Monday, December 9, 2013

Petro Gets Sent Packing

Mayor Petro:
Where do I go from here?
Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro's sacking by Inspector General Alejandro Ordónez mean much more than a change of mayor for Colombia's capital and biggest city: It could have reprecussions from the presidency to the Havana peace negotiations.

In an angry speech on Plaza Bolívar, Petro all but labeled Ordoñez a paramilitary. "The inspector general should tell the world that he is the continuance of those who wanted to extinguish all differences, liberty and democracy," Petro said.

Petro supporters this afternoon on Plaza Bolivar.
While Petro notoriously mismanaged the city's garbage system, it was not a matter of corruption, but an excess of idealism, as he tried to incorporate the city's traditional informal recyclers into the waste collection scheme. Destitution and a 15-year ban from political participation seems far out of proportion to the misdeed. And there's a solution to incompetence by elected officials: a recall vote. And that appeared close in the form of a campaign to recall Petro. Now, Petro will make himself a martyr.

On the other hand, Ordoñez's actions may be anti-democratic, as Petro claims. But Petro must still accept them. After all, he long ago accepted the system's rules when he went from being a guerrilla to being a politician, and so now he has to play by them.

Pro-Petro posters ridicule the arch-conservative
Ordoñez by depicting him in a gay wedding.
Petro says he'll appeal today's destitution, but that seems like a vain hope. Pres. Santos will appoint a caretaker mayor, and most likely, Bogotá will hold a special election early next year. El Tiempo names ex-city councilman Carlos Fernando Galán and conservative ex-Vice Pres. Francisco Santos as likely candidates. Might ex-mayors Peñalosa and Mockus also toss their hats in? At the very least, this means more months of ungovernability for Bogotá. And if Francisco Santos is elected, we'll have the unlikely circumstance of having two cousins - members of Colombia's most powerful political family - hoding the nation's two most powerful offices. The popular and very conservative Francisco Santos was really passed over by ex-Pres. Uribe's political party to be its presidential nominee, but the mayoralty of Bogotá would be a convenient launching pad for him for the presidency (just as Petro wanted it to be for himself).
Still a problem, still unclassified:
Trash bags on a Bogotá sidewalk.

Ironically, Petro's destitution comes on the same day the city incorporates another idealistic and unrealistic Petro policy - to require rsidents to separate recyclable trash and set it out in transparent plastic bags, the theory being that waste pickers won't bother to tear open those bags. Unfortunately, Bogotanos haven't yet developed the culture and discipline to carry out such a system. And neither does the personal accountability exist in a city in which many residents simply place their trash on a streetcorner - making it impossible to identify who's separating their trash and who isn't.

Petro supporters on Plaza Bolivar write notes
attacking solicitor general Ordoñez. 
(On the other hand, the city could substantially reduce its trash production with economic incentives which have been demonstrated elsewhere, such as charging for (or even banning) plastic bags, requiring a deposit on cans and plastic bottles, taxing styrofoam containers, and on and on. But, paradoxically, Petro, a one-time leftist guerrilla leader who presumably frowns on capitalism, hasn't implemented such polemical but potentially effective policies. By the same token, Petro also has not implemented the traffic congestion charge or parking fares he's often spoken of to discourage private car use.

A dream unfulfilled: City trashworkers in 'Zero Garbage'
uniforms walk toward Plaza Bolivar today.
In these ways and others Petro has severely disappointed this blogger by talking a good talk but falling short on actions.

Instead, after nearly two years as mayor, most of Petro's polemical policies - with the exception of his land use regimen - have been of limited scope: the closing of part of Ave. Septima to motorized traffic during the daytime and banning of bullfighting. 

Now, most of Petro's policies likely will be reversed. I'm left with a mixture of regret at what might have been and hope that, whoever becomes mayor next, will value actions over dreamy aspirations.

Afterword: I can't help comparing Petro's situation to that of Toronto Mayor Robert Ford, who has admitted to buying illegal drugs, smoking crack and drinking and driving while mayor. Ford has also been filmed threatening to kill someone while in a drunken furor, and pushed over an older city councilwoman in the council chamber. In response to allegations that he had employed prostitutes and asked a city employee for oral sex, Ford talked vulgarly about sex acts on live television.

But, despite all of these of this misbehavior, much of it criminal, Toronto's City Council lacks the power to oust Ford (altho they have stripped away his staff and much of his authority). Does that suggest that Bogotá is out of the mainstream in giving officials authority to oust mayors?

In any case, we can now ask: Which of these two big cities' mayors is making his city look ridiculous? 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Unknown said...

I do not know from where you get all your information on this issue but It seems that you have no idea of what you are talking about. In fist place you do not explain the real issue with the collection of garbage in Bogota. For example: you do not exlain that the problem is that Gustavo Petro was trying to dismantle the monopoly of the collection of garbage from the group of private companies that had this monopoly. In second place, your comparison with that other mayor is pathetic. The mayor of Bogota has not committed any crime nor has been involved in any corruption act. He has simply attacked the interests of the private sector. Please do some research before you write.

Miguel said...

Hi Luis,

Thanks for your comment. I get my information from living in Bogota, reading the newspapers, talking to people, etc. But I never claimed to be either completely corect or complete in any sense.

In reorganizing the garbage collection system, one of Petro's goals was to include the informal trash scavengers/recycles. I'm not sure about the 'monopoly' part.

Regarding Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, I wasn't trying to equate the two men at all. My whole point was that despite Ford's really scandalous and criminal acts, Toronto can't get rid of him. Whereas, Petro was ousted, even tho all he did was mishandle the trash collection scheme and not being accused of corruption.


Stuart Oswald said...

Good riddance to this facist scum.