Colombia: Mayor of Bogotá isolated amidst corruption allegations

Bogotá Mayor Samuel Moreno Rojas faced criticism even before taking office [es] on January 1, 2008. The 50-year-old politician comes from a political dynasty [es]: he is the grandson of military dictator Gustavo Rojas Pinilla (1953-1957), his mother led the populist National Popular Alliance (ANAPO) party in the 1970s, and his brother is a current senator and former Mayor of Bucaramanga. Moreno was preceded by three popular Mayors: Antanas Mockus, Enrique Peñalosa, and Luis Eduardo Garzón, who, though having been elected as independents or endorsed by other parties, joined the Green Party in 2009, prior to the mid-2010 presidential election.

Samuel Moreno Rojas at Campus Party Colombia 2008

Samuel Moreno Rojas at Campus Party Colombia 2008. Photo by Flickr user campuspartycolombia, used under a Creative Commons licence.

But Moreno, who won the 2007 elections endorsed by the left-wing Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA) on the promise of a metro system for Bogotá [es], has been regarded mostly as an “incompetent” who “lacks leadership” [es], and is routinely mocked with nicknames as “bobolitro” (“dumb”). Issues [es] such as urban security, urban planning and, mainly, transportation/mobility (most of the city is “under construction” [es]) have been troubling for the unpopular [es] Mayor Moreno.

Regarding this topic, Tomás Díaz Salamanca in La Ventana writes [es]:

La administración Moreno ha sido una marcada por malas decisiones (en mi criterio) y por una falta de transparencia que generó corrupción y carteles burocráticos dentro de las entidades del distrito. En lo personal, no me identifico con mucho de lo que se ha hecho en la ciudad. No obstante, he notado que el argumento que más se esgrime contra Samuel Moreno y su administración es el de la movilidad. Los argumentos (que más que argumentos toman la forma de ser comentarios incendiarios sin mayor substancia) hacen parecer que todos los problemas de movilidad son de exclusiva responsabilidad de Moreno, y en esto último, no puedo estar más en desacuerdo.

The Moreno administration has been marked by poor decisions (in my opinion) and lack of transparency which generated corruption and bureaucratic cartels inside the [Capital] District entities. Personally, I don't identify with a lot of what has been done in the city. Nevertheless, I've noticed that the most used argument against Samuel Moreno and his administration is mobility. The arguments (which more than arguments take the form of incendiary comments without substance) make appear that all the mobility problems [in Bogotá] are the exclusive responsibility of Moreno, and in this respect I couldn't disagree more.

He also says that blaming the Mayor for all the mobility problems in the city is “irresponsible” and that no matter if infrastructure were okay, because “our rudeness would come out.”

In the last few weeks, a corruption scandal has added to these issues: allegations that the Nule group (a conglomerate formed by three cousins from the Caribbean Coast who until then had enjoyed popularity among Colombian financial and political circles [es] and even the press [es]) and other companies had paid commissions in order to get contracts for public works in Bogotá (the ‘hiring merry-go-round scandal’ [es]). The scandal involves the Mayor and his brother Iván Moreno, as well as other officials of the Bogotá government, and occurs roughly one year before the local elections for the 2012-2016 period [es]. Though at the national level the PDA opposes ruling parties such as the Conservative Party and the Party of the U, things are quite different in the Bogotá city council: these two parties and the Liberal Party are allies of Mayor Moreno [es] —mostly in exchange of bureaucratic posts— and are seeking to snatch the Mayor's office away from the PDA (even with former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez as a possible candidate [es]).

On late October 2010, three members of his own party (former senator and presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, senator Luis Carlos Avellaneda, and Bogotá councillor Carlos Vicente de Roux) formed a commission “in order to examine corruption in Bogotá [public] hiring” and published a report [es] which alleges that several contractors paid commissions or were involved with figures inside the city's administration (interestingly, Petro was part of the M-19 guerrillas, demobilized in 1990, which formed after the 1970 presidential election, allegedly “stolen” to Moreno's grandfather). Both the Inspector General and the Attorney General's offices [es] started investigations on these allegations. The Mayor replied by claiming he was tired of “smear” and “gossip”, members of his party blamed [es] the former administrations [es], and the Party of the U announced [es] it retired its support for Moreno for the Bogotá city council. The troubled Mayor, despite his unpopularity and his failures [es], will likely remain [es] in office until January 1, 2012.

Miguel Olaya at Juglar del Zipa [es] endorses the election theory and, without defending Moreno, says that his management has been systematically sabotaged with political purposes:

Bogotá es desde hace rato escenario de contienda política, desde que gobernarla se volvió sexy. Que el tal voto de opinión es maduro y solo atiende razones es pura mierda. Lo malo es que la leyenda negra cumplió su propósito principal de desprestigiar al Polo y, sobre todo, de presentarnos la alternativa natural: Uribe. No tiene que ser Uribe mismo, claro, aunque muchos hayan eyaculado de la emoción al oír hablar de esa posibilidad. […] Lo de hoy es el microuribismo y los uribistas, una vez más, harán realidad el mito de que la alcaldía de Bogotá es el segundo cargo público del país e integrarán la ciudad al circuito ideológico y burocrático del uribismo con el sencillo argumento de que es lo contrario del Polo, que no solo es terrorista de civil (modo nacional de discurso), sino unos ineptos y corruptos administrando (modo local de discurso, alternativa a «ahí está la oposición en Bogotá, este no es un gobierno autoritario»).

Bogotá since a long of time ago has been a stage for political fight, since governing it became a sexy thing. That the so-called opinion vote is mature and only listens to reasons is bullshit. The bad thing is that the black legend achieved its principal purpose of smearing the [Alternative Democratic] Pole and, above all, introducing the natural alternative: Uribe. It doesn't have to be Uribe himself, of course, even though many have ejaculated with excitement when they've heard such a possibility. […] Today's issue is micro-Uribism and Uribistas, again, will turn the myth claiming the Bogotá Mayorship is the second most important public office in the country a reality, and will integrate the city to the Uribista ideological, bureaucratic circuit with the simple argument that it is the opposite of the Pole, which not only is a terrorist dressed in civilian clothes (the national way of discourse), but also incompetent and corrupt when administering (the local way of discourse, alternative to ‘the opposition is there in Bogotá, this is not an authoritarian government’).

Eduardo MacKenzie of Atrabilioso accuses [es] Petro, Avellaneda and de Roux of seeking a vendetta against the “fraction of the PD[A] less contaminated by the extremist ‘all ways of struggle combined’ ideology”, dismisses their report and slams Semana magazine for publishing it:

El escepticismo que despierta la acción de Petro contra Samuel Moreno radica en que sus acusaciones son nulas. El 23 de octubre de 2010 la revista Semana publicó un detallado resumen del affaire. El artículo, anónimo, dice basarse en los “resultados” de una “investigación” realizada por una “comisión”.

Empero, leyendo ese artículo se descubre que, en lugar de una comisión investigadora imparcial, lo que hubo fue un grupo de 10 personas bajo la batuta del propio Gustavo Petro.

El “informe”, por otra parte, no es más que un tejido de suposiciones y amalgamas, destinado a fabricarle el vestido de culpable a Samuel Moreno. Las “pruebas” en ese “informe” no existen. El montaje descansa sobre una investigación incipiente y sobre una misteriosa grabación telefónica clandestina que ningún técnico oficial ha examinado y que puede ser una falsificación elaborada por imitadores profesionales de voces. […]

La “comisión” no investigó realmente: examinó una ínfima parte de la documentación y no interrogó al acusado principal, ni a los otros actores. No los escuchó. No examinó sus documentos, ni valoró sus explicaciones. Sin embargo, los acusó. La metodología de la tal “comisión” que no fue nombrada por nadie, excepto por el grupo que lanza las acusaciones, es grotesca e inadmisible.  […]

The skepticism awaken by Petro's action against Samuel Moreno lies on the nulity of their accusations. On October 23, 2010, Semana magazine published a detailed summary on the affair. The anonymous piece claims to be based on the “results” of an “investigation” by a “commission.”

Nevertheless, read this article and find out that, instead of an impartial investigating commission, it was actually a group of 10 people under directions of Gustavo Petro himself.

The “report,” on the other hand, is no more than a fabric of suppositions and amalgams, intended to sew the guilty uniform for Samuel Moreno. The “proofs” in that “report” don't exist. The set-up rests on an incipient investigation and a mysterious, clandestine phone recording which hasn't been examined by any official technician and which might be a forgery elaborated by professional voice impersonators. […]

The “commission” didn't actually investigate: it examined a negligible part of the documentation and didn't interrogate the main accused, nor the others involved. It didn't listen to them. It didn't examine their documents nor value their explanations. It accused them, though. The methodology of such “commission”, which wasn't appointed by anyone, except by the group firing the accusations, is hideous and unacceptable. […]

Carlos Correa points out [es] that, in the end, all Bogotans should be held responsible of the mess because they made a poor decision on election day:

En plena campaña se escuchaba en todos los pasillos que “Samy” no tenía los pantalones para manejar esta ciudad, mucho se habló de que la verdadera comandante sería su propia madre y hasta su hermano, que bueno sea recordarle a los olvidadizos, salió lleno de escándalos de corrupción de su labor como alcalde de Bucaramanga ¡A ver señores! ¿”Samy”, el cuatro veces senador, qué le dejó a la patria durante todos esos años en el congreso?

Aún así lo elegimos o nos lo dejamos elegir. Y luego de casi dos años de comprobada ineptitud y falta de liderazgo (a lo que se le puede sumar corrupción), la respuesta ciudadana ha sido llamar a “Julito” y a “Dario” a quejarse, y un cacerolazo en pleno invierno que dio fue risa.

Lejos estoy de absolver a Samuel Moreno, su administración, la alcahueteria del Polo y el arribismo interesado del resto de partidos políticos; pero quiero hacer énfasis que también yo y usted (sí, me pongo de primeras) tenemos gran parte de responsabilidad en este y en otros miles de casos donde o nos da pereza elegir o apartándonos el sentido común votamos por unos comprobados tarados.

During the campaign it was heard everywhere that “Samy” hadn't the courage to manage this city, a lot of people claimed that the true commander-in-chief would be his mother and even his brother, which I should remind the forgetful, left office covered with corruption scandals after being Mayor of Bucaramanga. Come on, people! What did “Samy”, four times Senator, leave for the country during all these years in Congress?

But even so we elected him or allowed his election. And after almost two years of proven ineptitude and lack of leadership (added to corruption), the citizen response has been calling [morning radio hosts] “Julito” and “Dario” to complain, and a ‘cacerolazo‘ during the winter which caused laughter.

I'd be the last one absolving Samuel Moreno, his administration, [Alternative Democratic] Pole's cover-up and the selfish social climbing of the other political parties; but I want to emphasize that me and you (yes, I put myself first) have a great deal of responsibility too in this and other thousands of cases where either we're too lazy to choose or, lacking common sense, we vote for tested morons.


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