Interview | 8/23/2011 11:00:00 AM
“We were not in a good path”
With only two months as the mayor in charge, Clara Lopez seems to be balancing the way things were running in Bogotá. According to surveys, more than half of the citizens support her. She spoke with SEMANA about the problems facing the city, her differences with Samuel Moreno, and her potential candidacy.
SEMANA: You ran for mayor of Bogotá in 1988, in the first popular election of mayors and twenty years later you become one. Have you thought about this?
CLARA LOPEZ: My conclusion is that when you belong to the opposition and to the left, it takes longer to achieve the aspirations.
SEMANA: Did you had already forgot your aspirations to become a Mayor?
CL: I was a pre-candidate in the last election, but the circumstances were not given and the City Hall was not anymore in my plans. That’s why I was opposed, in a first time, to be in the list of possible candidates to replace dismissed mayor Samuel Moreno.
SEMANA: Why were you reluctant?
CL: Two months before, I had been acclaimed as president of the Democratic Pole. For a person of my social background (she comes from a wealthy family), it was an achievement to receive the vote of confidence of the entire country’s left wing.
SEMANA: So, for you it was almost an obligation...
C.L.: Yes, but challenges are made to assume them.
SEMANA: You have done well. In the latest Napoleon Franco’s survey, you have a 54 percent approval rating. Very different of Samuel Moreno’s 12 percent. Is it a surprise for you?
CL: I feel that the city is giving me a vote of confidence. The public wants the city to take its course again and to take urgent decisions that were postponed.
SEMANA: You inherited a series of issues ...
C.L.: Yes, many and not all were recent. There are some that are twenty years old. We are making progress in the North Canton (a military base) and with the recent court decision on the polo field of the Country Club.
SEMANA: And what is this decision that we have not heard yet?
CL: A few weeks ago a judge ordered the District to return the polo field to the Country Club. So instead of return it and begin another expropriation process, we are seeking an agreement with the club.
SEMANA: And what solution have you found to enable the 11th avenue cross through the North Canton?
CL: The Ministry of Defense decided to give the space, but we haven’t been able to agree on the amount of the compensation. The important thing is that we have appointed an expert to set the price that we would paid.
SEMANA: Another issue that you had to face were the delays on the public bus system construction in the 26th street. When will it be ready?
CL: In December we expect to deliver the complete work, with stations, public spaces and pedestrian bridges. The thing is that every issue has little issues.
SEMANA: According to several reports, the contractor is asking for a new addition of 89,000 million pesos. More money for the 26th?
CL: When I just got into office, the contractor asked for a substantial addition and it remains in force. We are on it.
SEMANA: Must you give it?
C.L. I do not know. The issue has a legal complexity. We will provide what is necessary to be delivered, not more.
SEMANA: The 7th avenue is another problem. We were in big trouble and you got an ace in the hole with the idea of a green corridor. Is this project a reality?
CL: I aspire to build a solid project that defends for itself. It is a commitment in favor of an environmental corridor that would be able to sustain itself and create a friendly city. It's a transcendental decision that involves a very intense work.
SEMANA: And what would happen to the contract that was already awarded?
CL: The director of IDU, Urban Development Institute, is leading negotiations with contractors to reach a legal solution and not burdensome for the city. They are not going to take advantage of a difficult situation as the rainy season, that prevented the Circunvalar to be used as an alternative route for the traffic that usually uses the 7th avenue.
SEMANA: If you are going to reverse the contract, does it means that the mayor Samuel Moreno wrongly delivered it, earlier this year?
CL: We can not start another attack against Samuel Moreno.
SEMANA: Another headache is the building of the new integrated transportation system, the SITP. The Prosecutor Office stopped the bidding several times, but finally it was won by a figure close to three trillion pesos. Did you agree?
C.L.: Yes, that process was completed correctly. It was long because we have the help of the Office to correct problems.
SEMANA: At the beginning of Samuel Moreno's term, his secretary of Transportation said that in a year the city would have its Integrated Transport System. Four years later the city does not have it ...
CL: Maybe they promised to deliver the design. It has not been easy. We are making the transition from a fragmented system to a modern one, through operating companies. It is a paradigmatic change.
SEMANA: Another headache is the bid of the garbage department. There are 2.5 trillion pesos, and it is urgent to resolve because it would automatically reduce the fees that users pay in a 20 percent. But last week the Constitutional Court suspended it ...
CL: The Court suspended it to analyze the situation of waste pickers. The bid includes the reduction of one fifth of the rate and also the concept of 'clean zones'. It is not paid on the basis that the truck passed some time, but that the space is clean. I usually call and say collect this, it stinks there ... and sometimes they not even hear me.
SEMANA: Do you have any news from the Court?
CL: The Court is independent and we are very respectful, even though I’m dying to know.
SEMANA: Samuel Moreno promised that during his administration, he would put the first stone of the metro, but that will not happen. Does the Polo party failed its main campaign promise?
C.L.: Putting the first stone is a saying. The study by Steer Davies about the passenger’s demand is going to be delivered this week and that was one of the points required to advance. With this, the next step is to meet with President Santos and proceed to make choices.
SEMANA: Is it going to be for the next administration? There is a sensation in Bogotá that the subway always remains in studies ...
C.L.: I have the opposite feeling. The subway is urgent and requires the efforts of several administrations. We don't want that the next administration begins from zero, like it happens since 1965.
SEMANA: What has been the hardest thing since you became the Mayor?
CL: I came during an administrative, political and governance crisis. My goal was to restore confidence and I proposed a sincerity deal between citizens and their ruler. In these two months I think we managed to restore that link. I think people feel governed.
SEMANA: You said that you came to organize the "house" and restore confidence, you coincide with the citizens that a total chaos took the district’s administration?
C.L. I do not think there was chaos. When I say that I will organize the "house", I mean a long-term situation, characterized by lack of decisions. And I think, to govern is to make decisions.
SEMANA: Maybe what the public felt was that Samuel did not take the decisions needed by the city ...
CL: I do not know what the public thought, but I think that in order to make the citizens believe in the district again, we would have to make decisions transparently. We must take personal responsibility.
SEMANA: In the councils of government you have been very strict with the account of the contracts. Is it a better method?
CL: We did a sweep by looking at the size of the contract and its impact. We gave to the prosecutor a list of 44 critical contracts. Since I arrived, the district observer sits on the governing council and has his eye on the contracts.
SEMANA: That's a radical difference with Samuel Moreno’s way of working...
C.L.: Our message is transparent. We are following all processes. We signed an ethical commitment and we are working with the presidential corruption office. We are doing it in all fronts, and especially to guard the most sensitive resources, the health ones.
SEMANA: The citizens felt, in the Moreno administration, that there was a deep corruption network that it did much damage to the city. Have you felt this?
CL: Yes, It did a lot of damage to Bogotá and the country. What supervisory bodies have done is very important for the future of this country, because we were in a bad path.
SEMANA: But, do you admit that the networks was moving in front of us?
CL: Probably, it still exists and not all of them have been detected. We're turning on the alarms. It is about solving the underlying problem. The country has got used to this situation, myself included.
SEMANA: You seem very happy. Would you return to the Palace Liévano (mayor’s office) in four years?
CL: There is still a lot of water under the bridge.
SEMANA: But you look comfortable ....
CL: I'm happy because there is a great opportunity to make and see results. But I can tell you that I have never suffered of high blood pressure and in my first days in this office, I had the highest pressure.
SEMANA: But why we hadn’t see before this capacities in the mayor’s office
C.L.: That has to do with the spirit. The citizen didn't gave mayor Moreno the support they have given to me. It takes two to dance tango.