Bogotá’s “Beacon of Enlightened Municipal Government”
I have lived in Bogotá my whole life and I have seen corruption and really crappy administrations in the city for a long, long time.
So now, The Economist has this article about Gustavo Petro, Bogotá’s current mayor, and his issues with rubbish collection. It is quite fair and sums up the city’s situation quite well.
But here’s what rubs me the wrong way:
BACK in the 1990s a string of reforming mayors turned Bogotá into a beacon of enlightened municipal government in an otherwise troubled country, creating an extensive bus rapid-transport (BRT) network, parks and public libraries. Sadly, Colombia’s capital now risks becoming a byword again, this time for municipal mismanagement.
No, no, no, no, no.
There was a string of mayors with good PR, nothing more. This was never, and never has been a “beacon of enlightened municipal government”.
Let me tell you about Bogotá’s BRT network and it’s mayor.
The system is called Transmilenio, and was a mediocre BRT network imported from Curitiba, a Brazilian city with no more than two million people. Bogotá has more than eight million residents, so there you go – we’re using a BRT network designed for far much fewer people (so, yeah, everytime you use Transmilenio you experience what it’d be to be a canned sardine).
To make matters worse, the mayor who wasted our money on Transmilenio, Enrique Peñalosa, is the most corrupt politician I have ever known about – and that’s saying a lot.
Let me tell you about his story:
His father was Enrique Peñalosa Camargo, Minister of Agriculture, who was accused of influence peddling and perjury; due to the bad PR the scandal could generate, the club of which Peñalosa Camargo was a member decided to expel the Peñalosas.
Later on, when during Enrique Jr. administration, the city expropriated the Country Club’s polo field, just because. And this is what Peñalosa said in an interview for a book about his time in charge of the city:
The land issue is a political problem and I can already expropriate all the land around the city without compensation to anyone or anything.
So what if they [the terrorist guerrillas] take all the rural area? It is almost irrelevant, a bunch of crazy men lost in the jungle, kidnapping people on the farms, in the roads.
It would be great if one could improve wealth distribution via guerrilla pressures [by threatening club owners]
You have to wonder if someone who thinks terrorism is OK as long as it aims to a group of people he despises is the posterboy of a “beacon of enlightened municipal government”.
But I digress. Let’s go back to Transmilenio.
There were a lots of issues with Transmilenio, like the fact that almost 96% of its income goes to private pockets, while the city (taxpayers’ money) run with all the expenses.
Bogotá has always been stuck with traffic jam, because no one builds enough roads and streets. Transmilenio was suppposed to be a solution to that. Instead, they decided to put Transmilenio to work on the fastest lanes of the few highways we got! So now, we lack presentable highways and traffic jams just got worse.
Not happy with that, Peñalosa closed parking bays and various entrances to highways, so the traffic jams got worse. But he hadn’t even started: he then put a curfew on everyone’s cars, something called Pico y Placa. This is the logic (or lack thereof) behind that measure: since there are too many cars, you can’t go out on certain dates, depending on your car’s license plate’s number. His track record on civil liberties is awful!
So there you go – you’re being forced to use a crappy public system of transportation (we’ll get to the crappy part just now) because the Government didn’t build streets, neither it repaired the broken ones.
Did I say crappy public system of transportation. Hell yeah! These were the Transmilenio figures after ten years:
We have paid 51.319 million pesos [$ 25'659.500 US dollars] in repairs, 6800, the number of slabs that have been replaced in the lanes of Caracas Avenue and the North Highway because they got fractured.
And why did the fracture -and keep on fracturing-? Because they were made with poor quality concrete. It turns out, Peñalosa had some friends in the concrete business and it so happens he signed a contract that would allow them not just to use cheap concrete, but made they kept on being hired in order to do the repair works. (Andrés Camargo, the guy in charge of the Urban Development Institute during Peñalosa’s administration was sentenced to seven years in prison.)
And speaking of low quality, Transmilenio has also been criticized because it uses heavy polluting diesel.
And wouldn’t you guess what he did after he failed three times in a row to get elected again as mayor? He founded Colombia’s Green Party, the first ever right-wing Green Party, one of it’s founders being a puppet of concrete industry.
So much for “a beacon of enlightened municipal government”, right?