Monday, February 28, 2011

The New Bands - Same old Thing?

Members of the 'new bands,' many of whom are ex-paras. (Photo: El Tiempo)

El Tiempo published this big report Sunday about the emergence of 'nuevas bandas' - criminal bands composed of ex-members of supposedly demobilized paramilitary organizations.

According to the newspaper, these new criminal organizations have displaced more peasants than the FARC and ELN guerrillas, as well as carried out more violent attacks than both guerrilla groups combined.

For some reason, I don't feel surprised. According to lots of reports, the paramilitary demobilization was a sham, and the groups continued operating in many remote regions. How could it be different? The paramilitary leaders generally entered into negotiations with the government only because they expected to receive a short, comfortable 'detention' and then retire comfortably on their ill-gotten millions. (In fact, many of them are instead in U.S. prisons, but their organizations continue.)

A narco-submarine (Photo: El Tiempo)
Meanwhile, back in the regions where the paramilitaries operated, the same forces which gave rise to them haven't changed: ranchers, businesses and others still fear the guerrillas and seek armed protection. At the same time, lots of illegal drug money flowing thru the region finances violent outlaw groups.

The new bands, however, seem to lack the paramilitaries' pseudo-fascist political ideology.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Santa Fe Celebrates its 70th

Today, Bogotá's Ciclovía was invaded by hundreds of red, screaming, flag-waving youths. Communist revolutionaries? Fanatic followers of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez?

Don't let that red star fool you. They were supporters of the Independiente Santa Fe football team.

The march forced cyclists onto the sidewalk.
Together with Millonarios, Santa Fe is one of two traditionally dominant Bogotá teams, and the two carry on an intense rivalry. Since the end of the era of the drug barons with their sackfulls of money, Colombia has generally disapppointed in international football competition. Even though futbol is the unquestioned king of sports here, and Colombia has the same population as Argentina, Colombia's national team didn't even qualify for the last three World Cups.

Colombian football hasn't quite escaped the notoriety of the 1994 murder of national team member Andres Escobar just days after he'd scored an own goal during the World Cup. And the professional football league is still trying to break connections with drug cartels.

Watching out for trouble.
For its part, Santa Fe is a perpetual contender, but last won the Colombian professional football championship in 1975. But what they lack in trophies, Santa Fe's fans make up with enthusiasm and decibels - but sometimes also violence. The barras bravas, gangs of drunken fans who fight and have even killed one another, are a chronic problem in Colombia - probably explaining the many cops escorting these celebrating fanaticos.

The littered aftermath. 
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Bogotá, how are you feeling?

Some recent poll results suggest Bogotanos aren't feeling so great.

Citizen collaboration? A sign appeals to
Bogotanos to report violence. 
According to Red Ciudades just more than half - 51% - of Bogotanos feel that things are going well in the capital. In other Colombian cities, between 60 and 80% of residents feel optimistic. Worse, only 20% of Bogotanos reported feeling secure from crime - also the lowest of all the major Colombian cities. And 27% of Bogotanos reported having been the victim of a crime in the last year - the highest of the cities polled. That doesn't surprise me, as I've recently heard of a number of muggings, bike thefts, etc. Why crime might rise despite a growing economy and a supposed police anti-crime offensive, I'm not sure. It might even be only a question of perception. But a lot of us perceive it.

And Colombians overwhelmingly doubted that most crimes would be punished (for some reason, however, this question was apparently not asked in Bogotá).

This makes it unsurprising that 57% of Colombians (not just Bogotanos) told Gallup pollsters they'd be willing to give up civil liberties in order to increase security. With civil institutions as frequently corrupt and frail as Colombia's, that's a worrying number. As I see it, strengthening civil society, getting Colombians to use their civil liberties is the best way to build an alternative to the violence which has afflicted this nation for so long.

Unsurprisingly, too, Pres. Juan Manuel Santos, who was Pres. Uribe's defense minister, continues to be super popular, with 77% support, while national police director Grl. Oscar Naranjo and ex-Pres. Uribe are right behind him. Colombians still want law and order and hanker after a strongman, a reason why Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus never had a chance to be elected president. Surprisingly, however, 70% of Colombians like Barack Obama - even tho the U.S. is slashing Plan Colombia support and hasn't ratified a free trade agreement.

On the other hand, it's no surprise at all that Bogotá Mayor Samuel Moreno's UNPOPULARITY rating is 85%. And many Colombians feel that corruption is getting worse.

Work on Ave. 26 drags on - for how much longer?
Bogotá certainly has a sense of malaise hanging over it, and that's mostly due to mayor Moreno. The Transmilenio expansion projects are necessary and will benefit the city, but they're so far behind schedule and embroiled in corruption charges that instead of generating a sensation of advancement, they've got Bogotanos feeling frustrated. This will likely improve once the projects finally wind down.

Near Jorge Tadeo University, a new TM station is taking shape. 
Nevertheless, city hall won't confront the fundamental transit problem of too many cars. TM and a possible metro system will move users faster, but the traffic jams and pollution will meanwhile only worsen.

The survey did also produce some positive results: a majority of Colombians liked their health and educational services.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Children's Tombs

The Bodmer sisters, who are now called saints.
Bogotá's 180-year-old Central Cemetery is a city in itself, much of it crumbling, but full of beauty, history and traditions.

The cemetery contains many of the nation's ex-presidents, important families and other luminaries, as well as thousands of common Colombians. And amongst these common people are interred many infants, generally in tombs rented for only four years.

A Bodmer sister, with a believer's flower.
The tragic stories behind these children's deaths are only hinted at by the poignant messages written on the tombs.

One Bodmer sister died in infancy in the 1894; nine years later, two more sisters died in either a house fire or an epidemic, according to different traditions. The grief-stricken family built this tomb for their daughters, one sister pointing the way to heaven for her sibling. Today, they have become two of the cemetery's main popular 'saints.' People leave them offerings of flowers, toys and candies and believe that the girls can perform miracles.

This infant, who apparently died at birth, never even had a name. 

Happy Birthday Dayana
My little son: You went to heaven because God needed a precious angel at His side. 
I love you and miss you!
Many of the children's tombs do not have headstones, perhaps because they are only temporary, anyway.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Stroll Along El Septimazo

Each Friday evening at 5 p.m. Seventh Ave. closes to cars between Plaza Bolivar and Independence Park. Seventh becomes a people's avenue and fills with evangelicals, vendors, street artists and singers. (Sadly, as of April 2011, the city has suspended El Septimazo - supposedly because it causes too much trouble. I suspect it's because it inconveniences drivers.)

Cars gone, Seventh Ave. fills with people.

These 'gladiators for God' were evangelicizing against sin, money - and against other evangelicists, whom they accused of being in it for the money. And, they were evangelicizing in English, despite being regulars on La Jimenez.
A block north, these folks were talking about celestial beings. Perhaps I've got a ticket to Mars awaiting me. Beside them, a group of reformed gangsters were rapping for God.
Kid cops line up, ready to turn out to keep order. These high school students, armed with nightsticks, are doing part of their obligatory police/military duty. 
Jugglers warming up. 

Afro-Colombian musicians.

Three blind people make their way through the crowd.

Chess players don't let the crowds break their concentration. 

Your name etched on a grain of rice!


Man meets monster!

The Septimazo is a big bazarre. Here, cell phone chargers for sale. 

Afro-Colombian players. 

Sidewalk portraits. 

Am I as pretty on paper?

The crowd watching a puppet show. 

A pavement artist. 


Vendors fill the sidewalks with books...

Until the cops come to clear away this scourge on society.
Even on a damp night, the street really filled up!

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thy Daily Protest

In Colombia protests are generally permitted, and in Bogotá we see lots of them.

This afternoon marchers took over Seventh Ave. apparently in protest against an alleged police killing of a student. However, when I looked more closely at the sign, I noticed that the kid died in 2005. The protesters looked like anarchist youths,

As usually happens, the several dozen protesters were surrounded by many more police officers, who seemed to be both escorting and trying to repress them.

Neither the protest's goals or impacts were clear (besides the traffic jams), but it made for some interesting photos.
Marchers fill up Seventh Ave. - Are the anti-riot police there to protect, accompany or repress?

Police follow protesters along Seventh Ave.

At Jimenez Ave, more police waited

At Jimenez: they shall not pass!

And they did not pass. The protesters undoubtedly wanted to reach Plaza Bolivar, the seat of government. But they resigned themselves to carrying out their demonstration at Jimenez. Perhaps that was lucky for them, as the rains suddenly turned torrential, dousing the protest.
Some yelling and flag waving and the protest ended. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bogotá's Most Original Museum!

Jaime Barranco in his doorway.
Bogotá has the Botero collection - so, why not the Barranco, or the Macumba collection?

Find Macumba in the Teusaquillo neighborhood, on 19th Ave., about two blocks directly west of the Gaitan Museum. Look for the big sun object on the wall and Mr. Barranco seated in the doorway. And once you've found it, you won't forget it. Bogotá Bike Tours visited the other day.

Words such as varied, disparate or eclectic don't come close to capturing Macumba, with its collections of  indigenous sculptures, perfume bottles, Barbie dolls, African masks and chinese artifacts. But perhaps the most interesting item on display is Jaime Barranco himself, the museum's creator, collector and organizer, as well as the inventor of the sometimes-fanciful, always colorful, stories behind the objects.
Click for a slideshow

Jaime Barranco plays his drum

Barranco, who says he's in his 80's, but looks decades younger and often displays the enthusiasm of a teenager, recounts that as a young man he traveled throughout Latin America collecting stuff. He hasn't told me how he got the things from Asia and Africa.

There are the dozens of marble eggs. The shelves of perfume bottles, the bedroom walled with Chinese fans. Even the kitchen's a display area. Sure, the Barbie doll, the 1970s wigs, plastic birds perched strangely above a plastic Jaws shark and weird and silly. But in Mr. Barranco's home they just seem quirky.

Possessing this trove of objects and a small apartment, Barranco turned necessity into a virtue by converting the apartment into a sort of museum (he rejects that word, perhaps because it suggests a static collection. He also doesn't like the words 'teaching' and 'learning,' preferring to talk about 'incorporating knowledge.'

Many of Barranco's explanations for his objects sound a bit fanciful to me, although they're interesting nevertheless. Others might have a real base in anthropological science, like his explanation of the four phases of human life, each represented by a different animal's qualities. Then there's the indigenous sculpture of a half-monkey, half-boy mastubating, which I won't detail.

An indigenous sculpture of a youth at work

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours