Thursday, March 19, 2015

Good Riddance Mayor Petro - But Not Yet

Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro. (Photo: El Universal)
Petro's enemies have made a sport of trying to oust him from office. In April 2013 they filed the more than 630,000 voter signatures required to hold a recall election. However, before that election could be held, the procurador ousted Petro in early 2014 for mishandling garbage collection. Nevertheless, only a month later, in the face of myriad legal maneuvers, his ouster was suspended and Petro returned to office. To the anti-Petristas' frustration, the short suspension appeared to kill the possibility of a recall vote.

However, to the surprise of all, this week the Constitutional Court revived the recall vote.

Perhaps the high court - which, incidentally, is engulfed in a corruption scandal - didn't have a calendar. If the magistrates had looked, they'd have seen that the next mayoral election is in October and that Petro's term ends Dec. 31. A recall vote would take at least three months to carry out, placing it only two months before the scheduled mayoral election. And, if Petro lost, they'd have to select a placeholder mayor and schedule an election to select the person to serve the last few months of his term. That would mean two or three expensive elections within a few months, conflict and extreme instability in municipal government.

El Tiempo analyst Yesid Lancheros points out that the noise generated by the pointless Petro recall vote would drown out the policy debates before the vote for the next mayor. Lancheros also observes that the recall vote would almost surely lose - of the 34 such votes held since 1994, not a single recall has succeeded. But the recall vote alone would cost 40 billion pesos. Isn't there a better use for all that money?

Even ex-Congressman Miguel Gómez Martínez, who started the recall effort, told Blu Radio that the court's latest decision was "a joke and the result of not having justice."

None of which changes the fact that Petro has been, if not a bad mayor, a huge disappointment for those of us who hoped the ex-M19 guerrilla leader would bring truly innovative ideas to Bogotá.

Instead, Petro's Bogotá Humana has meant many failed, half-hearted and pointless policies:

Sacks of trash on a sidewalk along Jimenez Ave.
Petro's brief ouster was for allegedly mishandling the city's garbage collection service, so you'd think he'd have taken real steps to resolve this problem. But rather than taking real steps to reduce garbage - such as taxing plastic bags, applying a deposit system to containers or creating a meaningful recycling program - the mayor is expanding the city's solid waste dump.

A huge - and daily - traffic jam in central Bogotá.
One of Bogotá residents' constant complaints is the traffic congestion. And, upon being elected, Petro promised to replace Bogotá's failed Pico y Placa law with something dramatically different: a London-style congestion charge. Altho the mayor presented the congestion charge to the City Council twice, it didn't back the idea, which died. Instead, Petro just twiddled with the failed Pico y Placa.

Cyclists on Carrera Septima's bike lane.
Bogotá was once seen as a regional cycling leader, and Petro set himself up as a great advocate of bicycling and other clean transport. He has created several bike lanes and financed a short pro-bike PR campaign. But the bidding processes for a public bikes scheme repeatedly failed to attract responsible companies, leaving Bogotá lagging behind neighboring capitals which set up public bikes years ago.

The Santamaria Bullfighting Plaza with a sit-in by bullfighters in front.
 Perhaps surprisingly for a man who helped lead a violent guerrilla group, one of Petro's headline efforts was to end bullfighting in Bogotá. He promised to convert the 'Plaza de Toros' into a 'Plaza de Todos.' Petro used a serious of stratagems, including setting up an ice skating rink in the plaza during the bullfighting season, to block bullfights there. The mayor lost a long legal battle to prohibit bullfighting, so he decided that the plaza needed to be shut for renovation. But the bidding process for the renovation contract keeps getting suspended. Meanwhile, for no discernible reason, the plaza's administration banned tourist visits. Instead of being the Plaza de Todos, Petro has turned the historic building into the Plaza de Nadie - Nobody's Plaza.

The bullfighting plaza will be vacant for the foreseeable future.
A TransMilenio bus belches smoke in La Candelaria.
And a severe problem which has barely even registered on Petro's Bogotá Humana program - the air pollution which causes thousands of premature deaths every year. Of course, Petro's done nothing substantial about this.

A scene in El Bronx.
Petro has repeatedly promised to improve the lives of the denizens of central Bogotá's notorious Bronx street, with its addicts, thieves and prostitutes. But initiative after initiative has gone exactly nowhere.

Good bye and good-riddance Mayor Petro - but not until the end of the year.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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