What will be Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro’s legacy? On the surface nothing too groundbreaking at all if we look at the obvious. There are three elements of note such as the complete failure to address Bogota’s transport problems, a hugely embarrassing lapse in judgment regarding the city’s waste recollection system, his own health issues and seemingly precious little else.
In February 2012 I wrote in a blog that Gustavo Petro could conceivably be building a case for a run at the Presidency in 2014, but only if he could achieve anything of note as the capital’s mayor. My argument was that, if Mayor Petro could sort out Bogota’s mobility crisis, then he would perhaps be seen as qualified to bridge the gap from the capital to the regions that would make this political animal a potential president.
Almost exactly one year later, and it seems that I couldn’t have made a more farfetched prediction.
No, I had not swigged the Kool Aid, I just had this feeling that if Petro as a former M19 guerrilla could achieve Colombia’s second most important position, then, why couldn’t he go one step further? After all, he is a costeno by birth, raised in the altiplano and then moved on to Bogota. This would surely have given him greater strengths in the political landscape of the nation’s much divided regions, say than, former Mayor and two-time presidential hopeful (2006 and 2010), Antanas Mockus.
And while Mockus was an incredibly effective Mayor for Bogota, Petro despite all of the initial promise, has been a protest vote that has gone decidedly askew. Petro has been unable to adapt to winning and still behaves as a politician in opposition staggering through his tenure as a welterweight in a mismatch with a heavyweight.
But Petro will have a positive legacy despite the best efforts of his enemies. His is a legacy that far exceeds his small populist victory of outlawing bullfights in Bogota and the progressive breakthrough of the installation of CAMAD (Centro de Atencion Medica a Drogadicto) centers about the city.
Of course, Gustavo Petro’s legacy is that of becoming Mayor of the capital city and showing Colombia that it is indeed possible for a former guerrilla – albeit of a relatively lightweight, at least politically speaking, rebel group – can pay his dues and become a relevant and legitimate political actor within legal boundaries.
And so, despite his failures, it is absolutely imperative that Mayor Petro holds on to power for the remainder of his tenure and that Bogota’s citizens see his role as one of balance and compromise. We the citizens of Bogota needed a strong mayor to see us through the trying times post the pestilent mayoralty of Samuel Moreno. Petro’s ticket as it always has been, was one of protest and billed as anti-corruption.
That is what Bogota wanted.
As a mayor he will have failed, but, if permitted to continue, Gustavo Petro’s term sends a message to the political wings of all of the warring factions out there within Colombia’s borders, that, a return to mainstream politics and legitimate nonviolent participation is not only a possibility but an actual reality in 21st century Colombia.