Friday, December 7, 2018

Just Explain The Money, Mr. Petro

Petro and wads of cash, in the leaked video.
Gustavo Petro is generally remembered as a poor administrator as mayor of Bogotá, and he lost badly when he ran for president. But he has at least been generally known for his probity and for having ideals, whether you agree with them or not.

However, those positive qualities are now under siege these days due to a decade-old video released by his political enemies in which Petro is seen receiving wads of cash of uncertain origin.

As Petro has repeatedly pointed out, receiving wads of cash isn't illegal. But it does looks bad, because it's how people like Pablo Escobar and innumerable corrupt politicians handle their finances, and so requires an explanatio: 'The money came from my mother'. 'I had dug the money up on my ranch.' 'A supporter gave it to me.'

In fact, Petro did offer a simple explanation: He claimed that the cash was a donation from prominent arquitect Simon Velez, who reportedly does not like using banks. But Velez quickly issued a statement flatly denying having given or loaned Petro money. El Tiempo also reported that the other two people who appear in the video along with Petro received city contracts. That's not necessarily illegal, either, but it does look very bad.

Unused bike racks installed during Petro's
mayoralty serve as seats for street vendors.
Petro counterattacked by charging that the video was illegaly leaked by his enemies to distract attention from their own corruption scandals. That's probably true. But whatever the video's origin, that doesn't change its substance.

A lot of people, including me, who thot Petro was a disappointing mayor, had held on to faith that he was at least personally not corrupt.This was despite indications to the contrary, such as the multiple, huge bike parking racks installed on Plaza San Victorino during the last months of his mayoralty - even tho few people ever park bikes on the plaza. Those huge new racks, which quickly turned into seats for street vendors, were very likely the result of a sweetheart contract given to someone with city hall connections, who handed over wads of cash to pay for the privilege of getting a contract to install useless bike racks.

In the same way, bribery can waste public funds, cause governments to build unnecessary, disfunctional roads, purchase overpriced, useless medical equipment and even kill people. And, by undermining faith in the mainstream parties, corruption makes extremists such as Venezuela's Chavez and Brasil's Bolsonaro look more attractive - potentially leading their nations toward disaster.

And corruption has a poisonous effect on democracies. A recent poll found that Latin American support for democratic systems is at a low point, with fewer than half of the public giving democracy their full faith. A big part of the reason for that is the pervasive corruption, and Petro's unexplained cash only deepens that perception.

That's all we need, Mr. Petro, is a clear, verifiable explanation of those bills' origin. But every day that we wait for that explanation in vain adds to the perception that that was dirty money.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: