Bogota Harmony and Chaos
By María Isabel García
The mayor of the Colombian capital, Antanas Mockus, outlines the achievements of his environmental policy in a Tierramérica interview
BOGOTA, (Tierramérica).- The philosopher and mathematician Antanas Mockus Cívicas, son of Lithuanian immigrants, is in his second three-year term as mayor of the Colombian capital.
Mockus, 48, known for his irreverence and his unique grasp of ritual and spectacle, left the rectorship of the National University of Colombia for the political sphere, and in 1995 was elected mayor of Bogota for the first time.
The politician caused some surprise when he held his wedding in a circus tent surrounded by tigers, but the biggest shock was when he resigned from his post as mayor in order to join Noemí Sanín as her running-mate in her bid for the presidency in 1998, which she lost to current President Andrés Pastrana.
But despite his topsy-turvy public image, even his detractors give Mockus credit for introducing the concept of citizen culture into public administration.
P- In a country enduring such an acute civil conflict, it is somewhat surprising that Bogota is showing signs of recovery.
R - The last four administrations have known how to value what their predecessors built and accept strict parameters, for example, in the area of fiscal discipline. In addition, Bogota is known for being a city where people vote their conscience.
P - Every year, more than 100,000 immigrants arrive in Bogota, many of who are displaced by violence in the countryside. Some ''pessimistic ecologists'' say that this will lead to severe environmental threats throughout the next decade.
R - There is competition between the city that grows in a disorderly way and the one that grows in an orderly way. I hope to favor, through various means - education, culture, autonomy and resource designation - orderly growth. I see Bogota as a city condemned to have a very conscious relationship between order and disorder.
P - Bogota follows Mexico, Santiago and Sao Paulo among the most polluted cities of Latin America.
R - Bogota is experiencing an important transition as far as atmospheric pollution as a result of changes toward more modern transportation systems, the 'transmilenio' (an integrated mass transit system with lanes designated exclusively for public transportation). This is an impressive gamble in environmental terms. Of 250 buses involved in the first phase, 90 are to be run on natural gas. The others on diesel, but with the latest European environmental quality standards. We hope that by the end of our government we will have expanded from 11 to 25 percent of all public transportation trips using this system.
P - What weight will clean production have in the city's plan to maintain competition? Will there be incentives, sanctions?
R -We will reinforce the plan with the business community, in other words, provide consulting and subsidized credit for the conversion of industrial plants. It is essential to promote cooperation among businesses so that each one is not isolated with its own environmental problem, but rather conduct plans by neighborhood, by district, in order to achieve economy-of-scale solutions.
P - How much emphasis will be placed on sewage treatment in the program to clean up the Bogota River, a 25-year project that includes three waste water treatment plants at a cost surpassing 150 million dollars?
R - We are in the worst of possible worlds: a very limited and extremely costly clean up of the Bogota River, absorbing half of the city's environmental funding. It would be much more rational now to separate rain run-off from sewage along the course of the river's tributaries and dedicate the money to providing the people with sewage systems. But it is already a done deal (made during the Jaime Castro administration, 1992-1994) and irreversible. We have to comply with the agreement, and invite other cities to learn from Bogota's experience: first things first.
P - Will you continue to promote travel by bicycle?
R - There are 120 km of bicycle routes now, and we hope to have 220 or 230 km by the end of my administration.
P - What is your definition of 'city'?
R - In the city, a very fertile and respectful interaction between strangers is possible. For me it is a paradise where, being anonymous and with space for solitude and personal autonomy, one has people at hand who know and can contribute different things. The city is like a dense social weave that facilitates things that are good for everyone: public space, art, culture, and education.
* María Isabel García is an IPS correspondent