Sunday, August 29, 2010

Colombia's Abortion Issue

An illicit abortion clinic in central Bogotá advertises itself as a women's health clinic.
In 2006 Colombia's supreme court legalized abortion in cases of rape, incest, danger to the woman's life and when the fetus has some severe deformation, making Colombia's one of the most progressive abortion laws in Latin America.

Since then, 649 legal abortions have been carried out, 61 percent based on fetal deformation, 20 percent on danger to the woman's life and 19 percent because the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

After three years, 650 legal abortions is an absurdly tiny number in a nation of 45 million people, where gender violence is relatively common and maternal mortality is high.

Nevertheless, for the procuradora general that number is apparently too high. In any case, she's been asking why the percentage of legal abortions justified by fetal deformity is so high. Is this disguised eugenics? Abortion for convenience? Neither of those explanations is likely, since even when they have a legal justification to abort, girls and women encounter many obstacles, in particular from doctors and hospitals who profess Catholic values. Rather, those looking for abortions of convenience will simply go to the many ilicit abortion mills which continue doing lively business across Colombia.

In contrast to the apparent crackdown on legal abortion is the Colombian legal system's great tolerance of drunk drivers - even including those who kill people. In recent years, with few exceptions, many drunks who injured and even killed people have been given house arrest - sending the message that drinking is all good, innocent fun, that it's not really their fault and that it's no big deal, anyway. Is there a pattern here? Perhaps it is that it's women who get pregnant, so why not make them responsible, while it's generally men who drunk and drive, who we'll laugh it off.

This blog written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chicha Wars!

El Portal de la Chicha, with protest signs.
Chicha, a drink made by fermenting corn, is Bogotá's most traditional brew. It's said that in past centuries so much chicha was made in La Candelaria that they used it to put out house fires.

Chicha has survived centuries of time and lots of opposition - including even deadly street battles against beer and liquor sellers. Today, commercially-made beer and whiskey have cut into chicha's market share, but the drink is still consumed in small bars all over the city - and particularly those along La Candelaria's cobblestone Callejon del Embudo, where university students crowd the small, dark chicha bars until late at night.

A mural goes up in el Callejon del Embudo.
But now Bogotá has plans to renovate and upscale the city center, and the chicha bars apparently are an unpleasant eyesore which the city wants replaced with sush bars and nicely-painted botique hotels. Tradition - who cares? Police have given the chicherias just a little while to shut down. 

But the bar owners are organizing to defend this most Bogotan of Bogotá drinks.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

No more 'bases gringas'?

After the U.S. handed over the Panama Canal , the Panamanians also kicked out the U.S. military base there. Washington looked around, and finally rented a space on the Ecuadorian air force base at Manta to use for what it said were solely anti-drug flights. But then Ecuador elected leftist Pres. Rafael Correa, and he ended the U.S.'s rights to use the Manta air base. So, Washington looked east and found Colombia, with which it signed an agreement giving the US's military landing rights on seven Colombian military bases.

The US-Colombia agreement generated lots of
controversy, especially among leftists, who denounced the arrangement as 'US bases' and an example of US imperialism. Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez suggested that the US and Colombia would spy on his country and were even preparing to invade Venezuela.

Yesterday, Colombia's high court ruled that the agreement was invalid because it had not been approved by Colombia's Congress. That appears unlikely to happen, unless Colombian Pres. Juan Manuel Santos is willing to rile up the Venezuelan government.

What's the lesson in this? First of all, the US doesn't look like much of an imperialistic power - not when tiny nations like Panama and Ecuador have evicted US soldiers without firing a shot.

And the decision shows once again that Colombia is a democracy with an independent court system - with a backbone.

At the same time, the US should find a lesson in this: Its war on drugs is unpopular in Latin America, where it is widely seen as an imposition. What's more, despite billions of dollars spent and many thousands of deaths, the war has produced little progress against the drug trade.

Perhaps a change of strategy is in order.

This blog written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Nasty Reminder

A car bomb exploded this morning in Bogotá's Chapinero neighborhood, targeting Caracol radio's office, and injuring nine people, none of them seriously. The time of the explosion indicates that the bombers meant to attack the radio station, which has a conservative reputation, rather than kill people, altho an early riser on their way to work could easily have been blown to bits by the 50 kgs. of explosives.

Judging by history and their capacity to do damage, the most like perpetrators of this attack were the FARC guerrillas. But, whoever it was, they need to ask themselves: What's the point? Sure, you've shown that you can cause mayhem. Sure, you've shaken up Caracol Radio. But your revolution is no closer. All you've done is forced the state to shift more money from schools and soup kitchens to security. You've justified more expenses on weapons, and given another boost to the right-wing parties.

Think again. What's the point?

Authorities might also reflect that this is more evidence that the guerrillas, altho battered and weakened, are still there. Perhaps someone should consider trying a new strategy besides war. That could mean more education and other benefits for the poor. But it could also mean a radical strategy which might pull the rug out from under the guerrillas by taking away their main source of income: Drug decriminalization.

Blogged by Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Santos and Chavez Bury the Hatchet

Best Buddies?

Presidents Hugo Chavez and Juan Manuel Santos made up yesterday and apparently buried their differences. That's a dramatic turnaround, since just a few weeks ago Colombia was accusing Venezuela of harboring anti-Colombian guerrillas on its territory and Chavez was calling Colombia a puppet of the United States.

Chavez, with his economy slumping and his international image looking progressively more bellicose and authoritarian, Chavez needed good relations with his country's second-biggest trade partner, as well as a good photo opportunity. Santos wanted to start out his presidency on a positive note, to mark a break with Uribe and to end the economic crisis along the border.

Thankfully, the buddying up also pushes back the threat of a border growing into violence.

Unfortunately, it won't last.

Despite Chavez's statements, and even any policy changes he might make, the guerrillas will continue using Venezuelan territory. The border is simply too long to control and Venezuelan officials are too corrupt to impose any genuine controls, even if Chavez wanted to. But, it's hard to believe that Chavez, with his romantic fantasies about revolutionary guerrillas and paranoia about Colombia and the United States, really wants to.

Chavista true believers demonstrate in central Bogotá. Have they reflected that demonstrations and free speech aren repressed in Venezuela's allies like Belarus, Cuba and Iran?
So, the guerrillas will remain a sore point between the neighbors, and Colombia will continue being a convenient enemy for Chavez when he wants to distract attention from his country's many domestic troubles.

This blog written by Mike Ceaser of Bogota Bike Tours

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Kite-Flying Month!

In Bogotá, August, usually sunny and windy, is known as kite-flying month. Simón Bolívar Park is probably the favorite park for kite flyers. This year has been unusually rainy, but today the weather gave us a repeal. Simón Bolívar Park was standing-room full in many areas - despite showers!
Buy a kite!

A sky full of kites.

Look, up in the sky - kites!

In a shower, a kite makes a handy umbrella.

Kung-fu kite.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Uribe the Second? It doesn't look like it

Handing off.

Even before taking office, new Colombian Pres. Juan Manuel Santos made clear several policy differences with outgoing Pres. Alvaro Uribe.  That's an argument in favor of changing presidents every once in a while. (And if that sounds like a dig against neighboring Venezuela, it is. The temptation to criticize Venezuela wouldn't be so strong if its government didn't act so damn boastful and self-righteous while turning into a semi-dictatorship.)

Many people expected Santos, who as minister of defense ordered the bombing of Ecuadorean territory in order to kill FARC guerrilla leader Raul Reyes, to be even more right-wing and militaristic than Pres. Alvaro Uribe. Santos was just inaugurated today, but his preliminary signals have been more conciliatory. Even as Uribe has polarized relations with Venezuela by presenting evidence that Venezuela harbors Colombian guerrillas, Santos has said that he seeks to normalize relations with Colombia's leftist neighbor. Venezuela even reciprocated by sending foreign minister Nicolas Maduro to Santos' inauguration.

Santos has also made at least one other 'leftist' gesture by promising to make the environment ministry, which had been merged together with the housing ministry, an independent ministry again. In fact, Santos' environment-ministry designee is a sort of alternative lifestyle hippie type.

Santos may yet surprise!

Written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

Victory for Málaga Bay

A whale celebrates in Málaga Bay!
In a surprising move, in what of its last decisions, the extremely pro-business Uribe administration has made Málaga Bay, on Colombia's Pacific coast, a national park. Nobody disputes that the bay, which receives yearly visits from whales, has tremendous environmental value. But the bay is also a convenient site for a cargo port - it's deep enough for huge post-Panama ships, which won't even fit thru the existing Panama Canal. Buenaventura, the Pacific coast port which currently handles most of Colombia's cargo, is too small for those ships.

But environmental authorities concluded correctly that a port, with all of its leaked petroleum and other chemicals, the noise and wakes of ships and the transmission of exotic organisms in bilge water, would do incalculable damage to the region's ecosystem. Still, authorities nevertheless left open the possibility of a port being created there decades in the future, if technology has improved.

Perhaps Colombian officials should also look at the city of Buenaventura, which, despite the wealth moving thru its port, is one of the poorest and most violent cities in Colombia, and probably all of South America. Unfortunately, the city's wealth hasn't helped many of its citizens, who may work for drug traffickers or at dangerous day labor jobs loading and unloading ships. The port's vary success has made it a desired route for drug exporters, who battle violently for control. The city's residents get caught in the crossfire.

Written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

Friday, August 6, 2010

Happy Birthday Bogotá!

Birthday concert in the Plaza del Chorro
It's Bogotá's 472nd birthday. This birthday finds the city much better off than a decade ago, when it felt under siege by guerrillas, or twenty years ago, when cocaine cartel bombs were exploding all over.

But the city still suffers huge problems - terrible traffic jams, air quality that's improving, but still lousy, a poverty rate between 40 and 50 percent and way too much violence. On the other hand, it is improving. The city is growing economically; when these huge Transmilenio projects finally finish, traffic and people will actually move. And, hopefully, they'll phase out those old buses and actually enforce pollution laws on other vehicles and factories.

This birthday is being celebrated with concerts in lots of plazas. But the ocassion has been complicated by the inauguration of new Pres. Juan Manuel Santos, which means the national holiday is canceled.

Where will Bogotá be in another year? Another ten years?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Bogotá's Red Light District

Bogotá's red light district, known formally as the 'Tolerance Zone,' is sleazy, down-market and, late at night, dangerous. But the place is honest, and, hopefully, the world's oldest profession is practiced here more safely and with less exploitation than it would be if it were prohibited. Tragically, there are also children who prostitute themselves around here, often to support drug habits. Here's a news report about a police sweep which detained five underage girls working as prostitutes in the Santa Fe neighborhood.

A transvestite prostitute prances on Carrera 16 and Calle 20
Bogotá has several other designated tolerance zones, where prostitution is legal. But in no others are the prostitutes permitted to work the streets - as they do quite flagrantly here. The Santa Fe neighborhood is even informally divided between female sex workers and a smaller number of transvestites, each group with its own area. In a recent decision, the city decided not to legalize expanded street prostitution, pending more evaluations of Santa Fe's situation, and to try to tone down exhibitionism there.

In Bogotá, lots of illegal prostitution also goes on outside of the designated areas. High class prostitutes are callede 'pre-pagos,' because they charge in advance by credit card. Don Juan magazine recently did a story about the city's prostitution. Colin Post chronicles his adventures in some of these establishments on his blog.

Related posts: A Profession Like Any Other?

The Red Light District's Guardian Angel
Exhibitionism - a transvestite shows off his stuff to bike tourists.
Many prostitutes at least seem quite satisfied with their profession. But critics of legalized prostitution say that many of them were tricked or forced into the profession while still minors.
Not all those working the streets are women, or at least born women, anyway. 

The children of Patos al Agua (a local school?) planted these plants full of love and friendship. Help us to protect this gift we give to the neighborhood.' A few weeks later, the note and plants had disappeared. 

La Piscina (The Swimming Pool), a famed brothel.
So celebrate! For its anniversary, La Piscina is throwing the bed out the window!
El Castillo brothel, and beside it Dolls House
El Castillo's building has been designated as having 'architectural patrimony,' which is probably the main draw for clients
Waiting in a doorway

Related posts:

The Red Light District's Guardian Angel

A Profession Like Any Other?

Bogotá's Red Light District

Not Such a Glamorous Profession
This blog written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Colombia's Carbonized Future

Historically, Colombia hasn't pumped a tremendous amount of carbon into our atmosphere - two of the nation's traditional exports, coffee and emeralds, are relatively benign. Recently, Yale and Columbia universities even ranked Colombia tenth in the world for environmental sustainability. In 2007, Colombia's carbon output was only 1.4 tons per-capita, much less than Ecuador's 2.4 tons and only a fraction of Venezuela's 2006 output of 6.4 tons.

But, thanks to increased security across the country, Colombia plans to dramatically increase its coal and petroleum production over the next few years. And, even if Colombia exports nearly all of that oil and coal, just the getting it out of the ground will mean lots of destroyed jungle - and even more when campesinos use those oil company-built roads and pipeline routes to invade and deforest more areas.

Once Colombia's oil and coal money start flowing, will politicians yield to short-term temptation and buy votes by subsidizing gasoline prices, as Ecuador and Venezuela have done, with disastrous environmental and social effects? Or, will it store the money away, as Norway has done, and use it to finance long-term needs like education, infrastructure and environmental protection, which really build a country?

Colombia will also have to take care to avoid the pernicous effects of raw material exports on its economy and delicate democracy. To see the alternative, all Colombians need to do is look east, where oil-rich Venezuela suffers high poverty and inflation and is sliding deeper and deeper into authoritarianism.

Written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours and Rentals