Election Cheat Sheets 2023: Rodrigo Lara

By Oli Pritchard October 5, 2023

Who’s this then?

Rodrigo Lara Restrepo is a university teacher and ex Senator of Colombia, although his own manifesto leads with him being married and having two kids. He’s also sat in the lower house of Congress, for Bogotá. He spent 16 years in Cambio Radical but is standing as an independent this time.

He is one of a clutch of rightwing candidates in the upcoming Bogotá elections 2023. The other two are Diego Molano, ex-minister of the interior and General Vargas of the Cambio Radical. In a lefty city, they’re all struggling to gain ground and stepping on each others feet.

Born in Neiva, Lara grew up in Bogotá until his father, prominent Liberal (and co-founder of Nuevo Liberalismo) Rodrigo Lara Bonilla was assassinated and he was forced to flee to Europe for safety. 

We contacted all the candidates we’re profiling with a questionnaire asking the same questions. We received no reply at all for Lara and few ways to contact him, so there are no quotes in this piece.

Is he polling well?

The first draft of this article said ‘definitely maybe.’ Now we’d say ‘definitely not.’ He looked like he was gaining momentum at the point where we planned these pieces, but has since collapsed. Of course, he claims the polls are unreliable and there is some truth behind that, as numbers swing erratically between surveys.

Invamer, Invamer, they’ve all got it in for me!

He’s probably the single most volatile candidate in the race in more ways than one. Polls place him anywhere between 3% and 18% of the electorate, with splitters accounting for much of this. However, even if all the rightwing bobbleheads were under one banner, they’d still struggle to get to 20% in most polls, so it’s fairly clear he’s now doomed.

What’s his manifesto like?

It’s online here. It has more numbers than most of the others do, but he’s also got some really unusual stuff too. That aside, it’s well laid out and clear, with generally relatively solid ideas where possible and understandable fudging where necessary.

The man is tough on crime, some would say rather too enthusiastically. However, crime in Bogotá is a key issue for citizens, so he’s not wrong to focus on it. He highlights cellphone robbery and extorsion in the Southwest (Timiza, Bosa, Kennedy he namechecks) as particular problems alongside murder and mugging. He wants 10,000 new coppers and at least one new jail to combat crime and disorder.

Some of his suggestions are…unconventional. First off are the drones: 300 of them to provide immediate responses to crime. He says it’s not sci-fi – Guayaquil has something similar. Ecuador also has skyrocketing crime, so it’s a strange model to follow. He’s aiming to get to 0 (zero) murders, which seems optimistic.

Next up is recruiting the 92,000 bogotanos who are ex-military and ex-police to provide a sort of Dad’s Army. Don’t tell them your name, Lara! He sees this as a similar idea to the primera línea protestors but in Colombia this obviously comes across to many as worryingly close to paramilitary autodefensas. He does also explicitly support private security, but unarmed.

On transport, another key issue for most Bogotanos, he is implacably opposed to the corredor verde, calling it a motorway for buses. That doesn’t mean changes to the plan, just crashing it. He does, though, like the Tembici scheme and wants to see it extended. Undercover coppers will operate in key stations on the TransMilenio system, targeting colados alongside regular criminals.

On the Metro, he wants to push ahead with the existing plans but aim to remove the TransMilenio lines currently there, thus freeing up more space for private vehicles. He also wants to contract the third Metro line sweeping from the north in a big arc through the west of the city down to Ciudad Bolívar.

Mainly, he’s way down the rabbit hole on the ‘war on motorists.’ Outside of a small bubble which he’s leaning fully into, this isn’t a big thing in Colombia. New roads to be built out of the city, roads within the city to be amplified and extended. Hard to see how that can happen.

He wants to do something about the 200,000 young people (18-25) that are not studying or working and get them into jobs or training courses. He wants 80% of kids to attend school full time rather than part time (around half a million don’t, currently).

For SMEs, there will be COP$100 billion in subsidies spread out through the four years to help them grow and establish themselves. More work to be done integrating food supply chains from the region.

A new gold museum to be built, too, possibly in the Parque Bolívar, and lots of work to be done on sewage and environmental protection, especially highlighting the importance of the circular economy. 

What’s he been saying on the campaign trail?

I’m Batman! No, really. He’s very active on Twitter (no, I’m not going to call it by its daft new name) and has used the image of Batman breaking the Penguin’s back as a rallying call. He’s also floated the idea of having dozens of anti-crime drones around Bogotá.

He’s played to the choir with the motos, championing their cause and claiming they are unfairly treated. This saw him trotting off to Los Patios (where impounded cars and motorbikes are kept) to complain about what he sees as just a money-making scheme.

In recent weeks, he’s pretty much defined his campaign by other people, launching attacks left, right and centre without making his own case. It may not be a coincidence that he’s now slumped. At least Molano is proposing megajails, even if he’s also giving it large as a wannabe caudillo.

Lara has also spent as much time criticising the Petro government as he has either the local government or the other candidates. It makes sense – the government is increasingly floundering and economic indicators are awful – but that’s going to be a hard thing to walk back if he somehow pulls off an enormous shock victory.

He hasn’t quite gone as far as the other two rightists in terms of shock value. Both of them attended a tiki-torch rally for the armed forces held just before an official apology for the falsos positivos (yes, really).

Any skeletons in the closet?

He used to be an anticorruption czar and there’s little wrong we could find in his past. There is a minor YouTube operator that believes him to be implicated in the Cajanal case of years ago, but that appears to have low traction.

Like Galán, with whom he has a lot in common, he used to be in the Cambio Radical and jumped ship. That’s not uncommon in Colombian politics though, where party affiliation tends to be fluid. When president of the Camara de Representantes, he obstructed the JEP, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many.

Can he work with the central government?

Of the top polling candidates, he is almost certainly the most loathed in the Casa de Nariño. More to the point, his candidacy is explicitly based on being an opositor – both of the previous local governments and the current national government.

It’s entirely possible that Petro would seek to punish Bogotá just for having the temerity to elect an openly rightist candidate. Lara would, though, match some of the president’s plans, including the underground metro he so craves.

Can he win?

It’s unlikely. He’s fourth at best in most polls and failing to make too much of an impact. A week is a long time in politics though, and he has three of them to turn things around. If there is a big security event, he’ll be secretly overjoyed. His mano dura politics could well gain traction in that instance.

Generally, though, Bogotá is far too far left-leaning to elect someone like Lara. Even if there is some violent shift to the right, he then has to contend with Molano and Vargas splitting his vote. It’s hard to see him getting anywhere or even quite why he’s running, other than to take pot-shots at the national government and/or build his profile.