Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Dark Side of Jamesmania

A vendor in Paloquemao Market celebrates the success of millionaire athlete James Rodriguez.
Of all the things which might obsess a nation, one of the last I'd have expected would by the hiring of a Colombian football player by a team in Spain.

While we were obsessing with James Rodriguez...
drought-killed cattle in northern Colombia.
James' shirts fly off the hangars in Spain.
James Rodriguez is undoubtedly a talented football player and seems to be a nice guy. He's also become fabulously wealthy by playing a sport which many others play for fun. Banker Luis Carlos Sarmiento and beer brewer Alejandro Santo Domingo, Colombia's richest men, made their money by decades of getting up early, negotiating deals, hiring employees and analyzing budgets (and, sure, probably exploiting more than a few people along the way) - but they probably receive more resentment and jealousy than admiration from other Colombians.

Rodriguez undoubtedly worked hard, too. But he became rich and famous doing something fun, thanks to lots of inborn ability. And he gets showered with admiration, rather than jealousy.

Colombian footballer Juan Guillermo Cuadrado signing
t-shirts for Colombian children he has helped.
And, while the media and public have been obsessing over Rodriguez's ball-kicking ability, other things have happened in Colombia: There's a terrible drought in parts of the country; El Chocó has been wracked by poverty and violence; A new study found high levels of malnutrition in impoverished Colombian kids; Guerrilla bombings are spilling oil; a mine disaster in El Cauca killed seven people...and on and on.

But that's been eclipsed by Rodriguez. Is Rodriguez's ball-kicking ability really more important than any of that?

A football jersey from James Rodriguez's
foundation Colombia Somos Todos.
Spanish newspapers have questioned whether Rodriguez is really worth 80 million euros, just because he played well in a few World Cup games. They should also ask whether it's ethical for a Spanish company to spend a fortune on a single athlete while millions of Spaniards are unemployed, homeless and hungry.

Colombians should ask whether Rodriguez, a young man who hardly needs millions to survive, will send part of his fortune home to help the needy. I found this ugly list of five ways Rodriguez might spend his money, including buying luxury cars and big mansions. Helping others was last on the list.

In 2011 Rodriguez created the 'Colombia Somos Todos' foundation. That's a good start. Now that he's earning close to $1 million a month and will surely rake in much more by endorsing things like athletic shoes and deodorant, let's hope he does good with his fortune.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Picturing Discrimination

Only young white females need apply. (Photo: El Espectador)

Wanted to hire: 'Female medical surgeon with diploma....
                           From 25 to 35 years of age, white skin.
                           Personal interview with Dr. Guarin, July 22 at 10 a.m.'

This shamelessly racist classified ad was published recently in a newspaper in Cali, a mostly Afro city. Dr. Guarin has deservedly received lots of criticism for his overt racism. The clinic where he rented his office disowned him, and I suspect he'll be facing lawsuits.
Would you hire these people? Resumés with
photos make it easy to select applicants by race,
age and appearance.

But Dr. Guarin is not only a bigot, but also stupid. After all, Colombian employment practices make employment discrimination of every kind perfectly easy - and covert.

Why didn't Dr. Guarin just call for all applicants to send him their resumés - and then toss into the trash all those whose photos showed they didn't have 'white skin'? (I'm not saying he should have done such an ugly thing, which would also have been stupid, since he'd be reducing his own pool of applicants.)

The Colombian practice of including photos on CVs has always seemed to me not only pointless, but also an open door to discrimination of every kind: by age, sex, ethnicity and attractiveness.

Not long ago, researchers at Los Andes University in Bogotá sent out a bunch of resumé's with identical qualifications and experience, but accompanied by photos of applicants of different races. Surprise, surprise: those resumés with photos of black applicants received fewer calls for interviews.

The contrast with the United States, which seems obsessed with stamping out discrimination, couldn't be greater. There, if you were a member of your high school's black/Jewish/gay/Christian etc Student Union you're supposed to leave it off just in case it might give you an unfair advantage or disadvantage with the employer. Require applicants to include their photos, and every civil rights organization, as well as the federal government, would have you in court in no time.

It's a measure of what a hot-button race is that the public uproar was all about skin tone. After all, in his tiny ad, Dr. Guarin also discriminated by gender (he specified that the surgeon be female) and by age. Such discrimination is routine in Colombian businesses, and taken for granted. Is it illegal?

I have no idea about Dr. Guarin's medical abilities. But, judging by this ad, he's a lousy businessman. After all, by restricting applicants by age, gender and race, he's excluding most potential applicants, likely eliminating his best potential employee.

It all makes one wonder whether Dr. Guarin's motives for hiring only a young woman were something other than professional.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Sculpture's Sad Legacy

Amongst the alcoholics, prostitutes, illegal street vendors and alcoholic prognosticating taitas stands La Mariposa, by famed Colombian sculptor Edgar Negret, shamefully abandoned. The abstract sculpture, whose name means 'Butterfly', presumably represents hope. Instead, it's a public urinal, a sleeping place for drunks, a refuge for pigeons.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Once and Future Paramilitaries?

A Botero painting portrays a 1988 paramilitary massacre.
Leg bones from a massacre victim.
During the 1980s, '90s and the early 2000s, the Paramilitaries were the terror of Colombia, committing many of the conflict's worst atrocities: rapes, chain-saw massacres and the driving of campesinos from their homes and land.

But in 2005-6, they signed peace agreements, turned in their weapons and agreed to short prison terms in return to confessing their crimes.

Investigators recover bodies from a
paramilitary massacre site.
And, last week, Colombia's paramilitaries officially disappeared - at least according to the United States government. In a little-noticed act, the U.S. State Department removed the paramilitaries' umbrella organization, the AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) from its list of terrorist organization.

Unfortunately, however, according to news reports and to many Colombians, the paramilitaries are still there.

Recent newspaper headlines mention paramilitaries.
Yes, the AUC was dissolved, and many of its leaders are doing time in Colombian and US prisons. But, in parts of Colombia where government control is weak and violent criminal groups remain strong, paramilitary groups continue operating as an  almost inevitable product of the circumstances.

What else would you expect? After all, if you were a farmer living in an area wracked by guerrillas and other criminal bands, which stole your livestock, threatened to kidnap you and your children and taxed your income, wouldn't you also embrace 'self-defense' forces to fight those groups?

After the AUC's disappearance, some of its ex-members simply transformed themselves the so-called BACRIMs - regular old criminal bands lacking ideology, but just as murderous.

I just saw this cheery profile piece on NPR about paramilitary forces in Mexico carrying out an heroic battle against narcotrafficking cartels. But Colombia's paramilitaries started the same way before evolving into the massacring, drug-trafficking death squads which left such a scar on Colombian history.

In fact, Colombian paramilitarism had several origins, including government-organized self-defense organizations and anti-kidnapping hit squads created in part by Pablo Escobar and other drug cartel kings.

If the main paramilitary groups have disappeared, their legacy continues, with frequent discoveries of massacre sites and court rulings requiring the Colombian government to pay huge indemnizations to victims of paramilitary massacres which the regular military could have prevented but did not. And ex-Pres. Alvaro Uribe and his brother Santiago are fighting accusations linking them to paramilitary groups.

In the coming months, hundreds of one-time paramilitary fighters, including many who confessed to massacres and other atrocities, are expected to be released from prison after completing their eight-year terms.

Both victims and government officials worry that they will reconstitute their paramilitary bands or join other criminal groups.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Sad Snack in Independence Park

Today I came upon what should have been a purely cheery scene in Parque de la Independencia: a bunch of kids on a school outing. Then I noticed what they were eating. Chips, soda pop, candies. Here and there a sandwich. Not an apple, orange or a banana in sight. If it it's not highly-processed and doesn't come out of a plastic package, these kids won't touch it.

In two decades a lot of these kids will be fighting obesity, diabetes, even heart disease. And then who'll be to blame? The school? Their parents?

In addition to junk food's health damage, it also maximizes the volume of trash produced.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Juan Antonio Roda in the Museo Nacional

'A dead nun's delirium.'

Juan Antonio Roda was born in Spain in 1921 and moved to Colombia only in his early '30s, after marrying a Colombian woman, but still managed to become one of Colombia's leading painters of the late 20th century.

Despite Roda's experiences with the Franco dictatorship, World War II and Colombian violence and politics, his work seems apolitical and often abstract. Instead, it has elements of religion and eroticism.

Roda's work is on display now in the Museo Nacional in Bogotá.

Roda in his studio. 'I make non-figurative painting, but not abstracts. I don't like to be totally abstract; I like painting to be alive.'

A self-portrait.
Self portrait II
'Bullfighting.' Roda compared 'la fiesta brava' to an erotic game, with 'partying, fear and serenity.'

'The laugh.'


By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Solutionless City?

Traffic congestion: the solutionless city?
I enjoyed, in my cynical way, El Tiempo's report today about the Petro administration's almost non-existent transit policy. The headline reads:
El Tiempo - a vehicle for
selling cars.

'What Bogotá is not doing to escape its traffic jams.' (The online version's headline gives a more positive spin than the print edition.)
Needed in Bogotá: More cars. The rate of car
ownership is skyrocketing.
Those many things which Bogotá does not do include:
Building the car culture: A university's massive
parking lot under construction in Bogotá's Eastern Hills.

Charging vehicles for causing congestion: A decree creating a congestion charge, based on two studies by international firms, was junked by the City Council recently with no good justification.

Charging for on-street parking: As it is, vehicles park on the street - and on the sidewalk - for free. The city should also ban the destructive practice of providing free parking to customers and employees, which is a huge incentive and subsidy for the use of private vehicles - and a subsidy for the wealthy.

Congestion by the gallon: gasoline prices are an
obsession here.
Considering transit impacts of construction projects: Incredibly, Bogotá does not appear to consider the impacts of new construction on transit. The 65-story Bacatá Tower is under construction near the corner of 19th St. and Carrera 7. This massive apartment/
shopping/hotel/office will have huge impacts on this already chaotic and congested intersection. Is the city taking any measures to deal with this? I haven't seen them. In a rationally-run city, the building owner would have to pay for compensatory transit improvements, such as a TransMilenio line up Calle 19 or a light rail line on Carrera 7.
Three's not a crowd: Mayor Petro's transit policy has
been limited to this failed car-sharing rule.

The city regulates parking lot fees. Why not let
supply and demand work, like it does elsewhere?

Above La Candelaria the Externado University is building two monstrous towers consisting mostly of parking lots. The minimal public discussion about this project has involved its legality, which is dubious. But little has been said about whether or not deforesting the city's hills in order to generate more pollution and traffic congestion is good for the city and should be permitted.

Creating a public bicycle system: Bogotá, which used to be a regional bicycle pioneer, has talked for years about creating a public bicycles system, and even held a pilot project, but never put the idea into practice. The city does lend bicycles, but only for use on specific streets.

And so on...

Instead, Bogotá culture promotes driving and car ownership. Ironically, the same Wednesday edition of El Tiempo also contained a slick magazine called 'Motor' glorifying car ownership.

Bogotá's public bicycle program is limited to a
few streets and not very practical for transport.
And the media maintains a constant drumbeat about the importance of lowering parking fees and the price of gasoline. Today's El Tiempo also reported that 'The City Council denounced that in the past four years Bogotanos have paid 720,000 million more than authorized for parking fees.'

In fact, car owners have rather received much more than that in subsidies via free parking. And, why are the prices of parking and gasoline regulated by the government, in any case - in contrast to more socially positive things such as bread and books? Isn't charging what the market will bear called capitalism and freedom of competition?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours