Saturday, December 8, 2018

Bogotá's New Megamurals

Recently, the city sponsored these huge murals on warehouse and factory walls in the otherwise very gray and gritty Puente Aranda neighborhood. The murals, which line two streets near the Carrera 53 Transmilenio station - and which we visited during a street art bike tour - transformed the neighborhood's atmosphere.
A graffiti artist friend told me that because Mayor Peñalosa is disliked by the artists' community, some of them did only their second-best work here. But the paintings looked fine to me!
Ironically, however, the neighborhood residents walking by the murals ignored them, perhaps because they passed by every day. And these are yet another example of Bogotá's best street art - like those beside the bullfighting stadium and the ones behind the Central Cemetery - located in out-of-the-way sites where few people see them, unless they go out of their way.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, December 7, 2018

Noche de las Velitas 2018

The Noche de las Velitas, or night of the little candles, is an annual celebration marking the start of the Christmas season. People light candles on sidewalks and windowsills. But it's also a time for families to sit in the street and talk with each other and neighbors.

The velitas tradition is particularly strong in La Candelaria, Bogotá's historical center. However, it seemed to me that this year I saw lots fewer candles lit than in previous years. Is the tradition waning?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Just Explain The Money, Mr. Petro

Petro and wads of cash, in the leaked video.
Gustavo Petro is generally remembered as a poor administrator as mayor of Bogotá, and he lost badly when he ran for president. But he has at least been generally known for his probity and for having ideals, whether you agree with them or not.

However, those positive qualities are now under siege these days due to a decade-old video released by his political enemies in which Petro is seen receiving wads of cash of uncertain origin.

As Petro has repeatedly pointed out, receiving wads of cash isn't illegal. But it does looks bad, because it's how people like Pablo Escobar and innumerable corrupt politicians handle their finances, and so requires an explanatio: 'The money came from my mother'. 'I had dug the money up on my ranch.' 'A supporter gave it to me.'

In fact, Petro did offer a simple explanation: He claimed that the cash was a donation from prominent arquitect Simon Velez, who reportedly does not like using banks. But Velez quickly issued a statement flatly denying having given or loaned Petro money. El Tiempo also reported that the other two people who appear in the video along with Petro received city contracts. That's not necessarily illegal, either, but it does look very bad.

Unused bike racks installed during Petro's
mayoralty serve as seats for street vendors.
Petro counterattacked by charging that the video was illegaly leaked by his enemies to distract attention from their own corruption scandals. That's probably true. But whatever the video's origin, that doesn't change its substance.

A lot of people, including me, who thot Petro was a disappointing mayor, had held on to faith that he was at least personally not corrupt.This was despite indications to the contrary, such as the multiple, huge bike parking racks installed on Plaza San Victorino during the last months of his mayoralty - even tho few people ever park bikes on the plaza. Those huge new racks, which quickly turned into seats for street vendors, were very likely the result of a sweetheart contract given to someone with city hall connections, who handed over wads of cash to pay for the privilege of getting a contract to install useless bike racks.

In the same way, bribery can waste public funds, cause governments to build unnecessary, disfunctional roads, purchase overpriced, useless medical equipment and even kill people. And, by undermining faith in the mainstream parties, corruption makes extremists such as Venezuela's Chavez and Brasil's Bolsonaro look more attractive - potentially leading their nations toward disaster.

And corruption has a poisonous effect on democracies. A recent poll found that Latin American support for democratic systems is at a low point, with fewer than half of the public giving democracy their full faith. A big part of the reason for that is the pervasive corruption, and Petro's unexplained cash only deepens that perception.

That's all we need, Mr. Petro, is a clear, verifiable explanation of those bills' origin. But every day that we wait for that explanation in vain adds to the perception that that was dirty money.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Bad Times for Brazil

Brazil's Bolsonaro celebrates - but should Brazilians be celebrating?
One of the planet's largest, most multiethnic democracies will be governed by a racist, homophobic, misogynist with an admiration for dictators...and it's not the United States.

It's mind-boggling that a man who insults black and indigenous people could be elected president of a nation with a black and indigenous majority. But it's no more crazy than that a man who disparages women could be elected by a nation with a female majority.

Both of these things - as well as newly-elected Brazilian Pres. Jair Bolsonaro's endorsements of dictatorship and mass executions - should disqualify him from being president of anything but a neo-Nazi encampment in northwest Idaho.

Bolsonaro's presidency - part of an authoritarian wave across Latin America - will test Brazil's young and feeble democracy, already under huge strain because one former president is in prison for corruption and many other politicians are also under suspicion.

Brazil is far from the only nation in the region slipping into authoritarianism, or in danger of it. Venezuela and Nicaragua are ruled by self-described socialists who are really just authoritarians with plans for becoming presidents for life. Bolivia's Evo Morales appears to want to do the same thing. Many observers believe that Mexico's newly elected president, a leftist populist known as Amlo, believes more in himself than in democratic institutions. And Amlo will also enjoy majority support in Congress, giving him vast powers to reshape Mexico's institutions.

But if Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega is brutal and Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro is incompetent and brutal, both have at least preserved the forms of democracy in their nations. Bolsonaro, judging by his admiration for dictatorship, doesn't appear likely to do the same if he manages to consolidate power in Brazil.

Just a few decades ago, Latin America was emerging from a dark period of military strongmen into democracy. Today, many nations are electing authoritarians. Latin American democracy may have no more than a brief, passing phase.

Bolsonaro's victory is a massive tragedy for the environment, in a nation which is steward for most of the Amazon rainforest. And it will be a long-term tragedy for human rights and many young lives if Bolsonaro follows thru with his crackdown against criminals and popularizes gun ownership - a policy which has multiplied the U.S.'s homicide rate.

Perhaps Latin America's democracies suffered from a fatal error at birth by adopting presidential rather than parliamentary systems. In parliamentary systems the leader, or prime minister, must work his way up through the ranks, making compromises along the way. That process might produce predominantly mediocre, middling sorts of personalities. But, at least, the populists and extremists usually get filtered out.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Seventh Avenue's Suspended Works

Pedestrians walk around a pit on a stretch of Carrera Septima sidewalk beside the San Francisco Church.
Nobody at work here!
Be cautious if you take a walk on Carrera Septima north of Jimenez Ave. these days. The stretch was supposed to be pedestrianized - but the company carrying out the project went bankrupt, and the city has not found anyone willing to continue with the work, which was supposed to have been completed years ago.

Not only pedestrians and cyclists, but also the avenue's many merchants are complaining about the situation, and bracing for a difficult Christmas season.

This is the same city, remember, which promises to complete a metro line on schedule and within the budget. L.O.L.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Rolling Chimney Hack

If one day soon you see one of those ubiquous 'rolling chimneys' - buses, trucks or cars which belch out greasy smoke every time they move - sporting a sticker proudly announcing that it is a 'chimenea,' it's probably not because the driver is proud that he's poisoning us.

More likely, the vehicle is a victim of this blog's hacking campaign, which turns highly polluting vehicles into involuntary rolling billboards denouncing pollution.

A typical Bogotá Sitp bus on Carrera 10 this afternoon. 
An improved bus.
Did you notice it?
'I am a chimney'
Another rolling chimney on Carrera 10 today.
Now, helpfully labeled.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, October 19, 2018

Making Bogotá a Walkable City?

Pedestrians walk down the Eje Ambiental in La Candelaria.
This week, Bogotá hosted a conference, called Walk 21, of city planning experts keen on creating more walkable cities. The hope is to make walkng safe and pleasant, and make public spaces areas where a great variety of people mix.
La Salle University students paint a pedestrian area on Calle 11 in La Candelaria.
 Truly promoting walking will mean reducing crime and harrasment of women, as well as making one of the alternatives - driving polluting vehicles - less convenient and more expensive. In other words, a London-style congesting charge, which Bogotá officials have repeatedly talked about, but never implemented.

The conference was held in the Jorge Eliecer Gaitán theatre on Carrera Septima.

However, Bogotá's chronic traffic jams, like this one in La Candelaria,
can make walking unpleasant and even dangerous.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours