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It has been, and continues to be, a turbulent time in Bogotá. OK, the cynics amongst you might ask when have things been otherwise, but in a political sense anyway it has been more topsy-turvy than it has been for some time.
In brief summation, we’ve seen the city’s mayor Gustavo Petro shafted from his job and banned from holding public office for 15 years by the country’s Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez, a decision that has precipitated counter legal action from the mayor’s office and a host of peaceful public protests calling for the decision to be revoked (which from the latest wrangling it looks like this will happen).
The whole episode has made for great theatre, for those who could find the time to follow it all that is. It does of course raise some serious questions about the democratic process in Bogotá and Colombia in general when, it appears – on the outside looking in I hasten to add – an elected mayor is booted out of office on the personal whim of an Inspector General.
Yes, Ordóñez had his reasons; the chief one being the bungling, questionable overhaul of the city’s garbage collection in late 2012. This led to a few weeks of chaos with piles of uncollected rubbish on the streets (more than the normal amount that is) and accusations of cronyism flung at the Petro mayorship (read http://bit.ly/WFOPsW for some background).
Yet, from this writers perspective, the greatest criticism that could be levelled at the city’s top man for that whole mess is that it was badly timed and seemingly ill thought out. In theory, the new rubbish measures are a step in the right direction – getting Colombians to change their waste disposal habits is another thing altogether.
So in a county with a long history of political corruption, Petro’s ‘crimes’ seem to be on the lighter end of the scale and surely not meriting of sacking. Not in such an undemocratic way in any case – regardless that the Inspector General was legally entitled to make this decision. Indeed a dilution of the powers of this office is something that the state authorities could do well to look at.
Now you can’t comment on this whole controversy without looking at the protagonists political leanings – the conservative, strongly Catholic Ordóñez versus the left-wing, former guerilla Petro. In a country that has never crossed over to the ‘red side’ of the spectrum when it comes to its presidents, this current left-right tête-à-tête adds to the intrigue, and all this in a presidential election year.
However for some Colombians, those who might be more inclined to vote left, Petro is more of an opportunist (an opportunist politician? Never!) than being truly leftist. The main reasons for this being the paramilitary background of his wife’s family and his alma mater, the upper-class Externado University. That’s being a bit harsh on the man – history is scattered with politicians of the left whose upbringing and schooling would have suggested otherwise. He should be judged on what he does in office, not where he was educated and who he decided to marry.
All this ‘intrigue’ aside, great material as it is for journalists, writers and broadcasters alike, the city and its people must struggle on, and struggling many surely are. For while much has been made of Bogotá’s and Colombia’s rising numbers of those seen as ‘middle-class’, there is still a very cosy elite in this city and country who call the shots and live lives completely removed from the vast majority of the hard-pressed citizens.
It’s most unlikely that Petro or Ordóñez (and we can include President Juan Manuel Santos in this too) have ever had a drink in the tiendas or panaderías (bakeries/coffee shops) in the likes of my ‘beloved’ La Perseverancia neighbourhood (for an idea of what such places are like, see http://bit.ly/1dxhK9v). No, such a place would be too lowbrow for them. It’s not good to mingle with the ‘dumb masses’ they claim to represent.
Whatever the fallout from this latest political pantomime, the host of deprived Colombians watching from the back rows are just hoping some crumbs will remain for them after each side has finished throwing their oversized pies.
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