Welcome Development (Colombia remix)

In February the Constitutional Court of Colombia thwarted President Alvaro Uribe’s attempt to run for a third term. This was a major relief, but the good news was tempered by an understanding that Uribe’s Defense Minister, Juan Manuel Santos, was waiting on the sideline ready to carry the hard-line, militaristic, oligarchic party platform into the next election. (Sort of like if George Bush was deemed ineligible to run for president and so he tapped Rumsfeld or Cheney to run in his place).

Well, over the last few weeks—in a surprising & welcome development—the eminently likable Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus has edged ahead of Badman Santos in the polls.

From my outsider point of view, this represents such a fascinating development because of the kind of person/politician that is Antanas Mockus. A former mathematics & philosophy professor of Lithuanian descent who sports glasses and a chin-strap beard, he looks like one of those cool Mennonite dudes in Harrisonburg who cruise down Rt 11 to Walmart in a buggy accompanied by two well-mannered anachronistically-dressed blond children. But what is really wild about him is his style of governance: as a successful two-term mayor of Bogotá he synthesized politics & spectacle/art to new levels. I’m talking about new levels.

One of his central political philosophies is that problems such as violence are better addressed through improved governance rather than increased force; and his governance philosophy recognizes that many of Colombia’s serious problems are essentially cultural issues and proceeds with the understanding that cultural attitudes can be constructively addressed through something like theater—rather than merely through legislation.

Thus, to clear the downtown streets of jaywalkers (a chronic safety & traffic congestion problem) he hired 20 mimes to patrol the streets and mock jaywalkers, believing correctly that Colombians respond more to mockery than petty fines. He is famous for wearing a spandex superhero outfit and parading around as Super Citizen, encouraging people to take pride in their democracy and pay taxes (even convincing 6,000 wealthy Bogotáns to pay an optional tax to improve city services). He launched several gender-awareness initiatives, including “women’s night” in Bogotá where all the women were encouraged to go out on the town while the men were encouraged to stay home, clean, and look after the kids—also he promoted a women-only music concert series that was policed entirely by the city’s female police officers. The list goes on… he ran a campaign to collect unwanted household guns and melted them down into baby spoons, he released water conservation commercials on TV featuring him delivering stump speech in the shower, etc., etc.

Of all his antics, one really jumped out at me in its paradoxical poetry. A central issue facing any Colombian politician is the epidemic of violence. Impressively, under Mockus’ mayorship, homicides in Bogotá fell by 70%. During his tenure, Mockus began receiving death threats and in response he took to wearing a modified bullet-proof vest—a bullet-proof vest with a heart-shaped hole cut out directly over his heart.

“While I was the mayor of Bogotá, I received occasional death threats. Therefore, I had to use a bullet-proof vest. I made a hole right where my heart is. The hole was in the shape of a heart. I believe this kind of gesture, gave me indeed more protection.” (Quoted here)

That last sentence is my guru; the clap sound of a one-handed non-violence koan. Elsewhere, in an academic essay about political gestures, Mockus wrote “When words run out, what’s left is art.”

[The Colombian presidential election is in three weeks.]

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One Response to “Welcome Development (Colombia remix)”

  1. Powther Says:

    Exemplary behavior to make human life worth living. Approved!

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