From Utopia to Dystopia: The Case of Bogotá


EspañolIn various places in Latin America, we are directly experiencing the consequences of believing in the utopias (dystopias?) that statist leaders love to promise. As we witness with concern the evolution (degeneration?) of the social and economic situation in Venezuela — as a result of the policies, ideas, and power exercised by the leaders of 21st Century Socialism — in Colombia we have a similar example at the local level.

In late 2013, I wrote about the removal of the recently-ousted mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro. After many months and much confusion, his removal has only just taken effect. Among the most recent developments in this long and grueling process, the State Council, one of Colombia’s high courts, upheld the dismissal, but a few hours later, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures, because his political rights allegedly had been violated.

The dismissal was in standby, but within the past 24 hours President Juan Manuel Santos has stepped in and dismissed the mayor. Meanwhile, we have been experiencing several notable phenomena in the city ever since this process began.

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First, it is now abundantly clear that the notion that in Colombia there are no protections for democratically elected representatives is false. Gustavo Petro was been able to stay in power because his lawyers found multiple legal strategies to prevent the execution of the dismissal. Of course, this also demonstrates the rigmarole of the Colombian legal system, and its need for greater transparency and clarity.

Second, even though the mayor achieved many victories that allowed him to remain in office, his supporters have persisted in the strategy of turning him into a martyr, when he clearly is not. Every decision in his favor is received as natural and deserved, while those against him are apparent evidence of the alleged persecution of the leader. Moreover, political debate has sought to link the mayor’s situation to a class struggle, which was absent up until now.

Third, this quarrel has been first and foremost about Gustavo Petro’s eagerness to cling to power — power for power’s sake, and not to prove the success of his model or his ideas. Since December, the city has not had a mayor, but a character who has focused his attention on hiring lawyers, launching legal actions to stay in office, and manipulating public opinion.

And fourth, Gustavo Petro has done all this with the resources of the city. On the one hand, in the best style of the socialists of the 21st century, he has turned the local channel, Canal Capital, into the propaganda arm of his administration. On the other hand, he has dedicated his time and effort to mobilize demonstrations of different social groups that support him. Of course, when there are demonstrations against the disasters of his administration, as in the case of Transmilenio, he quickly denounces persecution and plots against him.

Fifth, as a consequence, the city is adrift. The problems in the system of garbage collection, the reason why he was dismissed, continue to deepen; the problem of mobility is a time bomb, as well as the reduction in public safety, and the chaos in the public transport system.

Meanwhile, the mayor is busy defending himself — haranguing in the public square or logged into his Twitter account — announcing measures that are either insufficient to deal with the problems at hand or so wrong he has to reverse them as soon as they are launched. Consequently, Bogotá, which had become a regional reference for its development under the administrations of Antanas Mockus and Enrique Peñalosa, has gone back in time into the dark 1980s. It is worth noting that this is not just the result of Gustavo Petro’s administration, but of citizens choosing the wrong path since the election of Luis Eduardo Garzón and Samuel Moreno, also followers of statist ideas.

Despite the poor state in which the city is subsumed, there is a silver lining to all this. Colombia is lucky to have experienced first-hand the devastating consequences of allowing someone like Gustavo Petro into power, albeit at a local level, and therefore without major national consequences. In this sense, unlike our neighbors, we are still on time to avoid that this disaster has a national impact.

One hopes this experience will be understood as what it is: a demonstration that no matter who, where, or how, if models based on statism and contempt for individual liberty are implemented, they are doomed to fail. Let us see a change of direction in Bogotá; the one that the city has been on, with more than 10 years of statist administrations, is simply wrong.

Translated by Alan Furth.

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