Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Latin American Democracy in Retreat

Authoritarian Venezuelan
Pres. Nicolas Maduro.
In the mid-2000s, Colombia's popular and hard-right Pres. Alvaro Uribe wanted to run for a third consecutive term. But the Constitutional Court ruled against the idea, saving Colombia's fragile democratic system from falling into the grip of a strongman. Uribe instead selected his defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, to run as his succesor. Santos won - but rebelled against his mentor, creating a sort of alternation of powers.

Similarly, in Ecuador Pres. Rafael Correa tried to maintain power by selecting his own succesor. But that man, Lenin Moreno, also rebelled against his mentor, saving Ecuador's instituations from becoming puppets of a strongman.

But Argentina did appear to be falling victim to a personality cult under the corrupt Kirchner dynasty - until Argentineans finally voted against them and elected Pres. Mauricio Macri, who is trying to clean up the Kirchners' mess.

Nicaragua's authoritarian president-for-life Daniel Ortega
and his wife, who is also his vice president.
Other Latin nations, however, have been less fortunate. In Bolivia, Nicaragua and, most notoriously, Venezuela, leftist leaders are turning themselves into presidents for life, sometimes with disastrous results in corruption, human welfare and the economy.

Now, some fear that Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, a
leftist populist admirer of Cuba's ex-dictator Fidel Castro who will have few checks on his power and who appears to believe more in himself than in democratic institutions, will weaken Mexican democracy, which has just suffered through a presidential term marred by flagrant corruption and is under strain from chronic drug violence.

Jair Bolsanero, potential
dictator of Brazil?
But now the greatest threats to Latin democracy are coming from Washington D.C., where a leader
 who patently does not believe in democracy is setting a deplorable example for nations which once looked to the U.S. for democratic guidance, and Brazil, which is about to elect a racist, homophobic misogenist and unapologetic admirer of military dictatorship, as president.

Brazil's importance can hardly be exaggerated. It is the largest nation in Latin America and the world's fourth-largest democracy. It is also the protector - if it can be called that - of the Amazon, one of the planet's treasures of biodiversity and storehouse of carbon dioxide. And if virtual Brazilian Pres. Jair Bolsonaro is even more extreme than Trump, Brazil's institutions are much weaker.

It's all enough to make one wonder whether Latin America (and even the planet's) brief experiment with liberal democracy was only that, and experiment, which is failing.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Students March

'Colombia on a war footing for education with dignity and liberty.'
Today, thousands of students - mostly from public universities - marched for more funding for public education.
A pair of indigenous women.

Racing down Carrera Septima.

Run, run, run!

'Education equals peace'.

'There are no virgins in this march, because the government screws us every day.'

'More money for education, less for the war.'

The communist flag, of course.

'Education is a right, not a privilege.'

Don't miss a photograph.

Sena students accuse their managers of corruption.

Encapuchados, the 'hooded ones.'

Che Guevara, naturally.

Indigenous activists block Carrera Septima.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Short People at a Tall Man's Game

Colombia is futbol country. Across Bogotá, the football pitches are usually crowded, while the few basketball courts often sit empty - except when they're being used to play football.

There are a few exceptions, such as the Parque Nacional, Parque La Florida and El Salitre on Sundays. And, on my way home this evening; I passed thru Tercer Milenio Park and came upon this scene:

On Sundays, Tercer Milenio seems to be transformed into Ecuadorean territory, probably because
many Ecuadorean immigrants live in the poor neighborhoods around it. And it was moving and startling to see dozens of boys, girls, men and women playing basketball. Women played in long dresses. They played three games simultaeneously on the same court, banging into each other. They played badly and without rules - but very enthusiastically. This was the real spirit of sports, and something which millionares like Lebron James and Cristian Ronaldo could never equal.

Go figger: What cultural happenstance moves these uniformly short people, of Quechua indigenous ancestry, to play a tall North American man's game.

Whyever it is, I found it heartwarming, and for a little while it cleared away my despair about the state of our world.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Pigeon Prohibition?

A human pigeon perch.
Pigeons are also a problem. Some people hate them and call them flying rats. And their feces corrode statues and public monuments. Which is why the city government recently banned pigeon feeding in Plaza Bolivar.

But other people love pigeons: They like to feed pigeons, run through crowds of pigeons and watch them scatter, even to put corn on themselves and become human pigeon roosts.

A pigeon selfie.
That's why the city's anti-pigeon rules are futile. The other day, post-pigeon ban, the buying and selling of corn and pigeon feeding were going on as normal.

All of which makes me ask: If Colombia cannot enforce a prohibition on its main plaza, amidst its government buildings, then how can it ever expect to do so in remote rural areas?

The answer is that it cannot, which is why drug prohibition has failed and likely always will.
Pigeon corn for sale.

Fighting for food!

Pigeons' droppings corrode public monuments.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Lunch With Fido?

Animals stay out! Parchita waits for me on the sidewalk.
 Dogs accompany us at home, on walks, on vacation. So, why can't they join us at lunch?

Bogotá's prohibition against pets in restaurants is irregularly enforced, but does leave lots of dogs tied up in doorways in the sun or rain while their owners enjoy lunch or dinner.

No dogs allowed.
Now, Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, (although no favorite of the animalistas lobby because of the reappearance of bullfighting in Bogotá), wants to let the animals in.

In fact, what good reason is there to keep animals out? Dogs are dirty, but so are people. And many animals are better behaved than their owners. Besides, the person who pets his or her dog before entering a restaurant carries in lots of that animal's microbes, anyway. And at home pet owners share their kitchens and dining rooms with their animals to no apparent ill effects. (In fact, lots of research shows that early exposure to animals and their microbes helps kids develop healthy immune systems.)

This seems like the sort of thing which the market can decide: Restaurants which believe that their customers like animals could let them in, while more formal, straight-laced places can keep them out.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, October 1, 2018

Duque Kills the Minimum Dose

Got any weed on you? Police search young men in Bogotá's historical center. 
The 'minimum dose' of drugs - supposedly the amount a user needed for his own consumption - was the object of many jokes and much derision, as well as criticism from police and conservative politicians as get-out-of-jail-free card for drug dealers. And cops didn't often respect this 'right' to carry drugs in the first place.

But the minimum dose rule did keep a lot of otherwise law-abiding people out of jail, saving them
lots of grief and society lots of money.

Authorities' hopes that prohibiting the minimum dose will reduce crime or drug consumption aren't borne out by experience. Instead, the prohibition will open more opportunities for police corruption and ruin the lives of many young people, especially poor ones, because they have a dependancy or just prefer getting high by smoking rather than drinking.

And, police will waste lots of time and effort pursuing people for a lifestyle choice while real criminals go free.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

How U.S. Policy Drives Latin America's Homicides

The United States is hurting instead of helping.
The Washington Post published this interesting editorial yesterday about Latin America's homicide plague: It is the planet's most homicidal region, a problem which the author blames on poor governance.

The editorial board is half correct. When parties in dispute lack confidence in the legal system, or
A homicide scene in Mexico, where much of
the violence is driven by the illegal drug trade.
(Photo: The Economist)
when the legal system doesn't fulfill its role of punishing criminals, then its more likely for people to turn to violence.

But the people in dispute also need a motive to turn to violence, and the commentry left out that part. After all, large parts of Africa and Asia also lack rule of law and functioning legal systems, but generally don't suffer from the same levels of violence as Latin America. What's the difference?

The difference is that Latin America is ground zero for much of the world's illegal drug trade. Narcotraffickers by nature cannot use the legal system, so they often turn to violence. Needless to say, if buying and selling cocaine and marijuana were not illegal, then they'd be traded by legal companies, which would sue each other instead of shooting.

Add in the fact that Latin American criminal groups have relatively easy access to firearms purchased in the United States and you have a lethal mix.

Before trying to help Latin America, the United States could stop hurting the region.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours