REPORTING FROM BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- A $2,000 fee paid to a medicine man last summer to keep rain clouds away during the closing ceremony of a world soccer tournament has caught the eye of municipal auditors in Bogota, a city grown jaded by recent public works boondoggles and alleged corruption in high places.
According to an audit issued Monday by the Bogota controller’s office, the amount the city paid to "shaman" Jorge Elias Gonzalez was a minor but noteworthy portion of $1 million in questionable expenses incurred during the city’s hosting of the Sub-20 World Cup soccer tournament.
This week's news of the payment has provoked equal parts mirth and criticism among Bogotanos, even though, as Gonzalez pointed out in an interview published Thursday in El Tiempo newspaper, he did his job. It didn’t rain the night of Aug. 20, when the city hosted a lavish closing ceremony that came off without a hitch in the El Campin stadium.
"I asked for that much money, and [a city official] said I would get it when and if I performed. And I did," said Gonzalez, a 64-year old father of 12 who lives 100 miles southeast of the capital.
Word of the payment is a hot topic in a city still smarting from scandals involving alleged misappropriation of public funds. Mayor Samuel Moreno was jailed last year on corruption charges linked to alleged kickbacks in public works projects running years behind schedule.
It also was revealed this week that Gonzalez was paid to keep the rain away from the inauguration of President Juan Manuel Santos in August 2010. Santos' office acknowledged the payment this week but said it was arranged by a subcontractor to the presidential campaign and that no public funds were used.
In the El Tiempo interview, Gonzalez said he learned his technique for "controlling clouds and driving away the rain" from his father and from a book that "contains the secrets of the wisdom of King Solomon."
"It wasn’t easy," he said of his success during the soccer tournament. "My mission was to deter the rain in the middle of La Niña phenomenon."
Gonzalez made his name in the rain intervention business by working several years for the annual Ibero-American Theater Festival of Bogota, offering a money-back guarantee if the weather gods conspired against him.
In a statement Wednesday, the festival's director, Ana Martha de Pizarro, defended the hiring of Gonzalez. "Maybe others see it as something odd or exotic, but for us it's a different way of approaching natural phenomena through traditional communities."
-- Jenny Carolina Gonzalez and Chris Kraul