Sunday, October 30, 2011

It's Petro!

Petro and fans. 
Leftist congressman and one-time M-19 guerrilla Gustavo Petro won the Bogotá mayoral race today, overwhelming all the other candidates.

It's a remarkable political saga for Petro, who first became a public figure as a leader of the M-19 guerrillas, most notorious for their 1985 attack on the Justice Palace building on Plaza Bolivar, which ended with the building in flames and about 100 people dead. Petro claims that he had no previous knowledge of the attack.

The M-19 soon after demobilized and turned into a political party, which eventually integrated into the leftist Polo Democratico. Petro became a respected congressman, willing to criticize the left, including Colombia's Marxist insurgents.

Petro's victory shows once again that Bogotá is the leftist capital of a conservative nation. That is why Petro, the only leftist candidate with strong name recognition, won even tho the left is in disarray, with titular Mayor Samuel Moreno, of the Polo Democratico Party, in prison on corruption chargees. Remarkably, the fact that Petro only recently left the Polo Democratico and was long associated with Moreno didn't seem to hurt him.

Bogotanos, some on bicycles, line up to vote today on
Plaza Bolívar. Behind them is the rebuilt Justice Palace.  
But, even tho the mayoralty of Bogotá is considered the nation's second-most important political office, because Colombia is still a conservative nation, Petro has few prospects of ever becoming president.

As a candidate, Petro made some unpopular (but necessary) proposals, such as addressing Bogotá's traffic jams by charging drivers a congestion tax. But he also made populist gestures, such as promising free water for the poor.

Let's hope that as mayor his pragmatic side wins out over his ideological one. As a politician who speaks his mind and whose prospects for higher office are in any case limited, perhaps Petro will be willing to make courageous, unpopular decisions in the mold of London Mayor 'Red' Ken Livingstone. 

Police watch over a polling place in Teusaquillo.
Voting in Bogota was mostly peaceful. 
As for the losing candidates, David Luna, Carlos Galan and Aurelio Suarez polled poorly but likely have good prospects as fresh faces. Gina Parody finished third and but created a positive impression and will surely run again for mayor or even higher office. The big loser was ex-Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, who showed once again that, while he may be an excellent administrator and city planner, he's a lousy candidate. Peñalosa will now resume his career as public speaker and consultant on urban issues.

As for the significance of Petro's victory, it's yet another condemnation of the FARC guerrillas' futile, murderous, drug-financed war to overthrow the Colombian state. Setting aside all the suffering the guerrillas' have caused and the futility of their battle, Petro's victory shows that Colombia's democratic system provides a path for people of all political stripes to achieve power.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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