How should we reduce gang killings

"Bogotá was a city of numbness"

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Tacheles / Archive | Article from April 21, 2012

Former Mayor Mockus on his time in the city and prospects for Colombia

Antanas Mockus in conversation with Burkhard Birke

Mockus was mayor of Bogotá for two terms. (Stock.XCHNG / Jhonattan Balcazar)

Antanas Mockus remembers his time as mayor of the Colombian capital Bogotá: The city was full of criminal energy. He fought against it. He also commented on the simmering conflict between left-wing guerrilla forces, right-wing paramilitaries and the regular army in Colombia.

Mathematician, philosopher - politician: As the son of Lithuanian emigrants, Antanas Mockus saw the light of day 60 years ago in the Colombian capital Bogotá. Mockus held the post of rector of the Universidad Nacional, the state university in Bogotá, and was elected mayor of Bogotá twice. During his tenure, he radically changed the chaotic capital of Colombia and the attitudes of its citizens.

In 2006 and 2010 Mockus ran as a candidate for the presidency: in 2010 the Green candidate lost to incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos.

Antanas Mockus is our guest today in Tacheles. Burkhard Birke is at the microphone.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: What role can culture play in social integration where the need is particularly great: for example in the Colombian capital Bogotá, where you were mayor?

Antanas Mockus: Man largely listens to his conscience and everyone experiences what Kant called maturity, the ability to control himself. Of course, our behavior is also shaped by legislation. The judiciary and the police ensure compliance with the law; fear of punishment: all of this influences our behavior.
Perhaps the decisive factor is the behavior of others: the example that others set or the pressure you exert to act like them yourself.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: With this in mind, you yourself have given many examples. So you had yourself filmed in a commercial in the shower. You turned off the water when you lathered up to give an example of how water can be saved. Are you talking about this type of exemplary behavior?

Antanas Mockus: Yes. It also helped that the television broadcast a report on the progress made in saving water. When people heard on television and radio that water should be saved, they felt guilty and asked yourself the question: Why don't I save on water when others are doing their best to save water? Those who did not participate felt bad and those who participated felt good.

We do not see our neighbors as mature, as citizens with morals.
We believe that our fellow human beings only react to violence and not voluntarily.

Let me take the picture of the carrot and the stick: we claim the carrot for ourselves, but demand the stick for our fellow human beings. For me the carrot - for the others the stick!

Deutschlandradio Kultur: How can you break with this mentality, especially in a country like Colombia, where there is a lot of corruption and bribery? How can you achieve that - as you did as the mayor of Bogotá - people pay more taxes or taxes at all?

Antanas Mockus: You have to remain optimistic about people's ability to learn, even if there are many arguments against it. You are not born as a responsible citizen, you become one. And the process is similar to learning the language.

If one pair of parents were extremely pragmatic, they would say: Our son, our daughter is not speaking yet, so why should we speak to our child? We don't talk to the child because they cannot understand us. We just keep silent. If a mother and father did this, a baby would never learn to speak.
So you just have to believe in people's ability to learn, not just in theory, but in practice. In real life we ​​have to speak to young people, girls and boys as if they were mature people and see their reaction as that of mature citizens.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: That sounds very philosophical, one could also speak of everyday philosophy. Can you give us a few concrete examples of what you, as the mayor of Bogotá, have done to change people's behavior!

The first thing we did was turn off nepotism. So if someone came to a councilor with a letter of recommendation and asked them for the favor of getting a faster retirement notice, then we turned it down. You no longer need this letter: All pensions are calculated and paid out within three weeks, no preference is given, everyone has the same right to receive the pension immediately.

Every New Year's Eve, around 200 children burned themselves on fireworks. Through precautionary measures and warnings, we have reduced the number by 50.

In the first year of my tenure, we dealt cards to the drivers: one side of these cards was red and the thumb was pointing down, the other was white and the thumb was pointing up.
Many drivers used this to let their emotions run free: If someone was annoyed about the way someone else was driving, they would show them the red card, others also used the white card.
We commissioned a study that showed that there were three white cards for every seven red cards!

The principle was clear: I am behaving correctly, so show me the white card, but you have to call the others to order - we have to show them the red card.

In addition, we replaced the traffic police in a small area of ​​300 square meters with actors who acted as pantomimes with wit to ensure that pedestrians could really cross the zebra crossing when the lights were green and that the cars actually stopped at their red traffic lights.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: These initiatives seem to have paid off: the citizens of Bogotá, the majority of whom did not like the city at the beginning of their first term in office, later had a positive image of their city. Is it still like that?

Antanas Mockus: The past 18 months have been very painful. Mayor Samuel Moreno Rojas was accused of corruption and had to resign. Until a year and a half ago, however, things were going well: the people who had accepted to pay more taxes had kept paying. Just imagine 63,000 families had voluntarily paid 10 percent more property tax!

Deutschlandradio Kultur: Why has it not been possible to transfer this sense of responsibility on the part of the people, which you evidently awakened in Bogotá, to the national level? You only received a good quarter of the votes in the runoff election for the presidency as a candidate for the Greens in 2010. The incumbent President Santos had won the election by a huge margin.

Antanas Mockus: These are two different scenarios: In the urban environment of Bogotá, people behaved insensitively, selfishly, aggressively, they didn't know their neighbors, mistreated other drivers, hit pedestrians: In short, Bogotá was a city full of callousness, with criminal energy, tax evasion, but it was an outlaw that was not aggressive.
The culprit in Bogotá never assumed the character that the FARC guerrillas, for example, assumed.
I did not direct my election campaign against the most violent people in the country, instead I fought to get all citizens to break away from violence.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: How can Colombia break away from the violence, from the armed conflict that has been smoldering for decades? If you had been elected president, would you have negotiated with the FARC guerrillas?

Antanas Mockus: I do not give up hope that the FARC will seek the path to peace on their own initiative. However, the myth prevails that violence is a kind of basic requirement. That's absurd. In a marital conflict, for example, the partners don't attack each other even more wildly if they want to reconcile.

It is reported that both the FARC guerrillas and the people they kidnapped voted for me in the election campaign.
The FARC guerrillas apparently did not like some of my declarations and actions and I was even threatened together with several hundred mayors in the country.

I wore a bulletproof vest with a heart-shaped hole to demonstrate my vulnerability and the strength that comes with it. I also wanted to signal to the FARC: Instead of threatening me, you should try to convince me ...

If someone takes the path of threat and terror, it reduces their own credibility.

For years the FARC have preferred terror to love!
I myself dream less of peace through negotiations than through unrestricted mutual respect, especially through respect for life. Let's stop killing!

Deutschlandradio Kultur: Excuse me - but that sounds a little naive when you look at the history of Colombia, wherever violence was involved: Between the liberals and conservatives in the 1940s / 50s. How can this spiral of violence be stopped when one thinks of the human rights violations by paramilitary groups, even by the military itself?

Antanas Mockus: What has prevented an end to the spiral of violence so far has been the old scheme of easy mutual forgiveness, as if one were paying bills. You have inflicted cruelty on me, I on you - then we are simply even!

Deutschlandradio Kultur: What did President Uribe's government do with the paramilitaries?

Antanas Mockus: No, because the leaders have been sentenced to seven or eight years in prison. This may seem like little and many victims are outraged, but there was no total amnesty. Colombia has started to bring justice on a temporary basis, even though the civil war is not over yet. That deserves support. Because normally the war is ended and after three or four years the perpetrators are brought to justice and the victims are helped by the state, they are compensated. It fits perfectly into this scheme that someone is victim and perpetrator at the same time and is punished on the one hand and compensated on the other.

In the meantime, there is no longer an amnesty for the great leaders worldwide. The chiefs of terrorism can very well be treated with a lot of leniency.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: Does that mean the FARC guerrillas are terrorists for you?

Antanas Mockus: The FARC used terrorist methods. Anyone who kidnaps soldiers for ten years is playing with the feelings of an entire society, as terrorists do.

The FARC surpasses all others in cruelty on one point: They play with the family ties that are very important in Colombia.
What is a kidnapping? Nothing else than a death with an increased effect! Even if only two or three percent of the abductees are actually killed, the families of all abductees always have death in mind.

Of course one can say: it is much better to be kidnapped than to be killed. However, the constant threat of being kidnapped causes great pain.

It is worst with people who have disappeared. I know families who just want to know whether their missing relatives are dead because they want to bury them.
These are cruel methods. Of course, the paramilitaries carried out massacres and used horrific methods. That does not in turn entitle the FARC to commit atrocities. We have to break with this logic ...

Deutschlandradio Kultur: But how?

Antanas Mockus: I have understood one thing: If a society gives itself a constitution and a member of that society violates it, then that does not entitle the others to violate the provisions of the constitution. We have to come to the fact that the constitution is respected even if the others do not respect it. That was my promise to Colombian society, to the FARC guerrillas and the paramilitary forces.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: So, as a prerequisite for negotiations, would you have asked them to refrain from these atrocities?

Antanas Mockus: Yes, and I would have made sure that the state adhered to the constitution unilaterally.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: So that the state complies with human rights, which means: it currently does not respect them?

Antanas Mockus: Yes - unfortunately the paramilitaries and some parts of the state law enforcement forces disregard human rights.
One example is dealing with union leaders.
Many union leaders have lost their lives in the past 20 years. There was violence involved, crimes in which, unfortunately, some entrepreneurs, the military and paramilitaries were involved.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: What future do you give Colombia?

Antanas Mockus: We have to come to the realization, somehow, in a radical way, that we can be much better! We have learned to live with violence and still achieve economic growth. Therefore, people can no longer imagine how the country could live in peace. After all, we can endure half a war. There is a certain self-sufficiency. If I were German, I would give Colombia a mega prize if the country creates peace in a month.

If it took three months, the price would be lower and if peace only came after a year, it would only be a tenth.
That would be a kind of carrot. That could be money for projects or something symbolic, a special honor like the chairmanship of the United Nations.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: To what extent is the armed conflict in Colombia also a consequence of the social injustice in the country?

Antanas Mockus: Social injustice, inequality, is very painful and must be fought - regardless of whether we are in an armed conflict. I consider it irresponsible to establish a causal connection. The protection of life is an absolute priority for me and I am sure that if a country like Colombia protects the lives of its citizens better, then it will also achieve success in the fight for social justice. The violence is slowing the resolution of social problems because money is poured into arms and into reconstruction. Terrorism is expensive. Initially, my answer to terrorism was: build, not destroy.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: Will you, Antanas Mockus, run again as a presidential candidate or will that not be possible with your Parkinson's disease in mind?

Antanas Mockus: That is probably the most asked question from journalists these days. I thank you for the compassion. Fortunately, life gives me time to make the decisions with the necessary serenity.

My numerous activities actually prove that I am able to live with my illness. It doesn't take over me, but it is my companion. An alarm clock has just rang that reminds me of my tablet and I will be happy to take it now.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: So the answer is: you are not going to embark on such a great political adventure again !?

Antanas Mockus: One is a slave to his words and master of his silence ...

Deutschlandradio Kultur: Antanas Mockus - let's talk a little about the person of Antanas Mockus. You are the son of Lithuanian emigrants. Are you a Lithuanian outwardly and a Colombian at heart?

Antanas Mockus: These are the wonders of culture. I belong in Colombia with skin and hair. Except for two years of studying in France, six months in Oxford, three and a half months in Boston, one month in Mexico and a few shorter trips, I have always lived in Colombia. When I was seventeen or eighteen and had no idea that I might one day be mayor, I said to my friends: Bogotá is not beautiful, but I love the city. If someone blindfolded me, turned me around a thousand times and then dropped me off somewhere, I could tell with 100% certainty whether I was in Bogotá by the color of the sky and the grass or the condition of the road.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: So it was never an option for you to go back to your roots in Lithuania?

Antanas Mockus: No - when I spoke to a priest in the dormitory during a stay in Lithuania in 1974, I realized that I belonged in Colombia.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: Do you still dress up as a superman from time to time?

Antanas Mockus: I've done that a couple of times.But I found it a bit cheeky that one of my followers recently disguised himself as a superman. At the request of the foreign press, I recently put on my costume again - not on a Sunday as before, but on a Monday. When a woman saw me dressed like this in the historical center of Bogotá, she called out to me: Mayor - get to work! As if it's part of the job to disguise myself. At the moment, however, there is no job that I have to dress up for.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: Wouldn't there be a chance to drop your pants and show your bare bum, as you did when you were rector of the university to get the attention of a thousand protesting students?

Antanas Mockus: Now I'll tell you a secret: I drop my pants every evening - in front of my wife.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: Speaking of your wife, your wedding at the time was very special: you got married in a circus on an elephant. Would you do it again if the opportunity presented itself?

Antanas Mockus: Yes! I believe it was an act of freedom that partially offset the disadvantages of a civil marriage versus a church, Catholic, or Jewish marriage. A Jesuit priest and a rabbi were best witnesses. The Jesuit priest uttered the most beautiful sentence when he said that it was not a religious act. That was exactly the touch that made this marriage as strong as it is.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: If you had three wishes - which would they be?

Antanas Mockus: Unconditional respect for human life - let's take a look at Mexico. I value Mexicans very much, they have a lot of self-confidence and are sensitive people and kill each other in a way, which is a contradiction for me. Something went wrong and I urge people to stop killing.

My second wish would be the same applied to Colombia: there is a mixture of extreme violence and pragmatism. We Colombians are strange. We jump from hate to love and from love to hate with ease.

To achieve something we use weapons or unimaginable methods. I would like Colombia to become straightforward, that means that the value of life will finally be appreciated. My third wish is to be able to help shape the history of Latin America.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: Do you mean to create the unity of Latin America?

Antanas Mockus: I would like that - it's not an easy task, on the one hand because we are all individualists, on the other hand because it is difficult for us to trust each other, but the development of the world seems to demand it.

Deutschlandradio Kultur: We have a European Union that is currently in a major crisis. How do you comment on the crisis in Greece?

Antanas Mockus: If the European Union didn't exist, the crisis would be much worse and the risk of contagion would be automatic. Greece has decisively shaped our reflections on morality. The death, the heroism of Socrates should translate into the maturity of today's Greece.

Discover Deutschlandfunk culture