Mayor with mostest hugs the limelight

LOCAL HEROES : 10 ANTANAS MOCKUS

When Antanas Mockus, the 44-year-old Mayor of Bogota, got married in January, he and his bride took their vows while astride an elephant inside a cage full of Bengali tigers.

As a snub to the Roman Catholic Church, in which he had been married once before, Mr Mockus had rented a local circus for the wedding.

All guests, including his family, the best man and the bridesmaids, had to pay an entrance fee and the proceeds went to feeding the Colombian capital's street children.

Not only is Mr Mockus the most popular Bogota mayor of recent times, he is also the most popular man in Colombia and the most likely next president. Opinion polls suggest he would be be a runaway winner were elections to be held now.

The elections are not due until 1998 but Colombia's narco-corruption scandal, with President Ernesto Samper under investigation over cocaine- cartel funding of his campaign, means a snap poll may have to be held this year and the mayor has said he will run.

Born in Bogota of Lithuanian parents, and partly educated in France, Mr Mockus was a well-known professor of both philosophy and mathematics at Colombia's National University until he was elected mayor in 1994. He won without really campaigning. He didn't have to. He was already a well-known eccentric, renowned most for dropping his trousers during a university debate and exposing his bare trasero (backside) to an interlocutor whose views he did not share.

As mayor of the world's most violent capital, Mr Mockus's motto is simple: lighten up and hug each other a lot. He encourages his City Hall employees to hug one another when they come and go and encourages humour to release the stress and anger that has given the city a record per capita homicide rate.

So far, there is little sign that the violence has eased but Mr Mockus, whose beard gives him the look of a young Solzhenitsyn, has certainly put a smile on the faces of Bogota residents. He has even sent in the clowns.

Concerned about aggressive behaviour by pedestrians, he ordered municipal officials to dress up as clowns and make fun of anyone caught crossing streets against a red light or showing any other signs of anti-social behaviour. Walking in the city centre, you'll hear bursts of laughter as pedestrians watch the clowns mimic the guilty party. "Humiliation is more effective than fines," says Mr Mockus.

He issued traffic policemen with red cards and whistles and ordered them to show the card, football referee-style, as a symbolic put-down to anyone violating traffic rules.

After upsetting the city's taxi-drivers by barring them from carrying guns - most did so for their own protection - he won back their support by raising the basic fare. As for the traffic aggression that led to many homicides, he came up with a scheme aimed at encouraging drivers to let off steam without going for their guns.

When motorists pay their road tax, they are issued with a cut-out green fist and a white one. The green is shaped like a thumbs-down and is to be displayed when you're upset with another driver. The white one shows a thumbs-up and is to be shown to any motorist who shows courtesy. Residents say the green card is regularly seen but the white one is somewhat rare.

At a recent press conference, Mr Mockus produced a human-shaped figure made out of yellow balloons and began beating it up, slapping it against a wall. "I'm imagining this is someone that hurt me when I was a child," he told said. "When you're angry, don't bottle it up or take it out on the person who hurt you. Make a balloon man and take it out on the balloons."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game