Related topics

Bogota’s Face-Lift Disturbs The Dead

July 1, 2000

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Bogota is getting a face lift, and that means building new bike paths, repaving traffic-clogged avenues and digging up a downtown cemetery _ a renovation some people say is going too far.

The remains of about 1,500 people are being transferred from a section of the Central Cemetery of Bogota as part of Mayor Enrique Penalosa’s initiative to improve living conditions for the 7 million residents of the capital.

His plan for the city, which is perched high in the Andes, includes building a park and soccer field on the site of the cemetery. The transfer of the remains is being completed this weekend, and some relatives of those buried in the section think Penalosa has overstepped his boundaries.

``This is sacred ground, who will want to play soccer here?″ fumed Amelia Cuervo as she watched workers transfer her husband’s remains to another section of the cemetery.

Flower-sellers and the tradesmen who earn livings making tombstones in shops near the cemetery also are upset.

But Penalosa believes parks and other public spaces are needed for Bogota’s residents to decompress from the stresses of living in a city that has some of the worst traffic jams in the world, an annual rainfall greater than Seattle’s and is notorious for its pickpockets and muggers.

Parks are ``a means under which the city focuses on people and their needs of socializing, of rest, of recreation,″ said Elsa Bohorquez, the mayor’s director of urban renovation.

One project that has earned high marks was the refurbishing of Plaza San Victorino in downtown Bogota. For years it had been blighted by stacks of merchandise for sale on the street and swarms of unsavory characters.

The street sellers were moved to another part of the city, the plaza was cleaned up, and now many people come to the plaza to relax, enjoy the wide-open space and view sculptures by Edgar Negret, one of Colombia’s best-known artists.

``For a long time, officials thought that what was important was to create streets for cars and infrastructure, but we believe that what’s important is a city for the people, for their happiness,″ Bohorquez said.

Some candidates seeking to succeed Penalosa, whose term ends in December, have gotten into the mood.

Carlos Moreno de Caro, a former senator, campaigned on Friday by riding a bike along a main Bogota thoroughfare during rush hour. Moreno de Caro, who backs plans for extended bicycle paths, was followed by two dozen supporters also on bikes and wearing his campaign T-shirts.

Penalosa’s successor _ who will be chosen in Oct. 29 municipal elections _ will be left to deal with the improvement of Bogota’s network of streets, which is woefully behind the huge increase in car ownership among residents of the capital.

Update hourly