Let there be no doubt; Gustavo Petro was a disastrous mayor. Bogota has gone backwards under his ideological administration. Today, many Bogotanos will allow themselves a sigh of relief as he finally leaves his post.
But for all his faults, Petro was elected fairly and squarely. His mandate came direct from Bogota’s 8 million souls, and his removal from office is an affront to us all.
Mr Petro’s outburst that Colombia´s democracy is “mortally wounded” is typically exaggerated, but who can really contest that Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez has trespassed on the sovereignty of the people?
Who can dispute the claim Colombia’s elite are derelict in their duty when months of institutional sclerosis have followed Ordeñez’s December ruling to ban Petro from office?
And who can avoid recoiling at the sight of President Santos plunging his estoque deep into the neck of his now matryred foe?
But frankly, after Petro’s telenovelic efforts to fight Ordoñez in the courts failed on Tuesday, Santos was left with precious little choice but to deliver his matador’s blow.
As Santos signed off on Inspector General Ordoñez’s decision, and as night fell on the capital, Petro peered out from the balcony of his mayoral palace whose shadow is cast across the Bolivar plaza.
Thrashing and raging against his political death, Petro called on the masses to rise up against those who “were elected by the blood and the money of cocaine”. The “vote in Colombia is useless” he claimed; “they have killed the constitution…we must fill the plazas in all the cities and all the villages” of the nation, he urged. “If we must go on a national strike the people must go”, he promised.
But today Petro’s eyes flicker no more; his political career must surely have dragged itself to the end.
It is a sorry tale in which I wonder whether there is a winner.
Certainly it is not Bogota. The city has suffered years of incompetent and corrupt governance. And Petro himself, following on from two hopeless administrations, has spent the best part of his time in office locked in a battle to prevent his tragically inexorable demise. Investment and progress has been halted, just at the time when Colombia’s economy has taken off. A once in a lifetime opportunity cannot be allowed to be missed by mismanagement and inept politicians.
Democracy? Well, after this month’s congressional elections were dismissed by almost all but Santos supporters as the most fraudulent and expensive on record, many Colombians are repulsed by their “fathers of the nation” as the politicians are (increasingly ironically) called.
What too of the Havana peace talks underway with the FARC? The guerrillas today wasted no time in claiming the Petro impeachment would blow ill winds across the Caribbean sea. How can we disarm and form a political party, they say, if the very principle of democracy is under threat?
However hard I look I can see no saving grace in this lamentable episode.
So what will happen now? Surely there must be reason for cheer?
President Santos has named Labour Minister Rafael Pardo caretaker mayor, ahead of elections which must be called for two months hence.
Pardo, a safe pair of hands, has served in governments stretching back to the 90s, a key player in President Gaviria’s campaign to bring down drug lord Pablo Escobar.
But he will not be around long, and Bogota is set for a further period of uncertainty and paralysis. Petro’s inability to govern meant he was unable to execute more than 14% of the budget in January; the lowest delivery rate since 2005. That a left-winger is criticised for not being able to spend money is a sign something is seriously awry.
Petro’s cabinet have resigned in support of their boss, so Pardo, in the short time he has in charge, must pull together a team of people whose depressing role will be no more ambitious than to halt the decline.
But once the elections are out of the way won’t Bogota be able to move on under new leadership?
We must certainly hope so. There are officially no candidates in the running so far, but Bogotanos will know their decision this time around is crucial. Colombia Politics can only hope for a Bloomberg, a man or woman who means business, who will put Bogota before politics, roll up their sleeves and get to work delivering the new roads, the new metro, the new schools, a decent law and order strategy…
Until that time I`m finding it impossible to shift from my mind the opening lines of Gabo’s, Autumn of the Patriarch….
“Over the weekend the vultures got into the Presidential Palace by pecking through the screens on the balcony windows, and the flapping of their wings stirred up the stagnant time inside, and at dawn on Monday the city awoke out of its lethargy of centuries with the warm, soft breeze of a great man dead and rotting grandeur.”
Photo, El Tiempo.