President Gustavo Petro cooking in Quibdó, Chocó, in 2022.
An important nut in President Gustavo Petro's project for change are the so-called “public-popular alliances”, a strong handshake between the Executive and social organizations in almost all the neighborhoods and villages of the country.
A "hand in hand, a communal, cooperative work", the president describes it.
The new alliances would be made mainly through the more than 60,000 neighborhood or village organizations called Community Action Boards (JAC), to carry out all kinds of projects: improve the educational offer, internet connectivity, or roads.
Or, also, to fight hunger.
The latter would be done hand in hand with the community pots: itinerant kitchens that are organized, by the will of the citizens, to feed and share in small communities.
And this handshake with the community pots is also a small laboratory to see the strengths and weaknesses of the great project of Petro's public-popular alliances.
The ambitious alliances that the president dreams of must be approved in the National Development Plan (PND), but some 150 community pots in the country already receive a budget from the Government, due to exceptional circumstances.
When the president declared the winter emergency, in November of last year, he handed over the powers to the National Risk and Disaster Management Unit (UNGRD) to direct resources to community pots.
Not to anyone, but to those who were willing to fight hunger by offering hot food to those who suffered the ravages of the rains.
This is how the public-popular kitchen was prepared.
At the end of December, the Government promised 117,000 million pesos to finance some 600 pots, in order to feed 60,000 homeless people.
According to the UNGRD, in three months it has transferred 24,000 million (20% of the total), to finance 150 community pots.
16,000 people have benefited.
According to a table that the Unit sent to EL PAÍS, more than two thirds of the pots are in the Caribbean, in the departments of Bolívar (52 pots, more than $8,000 million pesos), Sucre (31 pots, more than $4,900 million), Atlántico (14 pots, more than $2,000 million), Córdoba (12 pots, more than $1,700 million) and Magdalena (nine pots, more than $1,400 million).
The fear is that this money will not reach the stomach of those who need it.
“The element of public-popular alliances is very valid, but we must make it more transparent,” says Adriana Romero, who was until this week director of the Anti-Corruption Institute, an NGO that has tried to monitor these resources.
But, says Romero, they found that the information on the pots benefited, the number of resources they have received and the type of oversight to guarantee that each one of them is complying with what they promised, is missing.
The Institute had to file a guardianship action before a judge, says Romero, to access the information from the UNGRD (they hope to publish a report with all the data soon).
“Community pots are just the beginning of public-popular alliances.
For this reason, if we do not manage to make the process more transparent, this could get worse”, says Romero.
In the resolutions delivered to them by the UNGRD, he explains, they see that most of these resources have been transferred to the JAC, whose members are often not the cooks of the pots.
Instead, boards have often been used by politicians to mobilize votes.
As there are local elections in October, any money that arrives now and in the coming months for them is highly desirable.
"I have no evidence that this mechanism is being used by politicians to benefit their machines, I would not dare to affirm that, but we must make it more transparent," Romero insists.
President Petro is aware of the political use that politicians have made of the JAC: in a speech last Sunday, in the national assembly of the juntas, he spoke of the manipulation of them by the Liberal and Conservative parties in the 20th century.
But given how bureaucratic and slow state contracting can be, he wants something more effective to ally with grassroots organizations.
“It should not be a question of making a dichotomy of inclusion between local economies and transparency.
We have to move the border in both directions and not sacrifice transparency for inclusion”, says Romero.
There is a person more alarmed than Romero.
Rudolf Solano is the director of the National Network of Community Pots, which has coordinated these kitchens in the 32 departments, and which in the 2021 protests brought together some 157 pots.
“It worries what is happening with the money.
In some territories there are little pots that should be fed twice a day, for six days, and one sees that they are only coming out two or three times a week.
What is happening with those resources?” says Solano.
The leader does not dare to accuse anyone, but last week he sent a warning to the Government through his social networks.
“UNGRD has supported organizations wrongly called community pots, which have really been set up out of haste by politicians.
We have worrying indications of groups that are receiving money from the State, they cook anything of very low quality and are fattening the electoral flow of scoundrel politicians and 'social leaders' who aspire to public office ”, says the public complaint of him.
Those politicians would be receiving the money in the JAC, he says.
Romero says that he has directly warned the director of the UNGRD about this, but he has not been listened to.
Hers was a very enthusiastic voice for this public-popular alliance, but now she sounds disappointed.
"I think that Petro is interested in helping the little pots, but his problem is the middle management," he adds.
A press spokesperson at the UNGRD has told EL PAÍS that there are currently 82 audits of the 150 pots financed and that in these supervisions no embezzlement of resources has been confirmed.
"We haven't had any problems," she said.
“It is true that some pots stopped working for a few days, but this was because there was a delay in a second disbursement that the pots were waiting for,” she clarified.
Citizen oversight, she assured, has worked.
Danna Dávila is also concerned about resource management, but for a different reason.
She is the founder of Olla Rodante, an initiative that arose in the city of Cali during the pandemic and that in the social outbreak allied with many other pots in the city.
She is bothered by the way resources are distributed.
“The JAC thing is a stone in the shoe,” she says.
“Because many have never intervened in our pots process, many times there is no confidence to approach them, much less ally with them,” she adds.
The distrust is precisely due to the fact that politicians have used them as a tool.
Dávila has not received money from the government.
No pot in his city, because Cali was not one of the prioritized areas in the winter emergency.
He also does not know about corruption in those who have received.
He has heard about the alliances and knows that they will reach Cali, but he hopes that they will do so in an "improved" version, without a JAC involved.
For now, he is affected by the fact that the residents of his neighborhood believe that he is receiving millions from the community pot.
"It is more difficult for us to receive voluntary donations: since the government of change arrived, people believe that hunger is over and that the pots are millionaires," he says.
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