June 22, 2011

As the election for the next mayor of Colombia’s capital approaches, all candidates say they agree that “corruption is the worst evil facing Bogotá.” The squandering of the taxpayers’ money has become the current campaign’s central theme due to a series of recent scandals.

Among the most notorious has been the case of Agro Ingreso Seguro, a government program implemented during former President Álvaro Uribe’s mandate with the aim of “reducing inequality in the countryside.” The result, according to the daily El Espectador, was the transfer of tens of millions of dollars to a handful of landowning families closely linked to the government. At the end of 2010, a new uproar arose as the media unveiled the so-called “contract carousel,” a scheme by which politicians and contractors pocketed over one billion dollars—supposedly earmarked for infrastructure—by means of “embezzlement, breach of legal duty, bribery, and undue celebration of contracts.” As a result, the current mayor, Samuel Moreno of the left-wing party Polo Democrático Alternativo, has been suspended from his post while his brother and fellow party member Senator Iván Moreno lingers behind bars. His cellmates include dozens of other former congressmen incarcerated for their ties to paramilitary groups.

“I’m still waiting to hear a politician suggest that a possible solution is having fewer politicians.”

Given the political milieu, each of the mayoral candidates is depicting themselves as a paragon of integrity and a crusader against corruption. One of them is Mr. Gustavo Petro, a former member of the guerrilla group M-19 who was a Senator for the Polo Democrático before founding Colombia’s Progressive Movement. According to Petro, the city’s “model has collapsed” due to corruption. Meanwhile, independent candidate Gina Parody, a former Senator for the Partido de la U, a stronghold of Mr. Uribe’s backers, is promising to end corrupt practices by means of her “transparency manual.” The rest of the candidates are using similar language to the extent that you can barely tell them apart.

Given that the central problem is a fraudulent and spendthrift state, it’s difficult to believe that any solution can come from a series of professional politicians who have lived off the government for most of their adult lives but are suddenly promising honesty and transparency. Such promises were also made by former officials who are now inmates. Colombian politicians intend to use the state’s power to solve a problem, except the state itself is the problem.


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