Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Broken Bogotá: Who can fix it?

This is, on the face of it, an important time coming up for Bogotá. In October the city's inhabitants will vote for a new mayor

Lookalikes: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bogotá mayoral candidate Clara López.
A straight swap: Merkel for López. (Image: Pieter Hupkes.)
It's a bit of an understatement to say that the outgoing Gustavo Petro administration endured a turbulent time. And depending on where you're coming from, he either did a good job in the face of 'dark forces' undermining him, or he was the dark force returning Bogotá to uglier times.

The truth, as is generally the case in such matters, more than likely lies somewhere in the middle.

He may have tried to put his personal stamp on some things, the biggest example being the controversial waste collection changes that briefly cost him his job, but the reality is no one person can either fix or break Bogotá, as much as some like to think.

Does he leave the city in a better place, however? In short, no. But it could be argued that he has laid, or at least tried to lay, the foundations for a brighter future. For one, a metro sounds exciting, if the inhabitants here could figure out how to use it in an orderly, respectful fashion.

Also, as regards the rubbish debacle, at least trying to implement a culture change in how Bogotanos deal with their waste was worthy of some merit. Considering the city he has been in charge of, he has just about earned a pass mark.

Queuing up to replace him, you have the typical Colombian mix of right, centre-right and phoney left. The thing is, completely unlike the national presidency, Bogotá has gone 'left' for its mayor with relative regularity in recent times.

However, while they all came in with grand ideals and promised much, the height of what many seemed to achieve was to anger their fellow elites and further disillusion the poor (and enjoy the trappings of power at the same time).

With that in mind, the point could be made that the city should shun the so-called left this time out. Yet last year's presidential candidate from the leftist (and mired in controversy) Polo Democrático, Clara López, is the early leader in the polls. She does talk a good talk for sure; and maybe the city could do with a more permanent woman's touch at the top table. (Women have served in the office, López included, but just in holding roles.)

Plus, if she has the same command and leadership skills as a woman she somewhat resembles — German Chancellor Angela Merkel (sorry Angela) — Bogotá could be on to a winner. It's best not to hold your breath just yet though.

So if the 'left' is to be avoided, who does the city look to?

There is President Santos' cousin, Francisco ‘Pacho’ Santos, himself a former vice president of the country, from the divisive Centro Democrático party. Yet, by all accounts he's like the joke candidate — a rightist, Colombian version of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro. (However if he was to adopt the 'Go Pato' song, tweaked to 'Go Pacho', it could work wonders.)

Bogotá mayoral candidate 2015, Rafael Pardo, on a recent visit to Madrid.
Pardo (left): 'If only Bogotá was a bit more like Madrid.' (Photo: Facebook.)
One other man who could fit the bill is the joint Liberal and de la U parties’ selection, former government minister Rafael Pardo. Like López, he already held the office for a brief period; his month in charge came during the Petro ‘in-out’ saga last year. From what this blog can gather, he certainly seems to be popular among young professionals and the middle class in general. Although, if the polls are to be believed, he has a lot of ground to make up on the Polo Democrático candidate.

Also, whether Pardo will even be on the ballot paper is now in doubt with Enrique Peñalosa's introduction to the race. The former mayor and presidential candidate announced his candidature by saying that he wants a centre-right alliance picking the best-placed runner to prevent López taking office.

Really though, considering what has gone before, with the odd exception, it might be time to parachute in an outsider to sort the place out. The aforementioned Merkel would bring some badly-needed German organisation to things. And she'd surely relish the daunting task at hand.
One of the first things she could perhaps weigh up, Berlin-in-reverse style, is constructing a north-south dividing wall.

A two-city solution, at least for a while. I wonder which side of the divide the current mayoral candidates would opt for?
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For an idea of some (just some) of the challenges facing the next Bogotá mayor, this piece from a while back gives an idea: Bogotá's 'broken window'.

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