The Odd Evolution Of Gustavo Petro, Former Marxist And Mayor Of Bogota

Is this the rise of another Hugo Chavez for Latin America?

Bogota's mayor Gustavo Petro
Bogota's mayor Gustavo Petro
Cristina de La Torre


BOGOTA Gustavo Petro, a former Marxist guerrilla who is now the socialist mayor of Bogota, has little apparent interest in following Machiavelli's counsel that ideas be adapted to circumstances. Instead he prefers twisting reality to the demands of his own temperament, and confides more in the mobilizing potential of an initial idea than the hard work involved in giving that idea body and consistency.

Petro is more a politician than a manager, though it should be noted that he is a politician alien to the art of governing. Some see in his conduct the "principles" of a fighter committed to his destiny. Others associate him with the Latin American tradition of the local political chieftain: He might unkindly be described as a pale version of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. At best, he's a visionary with a disdain for the humdrum continuity of public politics.

While the late Venezuelan leader ordered the confiscation of rich people's properties to house the poor, our mayor wants to create enclaves of the displaced in Bogota's prosperous neighborhoods. He hasn't, however, thought about the resources those the latter would need to ensure a dignified life and fit into those communities.

One wonders if Petro works in a state of trance induced by his own bombastic discourse. "Social stratification in Colombia is a caste system, anti-democratic, anti-republican and inhuman," he says. For all their accuracy, the words have little impact because they are rarely followed by deeds. Projects seem to evaporate as fast as the hasty decisions to pursue them are made.

Fading glory

The attributes that once set Petro apart seem to have dissipated as well. What happened to the great orator who dared, with good reason, to denounce then-President Álvaro Uribe for his alleged ties to paramilitaries? Or the man who took power on the back of a struggle against the corrupt contractor companies robbing the city with the connivance of the last mayor, Samuel Moreno?

Petro (right) listening to the community in 2013 — Photo: Bogota Humana

Petro was the man who presented himself as an alternative to the political armies of Right and Left, one lot defending its extremist policies against the other's rigid socialism. He came to the Liévano, the mayor's palace, with a new concept of a capital city: He aimed to reduce social segregation, plan its development while caring for the environment, promote the participation of the excluded and have the state recover its prerogatives.

But Petro's is a minority government. The Left, unaffiliated voters and the poor cast the votes that gave him his victory. By now, his managerial mistakes have cost him the support of the city's anti-establishment voters. His tendency to improvise, his verbal inconsistencies and the continuous negligence that have characterized his administration have hidden the achievements that proved to be, for the poor and oppressed, gifts from heaven: free water, transport subsidies, advances in health care and education.

Divine intervention

All of that created a credibility crisis that was complemented by the hostility of the press and municipal council. But then, a year ago, Petro suddenly received his own gift from heaven: his ousted at the hands of his political "nemesis," Alejandro Ordoñez, the arch-conservative inspector general of Colombia. What a blessing! Petro turned that crisis into a point of political turning point and ultimately resolved it in his own favor.

The inspector general's crass assault became a providential opportunity to start championing "the people." With hardly any city employees among them, thousands of Bogota "sans-culottes" filled the historic Bolívar square to cheer their leader as he waved from the palace balcony. Petro seemed to be emulating earlier popular leaders of Bogota's tumultuous 20th century history. That's his style. His dismissal prompted him to launch a verbal bombardment against the oligarchy, which cost him support from the middle and upper classes. Eventually he got his job back. Only now, his only backing comes from the poor.

Petro has come to swap the cross-class, inclusive option for the more challenging cause of the disinherited. And he has changed his discourse. He used to talk about breaking the social apartheid in a broad central swath of the city. Now he's using the wealth-divid to make an ugly spectacle. The target of his divisive talk is the wealthy northern section of Bogota.

His affirmative, headstrong brand of socialism is seductive to those who feel left out. But it also serves to fuel the Right's strident opposition. In addition, it has caused a divorce with the orthodox Left, which now perceives him as a heretic. With his inclination for forceful ideas — and their noisy impact — and an excessive self-confidence, Petro may find it hard to shake off his aura of an antihero of modern times.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!