Sunday, July 31, 2011

Out Of The Palace and Into Prison

Pres. Alvaro Uribe's administration ended last year with tremendous popularity, thanks to improved security and a vigorous economy.

But if Uribe's top officials expected to turn that success into flourishing political careers, some were very mistaken.

Bernardo Moreno faces the music.
This weekend, Uribe's one-time chief of staff Bernardo Moreno was jailed by a judge in relation to the chuzados scandal, in which the Administrative Security Department, or DAS, wiretapped journalists, judges and even other politicians.

Andrés Felipe Arias in trouble.
And, less than a week ago, Uribe's agriculture minister and one-time apparent heir apparent Andrés Felipe Arias was jailed for a scandal in an agricultural subsidy scheme called 'Agro Ingreso Seguro' intended to help struggling peasants. Instead, some of the payments allegedly went to the rich and powerful, including an ex-beauty queen, prominent political families and narcotraffickers.

Both have yet to be tried and deny the accusations.

Last November, Maria de Pilar Hurtado, the head of the DAS under Uribe obtained asylum in Panama after Colombian law enforcement moved against her for the wiretapping scandal.

Uribe has stuck by his ex-officials. He helped Hurtado obtain asylum in Panama, and he visited ex-ag minister Arias in prison. Uribe accused one judge involved of bias and said that Moreno's arrest was "unacceptable" and that Moreno was only defending his honor.

Uribe has had his own legal troubles. He's been ordered to testify in a United States trial about alleged ties between the Drummond coal company's Colombian operations and killings by right-wing paramilitaries. Uribe himself is not accused in the case.

Yet another scandal, the falsos positivos, in which military units kidnapped young men, killed them and reported them as guerrillas, has sent some military officers to prison but has not touched Uribe personally.

Uribe was extremely popular during his presidency, and there's talk of him running for another term or for mayor of Bogotá. And these ongoing scandals involving his administration don't appear to have hurt his support much: he's still got 60% support in polls.

Like many scandals, the responses to these one show that Colombia's judiciary does act.

Related: Our of Uribe's Palace and into Prison: the Sequel.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The U.S. Deficit and Drug Decriminalization

Illegal drugs: Can they help solve the U.S. budget crisis?

Here's a modest proposal to make a big dent in the United States' budget deficit, which has Washington heading toward default, while simultaneously reducing violence here in Colombia: Decriminalize drugs.

Spraying herbicides - and tax money -
over Colombian jungle.
Numbers I've found vary, but the U.S. government budgets about $17 billion per year on the War on Drugs. That includes Drug Enforcement Administration expenditures in the U.S. and abroad, money spent to erradicate drug crops here in Colombia and the rest of Latin America and in Asia, interdiction expenditures and others.


Out of jail and off of the public budget?
Add to that another $14 billion dollars saved on not incarcerating 561,526 inmates now in federal prisons for drug crimes, who cost the government $25,500 per federal prisoner per year. Of course, if not for drug laws, some of those people would be in prison for other crimes - but then lots of other people are imprisoned for other offenses which were motivated by the drug industry, and these crimes might be averted. In addition, policing, border control and court costs would also drop.

And, some of these freed inmates would likely get jobs and start paying taxes instead of consuming them. Many young men would grow up with a father around instead of in prison, hopefully cutting the cycle of violence.

In addition, it's a good bet that the roughly $114 billion year 2011 cost of the Afghan war would drop significantly, since the U.S.'s Taliban enemies finance themselves to a large degree from the illegal heroin trade. In the same way, law enforcement costs in general would decline, as many urban areas would cease being quasi war zones. Property values would rise, increasing tax revenues.

Now add the income side of the balance sheet:

A 2008 Cato Institute analysis calculated that if the now-illegal drugs were taxed just as liquor and tobacco are now, they'd generate $31 billion in federal taxes.

Federal spending: A way to shrink the pie?
(The same Cato paper also found that U.S. states spend $25 billion per year enforcing drug laws and would collect $15 billion in taxes from drug legalization, for a total positive revenue of $40 billion for state governments.)

Altogether, this means at least $62 billion in positive revenue on the federal level.

To put those numbers into context, the U.S. federal government spends about $100 billion annually on education, and the deficit is about $1 trillion. So, decriminalizing or legalizing drugs would be a big help for the U.S. budget crisis. $60 billion is also the gross domestic product of the nation of the oil-rich Qatar or the U.S. state of New Hampshire, so deregulating drugs would be like adding another state to the U.S. economy.

Naturally, this policy could also have negative effects, in particular increasing drug consumption - but the evidence for this in other cases, such as Portugal, is certainly mixed. And, billions of dollars of additional government revenue to go a long way to treating drug addiction and educating people about the dangers of drug use. In addition, decriminalization would bring undoubted benefits, including lower levels of violence in the U.S. and in Latin America, reduced environmental impacts and less prison crowding.

Obviously, this scheme would require decriminalization or legalization by drug producing nations as well. But these changes would undoubtedly follow quickly once Washington D.C. changed its course.

There are, of course, additional ways to cut the deficit, including reversing the Bush tax cuts for the rich and growing the economy.

But drug decriminalization is worth a try.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, July 29, 2011

In Bogotá, Not All Smoke Is Equal

A bus and a cigarrette fume off. Not all smoke is treated equal, but some smoke gets off scot-free. 
Not all smoke is created equal: some kinds of smoke are more carcinogenic, others cause emphysema, asthma, allergies, heart disease, or all of these.

A tourist covers her mouth on Seventh Ave. 
But every kind of smoke is bad for us. In recent years, Bogotá and Colombia have moved to restrict smoking and the impacts of tobacco smoke on non-smokers. So why do authorities seem to ignore other sources of air pollution, such as vehicles and industry?

After all, while cigarrettes generate cubic centimeters of smoke, vehicles and factories belch out cubic meters of it.

What if we labeled other air polluters the same way we do cigarrette packs?

Related posts:


A Toxic Assault on Bogotá's Breathers

Pollution: We see it, but they don't.

Fighting for the Right to Pollute.

And check out our video, in Spanish, denouncing Bogotá's air pollution. (Nuestro video sobre contaminacion del aire en Bogotá)



A skull graces this smokestack in Palo Quemao to show what it does to its neighbors. 

This Transmilenio bus on the 'Eje Ambiental needs an image of the diseased lungs it produces. 

How many people has this belching bus helped send to sickbeds?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Grey to Black: Colombia's Urban Environmental Prospects

A landslide this year near Medellin. More of this coming?
Fifty years from now, Bogotá will be several degrees warmer, rainier and yet suffer more water shortages, say experts.

During three days this week, environmental experts from around the world discussed the environmental prospects for Colombia's cities - and the predictions aren't encouraging.

The conference, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, took place from the 26th to the 28th of this week.

More rain? Flooding in Bogotá.
Raising the average temperature a few degrees might sound good for chilly Bogotá. But it will be accompanied with more traumatic changes, such as torrential rains, landslides and monumental traffic jams. Meanwhile, Colombia's coastal cities will be invaded by rising seas.

Increased and more erratic rainfall, combined with environmental damage from deforestation, the destruction of wetlands and pressure to build on unstable lands will mean more environmental disasters, the experts said.

Deforestion in Colombia
According to recent studies, Colombia loses more than 3,000 square kilometers of forest each year, worsening soil erosion and landslides and pumping global warming gases into the atmosphere. One of the biggest causes of deforestation is illegal drug crop production, according to the government.

Gridlock near central Bogotá. 
Bogotá and other cities will also overwhelm their infrastructures. Bogotá alone is expected to add another million residents by 2020, and, even more importantly, car ownership is growing rapidly, bringing the city to one huge gridlock - unless the city finds ways to limit car use.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Primer on the Under-20 World Cup

Colombia Under-20 World Cup Team players.
The day after tomorrow the Under-20 World Cup kicks off in Medellin with a match between England and the not-very-democratic Democratic Republic of Korea, better known as North Korea.

The U-20 2011 logo.

Spaniard Canales
This is Colombia's biggest-ever sporting event, and Colombians are hoping that it goes off smoothly to burnish the nation's image and put it into the running to host the 'real' World Cup. The competition runs thru August 20, in eight cities, and will showcase rising young players from some of the world's great clubs, such as Spaniard Sergio Canales of Real Madrid, Argentine Erik Lamela of A.S. Roma and Frenchman Gaël Kakuta of Chelsea. And this junior World Cup will probably produce future Messis and Maradonas.

Kakuta, of France.
Who will win? The Under-20 could give lesser-known football nations a chance to shine. While powers like Brazil, Spain and Argentina have dominated the tournament, the last U-20, Egypt 2009, was won by Ghana.  Some call Ghana's cup a good omen for Nigeria, which has lots of buzz around it, altho it disappointed in its recent friendly matches. Spain, Brazil and Argentina will contend, but football powerhouses Italy, Germany, Holland and Paraguay definitely won't raise the cup - none of them qualified, while football liliputians Panama, New Zealand and Guatemala did.

Playing at home, Colombia just might surprise.

But the best which Colombians can hope for is that the tournament goes off smoothly, unmarred by violence, with lots of exciting matches.

The U-20 tournament is participating in the Green Goal program, which means that it will plant some 35,000 trees to compensate for the event's carbon footprint.

Here's the schedule: http://www.fifa.com/u20worldcup/matches/index.html

Ticket purchasing information is here: http://u20worldcup.tuboleta.com/Default_en.aspx?langpref=en

Offering pay TV to watch the tournament.


By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

A New Drug Law For Colombia?

Smoking on a streetcorner: soon to be banned in Colombia?
Colombian legislators have presented a new proposed drug policy law - and then withdrawn it for modification - probably because they realized that it wouldn't work.

The proposed law did not, however, propose courageous changes which might contribute to a shift in drug control strategies.

The proposed law had positives: for example, it would cover both legal and illegal drugs, instead of insisting on the lie that there are two categories of psychoactive substances: those that are legal and good and others which are bad and deserve prohibition.

Just don't breath if you're behind me. 
The law's prohibition against smoking on public streets, plazas and parques would be great - I hate walking down a sidewalk and choking on the second-hand smoke of someone in front of me (who often isn't even smoking his own cigarrette). Holding your breath in Bogotá's thin air, you rush past them - only to have to swallow the smoke of someone else ten feet ahead. But if the legislators really believe that this law's enforceable, they must have been smoking something lots stronger than tobacco.

The proposed law would also have banned alcohol advertising at cultural and sporting events. Inebriation certainly causes lots of damage in Colombia, including sports-related violence - but alcohol also funds lots of activities and plays an important role in Colombian culture. Lots of people enjoy drinking without harming others. Where is the best balance between puritanism, prohibitionism and healthy recreation?

A giant Aguila beer shirt at a football game. Some Colombian teams are in bankruptcy. Would the sport survive without alcohol money?

Fans fight at a football game: much of it is fueled by alcohol. 
On the positive side, the proposal would require coca leaf erradicators to ask for permission before working in indigenous territories. The law would also designate areas for cultivating drug crops for legal consumption - does this mean that Colombia's going to enter into medical marijuana production? Or would it further regulate the legal production of products from coca leaf?

Coca tea and leaves: headed toward more regulation?
Regarding illegal drugs, the law would provide more treatment for drug addicts and create a task force charged with reducing drug use. That's a step forward, since reducing demand has been shown to be much more cost-effective, as well as more humane. But the law also appears to increase regulation on the cultivation of drug crops on indigenous territories. That may be a step backward, if it prevents indigenous people from producing healthy products such as coca tea, crackers and soft drinks, which provide these peoples with alternatives to the illegal drug economy.

But the proposed law did not take even baby steps toward decriminalizing illegal drugs, even tho criminal groups financed by illegal drugs have done more damage to Colombia than perhaps any other nation. Legislators might consider decriminalizing personal use of marijuana or even restate the old personal dosis of drugs. This would surely bring complaints from Republicans in Washington - but would also assert Colombia's independence from U.S. drug policy.

Colombian ex-president Cesar Gaviria has been campaigning for drug decriminalization for a while, and participated in the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, which also recommended alternatives to prohibitionism. And Pres. Juan Manuel Santos has said that he'd be open to changes on drug policy - if other nations take the lead. He's right. If Colombia did the unthinkable and legalized drugs it could deprive the guerrillas, paramilitaries and cartels of the bulk of their incomes - but would also turn this country into an international pariah.

Colombia has no choice but to wait for Washington to take the lead. But expecting Washington to endorse decriminalization anytime soon is unfortunately reefer madness.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Separate But Equal For Colombian Same-Sex Couples?

A couple during this year's Gay Pride Parade. 
Gay couples can't get married, Colombia's Constitutional Court ruled today - but the legislature should invent a relationship to give them equal status.

The court ruled that the 1991 Constitution, which defines a family as a "free decision of a man and a woman to enter into matrimony," restricts marriage to a heterosexual union. However, it also said that clauses in the Constitution which guarantee equality for all and special protection for minorities require the legislature to provide an alternative legal relationship for same-sex couples. The court gave the legislature one year to develop such an alternative legal relationship.

If the legislature doesn't act, the court said, gay couples can register their relationships, but it still wouldn't be called 'marriage.' At present, same-sex couples who've cohabited for at least two years can register civil unions which carry most of the rights of marriage.

The high court might very well have ruled the other way, by basing its decision on the Constitution's guarantees of equality and the "free development of the personality." But, perhaps considering that Colombia's generally conservative, Catholic society is not ready for gay marriage, the court decided to stop half-way. Most likely, however, Colombians would have accepted gay matrimony, just as they have legal abortions, same sex civil unions, the right to personal drug use and other progressive court rulings.

When Colombia's Constitutional Convention wrote its surprisingly progressive document in 1991, only Denmark had recognized same sex 'domestic partnerships,' and most likely few Colombian politicians believed that gay marriage would ever become an issue in this highly-Catholic nation. I suspect that such a progressive document written today would take same-sex marriage for granted.

LGBT signs during the 2011 Gay Pride Parade.
By handing the issue over to the legislature, which has traditionally been conservative, the court has pretty much eliminated the chance for formal same-sex marriage, at least barring a continental shift in the legislature's political constitution. The only sizeable political party supporting same-sex marriage is the far-left Polo Democratico. Most likely, some members of the Green and the Liberal parties would also support the concept - but those parties belong to the conservative governing coalition.

Gay pride marchers carry signs demanding that the court provide equal marriage rights. 


Related posts: Gay Marriage in Colombia?

2011 Gay Pride Parade

Chapinero, Bogotá's Gay Neighborhood

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Colombia Says Goodbye to a Great One

Joe Arroyo, 1955-2011
Joe Arroyo, the Cartagena-born salsa singer, died this morning.

'El Joe' began singing in Cartagena dives when he was only eight and went on to create his own sound, mixing salsa, cumbia, parra and other musical styles from Colombia's Caribbean coast. The result was nicknamed the Joeson.

Arroyo had long suffered health problems, due at least in part from years of substance abuse. He died of heart failure in early this morning in the city of Barranquilla. Arroyo was known as the 'King of the Carnaval of Barranquilla.'

Arroyo integrated lots of Afrocolombian spirit and historical consciousness. One of his biggest hits was 'Rebellion,' about couple brought as slaves from Africa.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, July 25, 2011

Almost 200 Years On, Bolívar's In A New Battle

Tests proved this was Bolivar's skeleton - but not what killed him. 
Almost two centuries ago, Simón Bolívar, who liberated northern South America from Spanish rule, died in Santa Marta on the Colombian coast.

Nearly 200 years later, El Libertador is still a political football.

Simon Bolivar, murder victim?
According to most historians, Bolívar died of tuberculosis. But Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chávez, who worships Bolívar so intensely that he renamed his country after the Caracas-born warrior, refused to accept such a simple interpretation of history. Last year, Chávez ordered Bolívar's remains exhumed, saying it was a "moral obligation" to ascertain the revolutionary leader's cause of death, which Chávez blamed on the 'oligarchy.'

The move produced lots of ridicule because under Chávez Venezuela has suffered one of the world's highest homicide rates, and the president has paid little attention to the problem.

Chávez isn't alone in disputing the TB theory. Last year, an expert at Johns Hopkins University concluded that Bolívar's symptoms matched those of arsenic poisoning - but pointed out that back in those days arsenic was used as a medical treatment and was often in drinking water.

The dispute over Bolívar's cause of death seems to represent the social and national tensions in the region's politics. Chavéz often rails against the wealthy and 'oligarchs,' whom he now suspects of killing Bolívar. Venezuela's leftist government and Colombia's conservative government have experienced repeated tensions. And   so the fact that the Caracas-born Bolívar died in Colombia produces convenient villians for Chávez. In contrast, Francisco de Paula Santander, Bolívar's great political rival, whom Chávez has suggested murdered Bolívar, was born in what is today Colombia.

Now, the results of the post-, post-, post-mortem autopsy are in - and they don't help.

Venezuela's vice president said the analysis had confirmed that the remains belong to Bolívar - but that the cause of death wasn't clear.


Hugo Chavez, a new Bolívar? 
But Chávez, who has been fighting cancer, still insisted that Bolívar was murdered, altho he admitted "I don't have proof."

Perhaps this is a case of what psychologists call 'projection.' Chávez sometimes seems to believe himself to be Bolívar's reincarnation, and he has often announced alleged plots to assasinate him - altho he's almost never offered evidence.

There are other parallels. Towards the end of his life, Bolívar wanted to be made president-for-life and even declared himself dictator. And during his 12 years in power, Chávez has become increasingly authoritarian and sometimes said that he intends to rule for another ten or twenty years.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Even Drivers Have Their Day


Celebrating the Virgen del Carmen, protector of drivers. 
In case you've been wondering what all of those bangs, which sound like gunshots or firecrackers, have been about, they apparently were the second.

The Virgin of Carmen
Last week was the commemoration of the Virgen del Carmen, protector of drivers. And they've been celebrating.

In Bogotá's chaotic traffic, the virgin has her work cut out for her.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Saturday, July 23, 2011

An End to Loosies?

Opened cigarette boxes offer 'loosies' along Ave. Jimenez.
Update: As of November, nothing's changed in the sale of loose cigarettes. A street vendor, after selling a pair of loosies to a young couple, says 'Well, we can't die of hunger,' and points out that the vendor earns much more by selling cigarettes by the stick than by the box. She pointed out that neighboring liquor stores also sold alcohol illegally to minors. When the police come by, they hide the open boxes, she said. The only way to end this practice is with sting operations.

On Thursday, a law took effect prohibiting all cigarette advertising and, more controversally, the sale of 'loosies' or single cigarettes.

Most of the public commentary I've heard about the 'loosies' prohibition has been negative: it will hurt the incomes of the informal vendors and small shopkeepers who sell single cigarettes; by making full packs the only option, smokers will smoke nor, not less; the law is unenforceable.

Building a future market: tobacco company contractors
interview young people about their smoking habits
in La Candelaria, a university neighborhood.
The first two criticisms miss the point. Yes, an end to loose cigarette sales will cut vendors' incomes. But, if vendors' incomes were the top priority, then we should give them license to sell heroin, cocaine and pornography to anybody who wants them, as well. On the second, I doubt whether, on balance, many people would smoke more without loosies, but this law's goal is not to affect adult smokers, who have a right to continue their habit. Access to cheap, single cigarettes, which can be bought on the street starting at about 150 pesos, or a dime, gets lots of kids started smoking and starts them on a lifelong addiction. If they had to shell out for a whole pack, they might buy a candy instead - or even save their coins.


A lifelong market? young person smokes on La Plaza del Chorro. 
On the other hand, critics are right that this law will likely not be enforced, altho it could be. A local shopkeeper tells me that cigarettes sell for about one-third more when vended singly than when sold by the pack. That gives vendors a big economic incentive to open cigarette packs and sell the sticks one by one. 

Expect shopkeepers to keep their opened packs under the counter. If police or health authorities question them, they'll just explain that those ten opened packs are the ones they are smoking themselves.
In a neighborhood shop. This space
had contained a cigarette ad. 

The only way to catch single-stick sellers would be with sting operations: employing people to try to buy single cigarettes. But Colombian police don't use such strategies.

The tobacco companies have removed lots of the cigarette advertising which has papered this city. But they haven't given up on their battle on young Colombians' hearts and lungs. This afternoon, I watched young people interviewing other young people about their smoking and cigarette buying habits. They appear to focus only on young men and women - after all, that's tobacco's future market.

A Marlboro sign on a city bus. 
The warning says 'Smoking causes abortion.' If abortion is mostly prohibited, then why is smoking permitted?



By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Un-Decision On the Minimum Drug Dosage

A minimum dose?
Colombia's Constitutional Court has decided to not decide on the legality of carrying a 'minimum dosage' of drugs.  It ruled the other day that a lawsuit aiming to legalize possession of small amounts of drugs was incorrectly written, and must be rewritten and resubmitted.

Carrying a 'minimum dosage' of drugs was legalized in 1994 by the Supreme Court, which ruled that personal drug use was part of the "free development of the personality" guaranteed by Colombia's 1991 Constitution. But opponents of the minimum dose, led by then-Pres. Alvaro Uribe, argued that it promoted drug use and made it hard to arrest drug dealers, who kept only the minimum dose amount on their persons. In Dec. 2009, Congress prohibited the minimum dose, altho it didn't specify punishments for violators and decreed only medical attention for addicts.

The law had depenalized the possession of 20 grams of marijuana or 2 grams of bazuco - a cheap form of crack cocaine - among other drugs.

As a result, today it's common to see police patting down and taking away young men for carrying a bit of pot. But how illegal drug consumption has changed is unclear - I can't find any up-to-date statistics on trends in Colombian drug consumption. According to this 2010 story, Colombian young people consume drugs at a higher rate than the youths neighboring nations. For example, the survey also found that 2.5% of Colombian university students acknowledged using cocaine, compared to a half percent or less in the other countries.  But this applies to both illegal drugs and to alcohol and could reflect economic and cultural differences: Bolivia and Ecuador are substantially poorer than Colombia and those two nations and Peru are much more indigenous. And some of the numbers look doubtful to me: can it really be true that only 11.5% of Colombian university students had used marijuana during the past year - but 90% had consumed alcohol? Or could it be that, because pot was then illegal, many students feared admitting using it?

A 'free development of the personality' strikes me as a rotten way to justify the use of hard drugs such as cocaine and crack. Some people can handle them, but the brilliant singer Amy Winehouse freely developed her personality to death at age 27, and every day I see the wreckage of alcohol and drug addiction wandering Bogotá's streets. Legalizing and regulating drugs is the least-bad policy not because drugs are good, but because users tend to obtain them anyway. And prohibition just turns people with problems, like Winehouse, into criminals. If Winehouse's vices were legal ones, perhaps she would have been more open about her problems and obtained help sooner - perhaps. We just don't know.

If prohibitionism places some barriers against drug consumption, they aren't many, and studies have shown that treatment and education are much more cost effective and humane ways to discourage use. And imprisoning people for using drugs can ruin lots of lives and cost society lots of money, whereas its effect on dissuading users is questionable. However, the legal status of the minimum dosage is really marginal to the broader  impacts of prohibition, which drives the drug trade's huge profits into the coffers of outlaw organizations, such as Colombia's guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug cartels.

Leaders ought to try not only depenalizing the minimum dosage, but legalizing drugs generally, to take them out of the hands of criminals.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Armless Weaver of La Septima

Morales attracts an audience working on Seventh Ave. 
Many people complain about poverty. Many complain about violence. And many complain about physical disabilities.

Odalis Yaneth Morales has faced all of those, and kept looking forward.

'Handing' a hat to a customer.
Many days, you'll find her weaving handicrafts on the sidewalk of Seventh Ave. in downtown Bogotá. The black and white rings, hats, bags and bracelets would be impressive works by anybody. But Morales has no hands or arms. She does all of her work with her toes.

Morales grew up on the Senu indigenous territory in Cordoba Department, where she said that making handicrafts is about the only employment available. She was born without arms and learned the trade from her mother.

"I didn't have hands, so I had to do it with my feet," she said.

Passing pesos to a customer.
But she earned little in the indigenous territory, which, besides being extremely poor, has at times been attacked by outlaw paramilitary groups. In addition, she wanted to study. So, two years ago, she moved to Bogotá, where she often sets up her workshop - when the police let her - on the west side of Ave. Septima a block or two south of Jimenez Ave.

Recently, a television program profiled Morales and someone who saw the show is contributing money so that she can study psychology, which she is doing via internet with a Colombian university.


Nearby, Embera indigenous women sell their own handicrafts. But Morales is the main attraction for passersby, who gather around marvelling at the adroitness of her toes. A few people by crafts; others drop coins into her basket. Undoubtedly, the feats Morales accomplishes with her feet serve as lessons to many children. "Now, you see why you shouldn't complain about little things!" mothers admonish.

On a recent afternoon I found Morales working by the window of the Golden Palace Casino, where people seek easy money. She lifts up a hat or a bracelet with her foot and hands it to a prospective customer. She receives the money and makes change with her toes, then folds the bills up tightly and stores them.

I ask her for her name.

She writes her name in a neat 'hand.'
"I'll write it down," she says, and grasps my notebook with her toes and writes in a 'hand' that's much neater than mine.

I ask Morales whether she regrets having been born without arms.

"No, not at all," she says, "it's God's will."

Morales' goal is to obtain her degree in psychology and return to work with her people.

Certainly, her best lesson will be the example she's set.

A customer admires herself in the window of the Golden Palace Casino.





A beggar with two good arms. 
Other entries about interesting people:

The Box Man of La Jimenez.

Jose, the rapper of La Jimenez.

The Lost Man who Guides Tourists.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours