Tying the Knot in the Big Top: A Mayor's Circus of a Wedding

Even with presidency in tatters, Colombians enjoy nuptial antics

IT had been one of the most agitated weeks in Colombia's recent history.

The country's president, Ernesto Samper Pizano, already tainted by evidence that his 1994 campaign received $6 million from the Cali cocaine cartel, was dragged to the brink of resignation by fresh accusations from former close associates that he knew of and approved the drug-dusted contributions.

Overnight, streets around the palace filled with students demanding the president's departure, while in the posh north of the capital, ladies in smart suits joined the call. Several ministers and a major general resigned their posts.

With the country in turmoil, some social analysts said Colombia's bargain with the drug devil had finally hit home, while others, less prudent, squawked of potential civil war.

Enter the mayor of Bogota to provide the relief Colombians needed.

With ''I'm gettin' married in the morning'' almost audible in the background, His Honor Antanas Mockus and his young love, Adriana Cordoba, on Saturday rode into a circus atop Junior the elephant, entered the tiger cage - with tigers present - and got married.

''This was a week ... that proved how, despite the crisis, [here] generals resign instead of hatching coups, and the mayor of the capital marries in a circus,'' says Jesus Ortiz Nieves, political editor of the Bogota daily El Tiempo.

On Sunday, with the newlyweds safely off to a honeymoon in Cuba, it was hard to hear the slightest discouraging word about the mayor or his wedding. ''[The wedding] was crazy, but it was innocent-crazy,'' says Guillermo Gomez Martinez, a used-book seller in Bogota's center. ''He wasn't using the people's money to do it, so we should respect his choice.''

In fact the wedding raised money; every guest was charged $50 to enter the big top. The proceeds, estimated at $25,000, will go to a social organization helping Bogota's street children.

Such a gesture might have been labeled Marie-Antoinette-style demagoguery if carried out by other politicians, but Mr. Mockus's constituents appeared to view it with magnanimity. ''He saw a way to have a wedding and at the same time do somebody some good,'' says Fabio Penagos, a Mitsubishi car salesman.

If Mockus remains so popular 13 months after taking office, it's because he's an ''unpolitician.'' The former philosophy professor says he sought the mayor's office for one reason: to teach Bogota a civics lesson in what he calls ''citizen's culture.''

''He wants us to learn about how a city can work when laws are obeyed and people respect each other,'' Mr. Penagos says. ''I can't think of anything Colombians need to learn more.''

But for a man who touts the importance of symbols, choosing a circus for his wedding surely meant something. According to the priest at the ceremony, a circus is the quintessential child's place.

He reminded guests how Jesus told the learned and powerful of his day that unless they became innocent as little children, they would not enter the kingdom.

Perhaps that, amid the tiger roars within and the scandals without, is what this unconventional Colombian wanted his wedding to say.

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