a Sunday in the city than seeing bulls get a butchered. The integrated bus system, SITP, is also an altruistic way of dealing with the general public’s lack of mobility – if only the drivers could drive responsibly!

Everything here ends up “a medias ”: almost operational and “ready mañana.” But tomorrow never comes, and Bogotá can’t afford more mañanas. What we need is one Mayor and not nine candidates, because this city’s problems require urgent action.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Peñalosa y punto. That is support isn’t ebbing away, as usually happens in these campaigns, suggests that people are finally kicking themselves for rejecting him countless times (at least it seems like countless times) since 2001. I like Pardo and he’sd know what to do, but as Actualidad Panamericana said recently he needs a personality transplant. López and Santos…no, I won’t even finish that sentence.

    As for Petro it doesn’t really matter now, but to me he’s like Barco: he cared about one thing and he willed himself to believe the rest was just conjunctural. For Barco economic development was the thing, never mind the violence, while for Petro social services were the thing and never mind, well, everything else. People who say Petro’s done nothing probably don’t use public K-12 education or clinics. Everyone’s suffered from his disinterest in everything else, but he did some important things for a lot of people.

  2. Maybe no Mayor is needed. Perhaps that’s the problem. Mayor’s can have too much power and don’t govern in the interests of the City. Maybe better for central government to take over management of the capital. Yes, I know central government isn’t perfect either. But it would take away a huge administrative cost. It’s crisis management. Sort it out centrally then hand it back. It would also make decision making better as you wouldn’t have two offices constantly against each other, as is the case now. Bogota shouldn’t be relying on whether one man or woman can sort it out. That’s a lottery. The issue is structural. A good system/organisation should work irrespective of who leads it at a given time. Look at developed country governments; their Presidents or Prime Ministers can be hopeless but the country never crumbles because the structure wont let it. Bogota needs that. Scrap the Mayor’s office. At least until its ready to have one.

  3. I visited Bogotá over 10 years ago and found it very charming. Now, after living here for more than 3 years I find it intolerable. Pollution on every scale, crumbling infrastructure and no accountability from people, much less from government. Does it really matter who gets elected? They all have the same agenda: put more burden on the city and its people while receiving a nice paycheck.

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