The new mayor of Cartagena de Indias, Dumek Turbay, began his mandate this Monday with a somewhat strange request: an exorcism. The office in the Customs Palace must be purged, Turbey said, noting that his predecessor and political rival, William Dow, ran the city from there for four years. “There’s no way for me to get into that office, where the devil was,” said the Liberal Party politician. “I am asking the Catholic Church, and I mean it, to do the exorcism,” he added. The petition was a continuation of the hostile rivalry between Turbe, the former governor of Bolívar’s department, and the controversial opposition politician Dow, who accused all politicians, and more recently Turbe in particular, of being thieves.
So far the new president has kept his word. The office on the second floor of the mayor’s office — a colonial house that was once the main customs office in New Granada, once the largest port for the African slave trade in all of the Americas — remains empty. Turbe works for the moment at the Palacio de la Proclamation, another architectural gem in Cartagena’s historic center and home to the offices of the departmental government. From there, he began the task of retaking, at the hands of the police, the historic center, which, he said, had been “taken over by pimps and jibaros” during Dau’s rule.
Turb won the election in late October by selling himself as the anti-Dau. He received about 160,000 votes, which is 42% of the tally. On Halloween, two days after the election, the then mayor put on a Turbe mask and published a video on his social network in which he said “Tricky, Tricky Halloween, I want money for me, if I don’t have money. “Your nose falls off.” The successor replied. He mocked his 19-year-senior rival in X. “I am very concerned about the mayor’s mental health. I pray to God for your sanity. We desire a peaceful, amicable and harmonious unification process, for the good of Cartagena,” he wrote.
A candidate representing opposition politics like Dau, Judith Pinedo, better known as Mariamulta, finished third in the regional elections. The outgoing mayor’s unpopularity was evident, and Pinedo—who was already mayor and left office with high popularity—tried to distance himself from him during the campaign. Moreover, the list brought to the council by those close to the former mayor, called Fuera Melandrins, was far from the threshold for electing councilors in the city; He received barely 6,000 votes in a city of over a million inhabitants.
The results were a 180-degree turn from the 2019 results. Dow, a lawyer recently returned to his hometown after 15 years working in New York, decides to confront the political class and corruption that is particularly strong in Cartagena. Enters Colombian politics. He won the mayor’s office with 29% of the vote as an unknown. As mayor, however, the epidemic and the difficulties in turning talk of change into tangible facts affected his suitability, and his unpredictable personality became increasingly controversial.
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His tenure was marked by strange, sometimes humiliating incidents. In 2019, before he took office, a judge ordered him to redact a video leaked on social media in which he accused Turbe of corruption. In August 2021, an interview of his went viral in which he explained the restoration work on the city’s road network in a very peculiar way: with imitation of the sounds of trains, trucks and machines. “From today I allow myself to say u, u, u, u… Finally we start with the rehabilitation of the road network. I come from Santander Avenue and that’s where we start: uuu, brrr, load the truck…,” said the then mayor.
A few months later, after the Attorney General’s office filed charges against him for “alleged violations of the duty to treat other public officials with respect, fairness, and impartiality,” audio recordings of councilor sessions were released in which Dow treated his subordinates. “Truhans,” “fagots,” and “scumbags.”
But the controversies were only the tip of the iceberg; His management was also not well received. In 2022, Cartagena was the only one of the five major Colombian capitals in which poverty increased. According to Cartagena’s Como Vamos, by the end of his term, Dow’s disapproval rate was 64% and 8 out of 10 Cartageneros believed the city was not on the right track.
Turbay took advantage of this bad image to run a campaign criticizing his predecessor. At one point he accused her of being in charge of the “most corrupt” mayor’s office in Colombia, a rebuke to which Dau responded forcefully: “I’ve reported you as a thief.” In the end, the career politician defeated the opposition politician, and won the mayor’s office. One of these days he will also have an office in the Customs Palace. It remains to be seen when that will be fixed. First he waits for a meeting with the Catholic Church, which so far has not officially responded to the public request.
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