EspañolWhile taking part in the recent campaign for mayor of Bogotá as an independent candidate, I realized that new political movements are necessary, because they can defend ideas and measures which traditional party leaders can’t even mention.
In this case, for instance, neither eventual winner Enrique Peñalosa, who ran for the Conservative and Radical Change parties, nor his main rivals spoke of the disproportionate power which teachers’ unions exert over public education, both in Bogotá and in the rest of the country. Nor did they deem it necessary to speak of the tremendous corruption which taints a significant portion of the Bogotá police force.
But the last elections’ pooh-bahs were particularly reluctant to touch the thorny issue of Uber in Bogotá, and the reasons are quite obvious.
Each candidate knew very well that Uber and similar companies are popular among users, and that they offer a solution, however partial, to Bogotá’s daunting transportation problems. But they also knew that, if the teachers’ union can elect several local councilmen by itself, then the taxi drivers’ voting block, which is led by Uldarico Peña, perhaps Bogotá’s most powerful taxi owner, can “decide who becomes the next mayor,”as La Silla Vacía reported a few years ago.
So it was hardly surprising that, when the Uber question popped up in a debate in which only the top four candidates took part, none spoke in favor of the digital technology as a means to improve citizens’ lives. None mentioned the sharing economy’s immense potential to create jobs while providing 21st-century consumers with more options and better opportunities.
Peñalosa said that “there can be no unequal treatment, because taxis pay for a permit and are subject to congestion restrictions.” Rafael Pardo, who ran for the Liberal and National Unity parties and counted with the support of a large amount of cab drivers, claimed that Uber engaged in “unfair competition.” Franciso Santos, the Democratic Center’s candidate, proposed the creation of “a fairer model” for taxi drivers. Clara López, of the socialist Democratic Pole party, asserted that “the higher social strata use Uber as an absolutely illegal service.”
In the end, it was Peñalosa who got away with portraying Uber as foreign, baby-seal-crushing neanderthals, since he obtained Uldarico’s support and, in effect, won the election.
But Peñalosa isn’t the only high-ranking politician who, at least in part, owes his power to the Bogotá taxi cartel.
As I wrote last year in the PanAm Post, President Juan Manuel Santos and his then Labor Minister Rafael Pardo promised thousands of Bogotá taxi drivers that they would cancel “applications that promote illegality” — in other words, Uber — when they sought their votes prior to the second round of the 2014 presidential election.
This blatant act of demagoguery was particularly heedless. Did President Santos actually know what measures would be necessary in order to take Uber out of the Colombian market? Probably not, but the fact is that Santos decided to wash his hands of the whole Uber business and announce in the middle of the campaign that he would leave the decision to his vice president, Germán Vargas Lleras.
Was this a fired shot in the midst of the “cold war” that, according to rumors, is being waged inside the presidential palace between Santos supporters and those of Vargas Lleras? Did the president, who was supporting Pardo for mayor of Bogotá, wish to leave his second-in-command against the wall as a means to damage Peñalosa’s candidacy, which counted with Vargas Lleras’s support?
It might be, but the fact is that the vice president reacted intelligently — from the point of view of his own self-interest, that is — and announced that no decision regarding Uber would be taken until after the October 25 election.
It was only until November 12 that the vice president’s decree regarding Uber came to be known. According to the radio station W Radio, the decision in effect ends the way in which Uber has operated in Colombia thus far. The government will impose the particular conditions under which “luxury taxicabs” may operate in the future. These include specifications for the vehicles, including the color, and minimum fees determined by the state.
This submission to the bidding of Uldarico and other high-handed taxicab owners was rather predictable. After all, Germán Vargas Lleras will definitely be a presidential candidate in 2018, and he knows full well that a win in Bogotá is important in order to ensure a victory nationwide. He also knows that the taxi drivers’ votes can make the difference between winning and losing in the Colombian capital.
Once again in Colombia, consumer choice — in this case the freedom to choose a means of transport without government intervention — is denied by the cronyism that has subjugated the national economy for over a century.
EspañolAt first sight, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Norway may look like completely different countries. The Scandinavian nation is an established democracy, the Asian kingdom is ruled under rigorous religious principles, and the South American country leans socialist and populist. These three countries, however, share a characteristic: they are oil-exporting nations that use oil revenues to fund and promote their ideas and projects overseas, especially when oil prices are high. Across Latin America, it is well known that Venezuela's Chavista regime has financed the activities of various left-wing leaders in the region. Although such interventions failed in several countries, they did succeed in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua in propping up authoritarian, caudillo-style leaders who hold on to power without regard for rule of law or for basic individual liberties. The Saudi case might look different, but in reality, it's quite similar. Huge oil revenues have allowed the Saudis to intervene in all sorts of conflicts in their region, supporting allies who hold similar religious ideas and fighting against enemies who perceive Islam differently. One would think that the Kingdom of Norway, which is democratic, plural, and a strong advocate of human rights, would act differently. One would think that the Norwegian government would defend principles like freedom and self-determination for the nations which receive its largesse. But the case of Norwegian foreign aid to Guatemala clearly shows how "international cooperation" can easily advance a political agenda that, being out of touch with the recipient country's reality, ends up generating or exacerbating conflicts and causing great harm. Without understanding Guatemala's complex political, social, and cultural reality, the Norwegian government has promoted extremist groups' interests. This has led to conflict and even violence, for instance in the case of the attacks against a cement factory in the town of San Juan Sacatepéquez near Guatemala City. [adrotate group="7"] It was there that, some months ago, Guatemalan extremists murdered an entire family, whose members were guilty only of wishing to work for the company that operates legally in the town. Some 10 corpses bear witness to the cruel way in which the supposed defense of the environment can turn into a mortal confrontation which violates the primary and most essential human right: the right to life. The Norwegian embassy has financed various groups of this type in Guatemala. Their stated intention is to provide support to the country's indigenous communities, which supposedly face discrimination. But those in charge of the Norwegian state haven't understood that their money has been used to create and maintain organizations that treat conflict as a profession. They use violence and extortion to gain power, and they strive to revive the confrontation which devastated the country during the second half of the 20th century. They have sown hatred and prevented mining and hydroelectric companies from investing in the country, thus delaying Guatemala's progress. There is even irony in this: groups financed with Norwegian funds virulently oppose hydroelectric power, although it is used broadly and systematically in the Scandinavian nation. Fortunately, the Norwegian government seems to have understood that its presence in Guatemala is not favorable to Guatemalan citizens' interests. For this reason and others, Norway has decided to end its social experiments on Guatemalan soil. It would be immensely helpful if other First-World states — like Spain, Sweden, Belgium, or the United States — could also understand that giving money to extremist, violent groups constitutes a pernicious intervention in local affairs. By doing so, they harm Guatemalans, but they harm themselves as well. Translated by Daniel Raisbeck.