Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mocoa - An Act of God or Act of Man?

The Mocoa tragedy was made worse by deforestation in the region and human-driven climate change.
When torrential rains pushed tons of mud over the town of Mocoa, in Putumayo Department, killing more than 300 people at the end of March, many condemned the 'natural disaster.'

Rescue workers in Mocoa this month.
However, the disaster's iimpact was made much worse by human actions which prepared the way. Colombia is suffering an accelerating deforestation. And the region surrounding Mocoa had been severely deforested during recent decades, reducing the soil's capacity to soak up rainwater. When rain falls onto deforested soil, it runs off quickly, carrying soil, trees and rocks with it. Forests can also serve as protective barriers. In fact, in El Carmen, the one Mocoa neighborhood which escaped destruction, residents had preserved their protective forest.

More broadly, The New York Times reports that more frequent natural disasters in places such as Colombia and Peru appear to be tied to human-driven global warming.

Before rushing to condemn the vagaries of nature, Colombians should also reflect upon their own actions.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A White Elephant Towering Over Bogotá?

Is anybody working up there?
The two-tower BD Bacata
looks quiet these days.
The BD Bacata skyscraper started out in the year 2013 with great promise - or at least promises. Colombia's new tallest building - and the second tallest in South America - would be the world's first crowdfunded tower and produce returns for investors at double the bank rate. The two-tower complex - to include a shopping mall, hotel, luxury apartments and offices - wouldn't even worsen traffic jams in the already-congested area.

The promoters' promises sounded too good to be true, and so far they have been. Construction is now years behind schedule, and investors who each poured tens of millions of pesos into the trillion peso project, are complaining. The Bacata's builders say the project will operate this year, and the mall section looks close to completion. However, I haven't seen anybody working on the unfinished towers over the past weeks. The backers explain that they ran into legal and other delays, including a huge rock underground.

The mall looks near completiion.
The skyscraper was never a great idea by urban design standards. It's on a busy, chaotic avenue, with only a narrow access to its parking lot. And the building has little public space, and no green space, nearby.

Now, I wonder whether it might not even get finished, and I feel for those investors who counted on a life-long 'guaranteed' income.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Law is Blind - and Tasteless

An environmental menace? The San Isidro Restaurante,
in a 60-year-old building on Monserrate.
For almost four decades, the Restaurante San Isidro has served food and drinks on the summit of Monserrate, an area of asphalt where thousands of tourists wander around some days, eating, drinking and taking pictures. Before it, another restaurant functioned for two decades. The area, which used to be a quarry, is also the scene of a church and occasional fireworks displays, as well as a cable car station.

But the summit of Monserrate, one of Bogotá's most popular tourist destinations, is pristine forest, a court just ruled, and the San Isidro, as well as other restaurants and handicraft shops located there, will have to close.

The businesses' closing will throw hundreds of people out of work, and deprive visitors of a meal
Dining with a view.
(Photo from Trip Advisor)
with Bogotá's best view.

The San Isidro, which is fighting this absurd ruling, is ranked 11th among Bogotá restaurants on Trip Advisor and says it employs almost 50 people, who would lose their jobs if the ruling is carried out. More importantly, one  of Bogotá's most important icons will lose part of its attraction.

This French dish Chateaubriand Portobelo - whatever it is -
will disappear from Monserrate's summit
if the restaurants close.
This is all despite the fact that the San Isidro, at least, says it respects environmental regulations and disposes correctly of its wastewater.

Pristine natural territory? The summit of Monserrate, with the church. 
However, the law being blind, it has a remarkable ability to ignore the reality that, even tho these businesses are surrounded by forest, they are actually located on cement, in an area that has been cement for decades.

The Externado University cut down forest to
build these towers, which block residents' view
of the hills. That apparently does not count
as environmental damage.
Meanwhile, the city turns a blind eye while the powerful Universidad Externado has deforested a large area to build two huge towers which block the view of the hills from the La Candelaria neighborhood.

While they're worrying about Monserrate, the city might also consider reopening the hiking trail to the summit. The trail was closed for a long time for reconstruction, then reopened briefly, only to be closed again early this year because of supposed damage from forest fires. The trail provided exercise, good family recreation - and free access to the summit for many Bogotanos.

Prohibited! The popular hiking trail has been closed most of this year, and shows no sign of reopening.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Gorgona Island: Natural Wonder or Military Outpost?

Gorgona Island from above. 
Gorgona Island, located 35 kms off of Colombia's Pacific Coast, is a natural wonderland. In the past, however, the place was a nightmare. When Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro took refuge there in 1527, so many of his men died from snake bites that he named it after a monstrous goddess from Greek mythology who had serpents growing from her head.

From 1960 to '84, the island contained a much-feared prison, where prisoners died from snake bites, tropical diseases and beatings from sadistic guards and vicious fellow inmates. Finally, the prison was shut down under pressure from human rights defenders and prisoner advocates.

Today, the island is a national park, boasting sloths, monkeys, sea lions and, of course, snakes. It has
Isla Gorgona, (E), off of
Colombia's Pacific Coast.
41 species of reptiles, 155 species of birds and 13 of bats. In the surrounding waters, swim sharks, dolphins and humpback whales.

But environmentalists now charge that this natural paradise is threatened. The Navy plans to buid a communications base on top of the island's tallest hill. Naturally, the military moved ahead with the plan to alter this national treasure without any public hearings.

Unquestionably, the island is strategically located to monitor drug trafficking and illegal fishing in the region. The military points out that its project - consisting of a telecommunication tower and support facilitie - will be built on already-disturbed land, an old prison football field.

A sloth on Gorgona Island.

A lizard on Gorgona Island.
But that's not the point. The base will inevitably require road building, loud, heavy machinery and the arrival of outside workers, who many not be environmentally sensitive. The base will also house about 28 soldiers.

Those young men will be bored and restless. And young military conscripts don't have the best reputation for environmental sensitivity. Will officials be able to prevent them from hunting, building campfires, smuggling animals onto or off the island, riding around on dirt bikes, and all kinds of other destructive misbehavior which bored young men are inclined to? Remember that Gorgona used to be a prison, where men suffered from heat, insects and snakes. For tourists, the island may be a natural paradise. But for someone stuck there involuntarily for months, the place could be a living hell.

Whatever the military ultimately decides to do on Gorgona Island, the decision should be taken with public input, rather than behind closed doors, as the Colombian government unfortunately is wont to operate.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, November 10, 2016

DJLU Does Donald Trump

Colombia had better watch out. If Donald Trump, who is now (gag) president-elect of the United States, decides to make a Latin American nation his scapegoat, Colombia may be it: We've got terrorists here, and lots of illegal drugs headed toward the U.S. border, and even Latinos.

DJLU, one Bogotá's best-known street artists, stencils pithy messages on city walls. A lot of them seem to critique Trumpian values:



Trump may stumble the world into war - or barge into it.


In the Trumpian world, the super-rich like himself certainly outweigh the common people. And those hard-working common people, who've heavily supported Trump, will be left worse off when Trump starts slashing millionares' taxes.


A bullet-headed sperm. Sex and violence and Donald Trump. What more is there to say?


In the U.S., white evangelicals, who also happen to generally be enthusiastic supporters of easy access to guns, strongly supported Trump - despite Trump's multiple marriages, affairs and predilection for sexually assaulting women. Doesn't the Bible say 'Thou shalt not kill.'?



Trump means to loosen even more gun restrictions. The U.S. has the highest homicide rate in the developed world, and a U.S. free market in firearms already supplies guns to drug cartels in Latin America. Some of those weapons have appeared in Colmbia. Under Trump, firearm proliferation will boom, and some of those weapons rain down on Colombia, where they'll facilitate killings by drug cartels.



Land mines, sewn by guerrillas, are one of the most cruel and preverse weapons used in Colombia's civil war. Trump will almost certainly retreat from involvement across the continent, and reduce support for Colombia's peace agreement.



Internet spying, by Russia in particular, hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign. Leaks can help transparency, but in this case they produced Donald Trump, who is the least transparent politician seen in a long, long time.


Expect Trump to weaken environmental safeguards and abandon efforts to slow global warming, which he's said is a 'Chinese conspiracy.' The Trumpian planet Earth is a time bomb.


My impression of many Trump voters, who got manipulated by propaganda, stereotypes and organizations such as the NRA. Many of Trump's supporters are lower-income whites. Here, they've elected a man who will work to benefit the rich, and hurt working people's interests.

As an addendum, here's an anguished message I received today from a mixed-race woman from Colombia who lives (legally, as a U.S. citizen) in a midwestern U.S. state which voted for Trump, where she has a small business.


 I am very sad.  I have cried every day.  The situation is going to be very difficult for me as I represent what Trump followers hate.  Hopefully I will be safe. I hope God protects me from those crazies. 
The world is now in danger. 
Bye,

A final question: Brexit, the plebiscite's 'No' vote and now Trump: What's happening to the world?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Who Said They Can't Coexist?


Who said that Starbucks would drive Juan Valdez out of business? Here in the Centro Internacional, the two cafés operate side-by-side, and both seem to be doing okay. I don't know the prices, but have been told that Starbucks appeals to a higher-income market. These two, however, appeared to have pretty similar clientele: businessy-looking people pecking at laptops or staring at their smartphones.

At least, they're both serving up Colombian beans, even if the farmer likely gets only a drop from each cup.

Coffee, it's worth noting, was a big productivity booster when introduced in Holland centuries ago and replaced beer, which wasn't great for productivity.

According to their websites, there are 106 Juan Valdez cafés in Bogotá and 10 Starbucks.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Who Said They Can't Coexist?


Who said that Starbucks would drive Juan Valdez out of town? Here in the Centro Nacional, the two café's operate side-by-side, and both seem to be doing okay. I don't know the prices, but have been told that Starbucks appeals to a higher-income market. These two, however, appeared to have pretty similar clientele: businessy-looking people pecking at laptops or staring at their smartphones.

At least, they're both serving up Colombian beans, even if the farmer likely gets only a drop from each cup.

Coffee, it's worth noting, was a big productivity booster when introduced in Holland centuries ago. Of course, it gives drinkers a lift. But back then it also replaced beer, whose consumption didn't have the best effects on productivity.

According to their websites, there are 106 Juan Valdez cafés in Bogotá and 10 Starbucks.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours