Friday, July 19, 2013

Like Petro, Like Mandela?

Nelson Mandela's image on Bogotá's City Hall. Is there a resemblance to the mayor inside? Interestingly, the term 'Humanidad' resembles the city's 'Bogotá Humana' slogan. Coincidence?
Over the last week, Bogotá's City Hall has honored South African civil rights legend Nelson Mandela, who celebrated his 95th birthday gravely ill in a hospital.

Bogotá Mayor Petro.
Like Nelson Mandela?
It's particularly appropriate for Colombians to honor this great man now, as the government and FARC guerrillas talk peace in Havana. Mandela's is perhaps best known for his capacity to forgive his oppresors. And Colombians are spending a lot of time and newsprint these days discussing how much society can forgive the FARC, who during decades have kidnapped, displacement, bombed and land-mined their country, while financing themselves thru drug trafficking.

Forgiving the FARC - or at least punishing them lightly and allowing them political participation - may be the price Colombia must pay for peace.

It's also impossible not to read a subtext into the Mandela images, at a time when Mayor Gustavo Petro is battling a recall effort against him. Like Mandela, Petro was also a leader of a violent, outlawed - if idealistic - organization, who became a political leader. Unlike Mandela, however, Petro spent only a short time in prison, making one ask whether he had much to forgive the government for. And, while Mandela's African National Congress used mostly economic tactics against South Africa's apartheid system, the M-19's tactics were often violent: They kidnapped a union leader and a conservative political leader, murdering both, and attacked the Dominican Republic's embassy and held diplomats hostage for months. In 1985, they attacked Colombia's Justice Palace on Plaza Bolivar, and the ensuing violence and conflaguration left about 100 people dead. The M-19 also had violent guerrilla units in the countryside.

Petro did spend two years in prison for illegal possession of weapons, during which time he says he was tortured. However, that can't compare with Mandela's decades of imprisonment. And many Colombians feel that the government's treatment of the M-19, who transformed themselves into a political party and have attained prominent positions in Congress and regional governments, has been overly forgiving.

Petro, who has presidential ambitions, may aspire to some play the same healing role in Colombia that Mandela did in South Africa.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Stuart Oswald said...

Mandela played no healing role. Quit the contrary. I will however agree that they both do hold more in common with one another. Shameful.

Miguel said...

Shameful? What's shameful about Mandela? And it sure sounds like he helped heal South Africa. Remember the ruby t-shirt?

All the best in your studies.



Miguel said...

I meant the rugby t-shirt.