Friday, September 30, 2011

Johanna, the Poetess of La Candelaria

Johanna and her poem.
You often see Johanna Henry on La Candelaria's plazas offering poems in Spanish and English for a small contribution.

I don't know her history well, but her roots are in San Andres, a Carribean island which is probably Colombia's most unlikely territory. She's also lived in different parts of mainland Colombia and says she was displaced by violent groups, who forced her to move to Bogotá.

Here's my poem. 
Today, she gave me this poem, titled

'Razon de Tu Silencio' 

'Me gusta tu silencio cauto, donde urgas mi silencio vacio. Donde me hablas sin palabras y me escuchas sin oidos....' 

Nice, but I doubt it was written by a woman who evidently has a substance abuse problem. On the other hand, who am I to judge? I couldn't find those phrases via Google, and lots of great writers have had abuse problems....

A note about San Andres:

Located off of Nicaragua's coast, San Andres forms an archipelago also including Providencia and Santa Catalina, as well as lots of atolls and banks. The first Europeans to settle the islands were British Puritans - the same folks who settled New England. The islands were later controlled by the Spanish, by pirates and even a French corsair flying the Argentine flag. After Latin America's independence, the islands decided to join La Gran Colombia - but their nationality made less geographic sense after U.S. Pres. Teddy Roosevelt chopped off Panama and made it an independent nation in order to dig the Panama Canal, leaving the islands far from the rest of Colombia. Nicaragua still has claims to the archipelago, altho Colombia's hold on it seems strong. Today, the people there speak a kind of English, tho mixed with such a potpourri of words from other languages that it's not easy for an outsider to understand. The islands' sun and sand have made them popular with tourists.

San-drenched San Andres - a long ways from drizzly Bogotá

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, September 29, 2011

How to Leave Your Crimes Behind

Back in the Pablo Escobar era, a Colombia narco's worst nightmare was being extradited to the United States, where prisons were less corrupt and he had to endure cold winters far from family.

That was one of the reasons why Escobar assassinated politicians and helped finance the M-19's attack on the Justice Palace in 1985. In the end, Escobar served time in a luxury 'prison' on a Medellin mountaintop, which he left whenever he wanted.

Some of today's Colombian criminals, however, might make a different choice.

Over recent years, Colombia has extradited a lot of paramilitary leaders to do time in the United States on narcotrafficking charges. That policy itself is burdened with injustices, since the paramilitaries' don't face justice for their most heinous crimes, such as massacre and torture, until later - if ever.

Now it looks like 'never' may be the more appropriate word.

Today's El Tiempo reports that in 'dozens of cases' paramilitaries have served time in U.S. prisons for drug trafficking charges and returned to Colombia, where authorities haven't picked them up on their much more serious human rights crimes. Examples include a man named Jairo Antonio Massu, who allegedly engineered the massacre of eight people, including two U.S. anti-drug agents.

The lack of punishment demonstrates a huge bungling on the part of U.S. law enforcement, as well as their seeming obsession with narcotrafficking crimes and nothing else.

Meanwhile, Colombians may discover that some of these men have returned to crime after returning home. If so, they may regret not having imprisoned them at home, even in a gilded cage.

As for the drug-obsessed American justice system, it may actually be doing these paramilitaries a favor, by punishing them only for their drug crimes, while their murders get forgotten.

The lesson here? If you're gonna commit mass murder and don't want to pay for it, then be sure to traffic drugs as well.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Millionare Needs Your Money

Pledge your money to a politician.
Today on Plaza Bolivar anti-corruption activists asked passersby to donate to impoverished legislators - who earn millions of pesos per month.

Poor guy: Senate Pres. Corzo
needs his gasoline.
Few Colombians consider the legislators to be poor - except, perhaps, the legislators themselves. Senate President Juan Manuel Corzo recently requested a gasoline subsidy - because he couldn't afford to maintain two cars on his salary. Poor guy. Anyway, he said he'd take what he's not given: "I prefer not to rob the state and that they pay me with gasoline," he said.

So, feeling only sympathy for the beleagured legislators, in a nation in which close to half the population lives below the poverty line and many suffer extreme poverty, Bogotanos contributed symbolically to their legislators.

To me, the refreshing thing about this protest was that it appeared to be genuinely grassroots. In other words, I didn't spot any ambitious politicians using the demonstration as a platform to get into office, where they'd possibly do the very same thing.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, September 26, 2011

Peñalosa Shakes Things Up

Alvaro Uribe campaigns with Enrique Peñalosa. (Photo: Radio Santa Fe)
Mayoral candidate Enrique Peñalosa tried to shake things up this weekend by campaigning with ex-President Alvaro Uribe.

Despite the fact that Peñalosa had a succesful term as mayor, remembered for improving public space, expanding the city's bike lane system and creating the Transmilenio express bus system. Peñalosa should have the red carpet laid out for him. After all, the political left has muddied its image with the scandal surrounding jailed mayor Samuel Moreno, of the far-left Polo Democratico party. a campaigner, Peñalosa can't seem to convince. And, paradoxically, he's stuck in second place in the polls behind ex-M-19 guerrilla Gustavo Petro, who only recently left the beleagured Polo Democratico party.

By campaigning with the conservative Uribe, who is popular but also polarizing - several of high officials from his administration are now in prison or in exile - Peñalosa is giving up any chance for the vote of young progressives, altho few supported him as it is. Peñalosa also recently took controversial strategist J.J. Rendon, whom I see called 'Latin America's Karl Rove' onto his campaign, causing several of his advisors to resign. But Rendon, like Rove, knows how to win - he advised Pres. Juan Manuel Santos in his tromping of Antanas Mockus last year.

Bogotá's mayoral campaign is reaching its final stretch, and only three candidates: Petro, Peñalosa and Mockus, also an ex-mayor, have a real chance. In the end, it will likely be decided by the suppporters of the eight other candidates who have little chance. Will they stick with their man or woman, who will almost certainly lose, or throw their support behind one of the men with potential?

This scenario, unfortunately, bodes ill for Peñalosa: he's got the highest negative rating of any of the candidates, and the Uribe alliance will only increase that negative block.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, September 24, 2011

From the Rubble of the Pyramids

No more hunger!

The other day, these people who call themselves victims of pyramid schemes, protested in front of San Francisco Church in downtown Bogotá.

The pyramids' rise and sudden fall became a huge story across Colombia three years ago, as many thousands of mostly poor people tried to get rich quick but instead lost their savings and sometimes their houses.

In financial pyramids a promoter uses promises of rich paybacks to recruit more and more participants and money to pay back the earlier investors. Inevitably, of course, the scheme collapses.

Except that in Colombia at least one pyramid, named DMG, seemed to work, paying its investors off generously and reliably.

Unfortunately, DMG founder David Murcia Guzman, who had named the pyramid after himself, had not discovered a way around the laws of economics. Rather, he was apparently laundering drug money thru his pyramid.
We are people injured by the pyramids
and the national government. We
demand return of our money now. 

In Nov. 2008 Murcia was arrested and later extradited to the United States, where he's now serving a nine-year prison sentence for money laundering. Murcia faces 30 more years when he's sent back to Colombia.

However, by the time he was arrested, Murcia had already become a folk hero to the thousands of Colombians who'd invested in his pyramid. After all, they were multiplying their investments. DMG investors demonstrated across the country to 'free David Murcia,' as tho he were a

As for these demonstrators, whose desire to get rich quick was exploited by people like Murcia. That leaves me with contradictory sentiments of 'poor folks' and 'you got what you deserved for greed.'

Justice now!

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, September 23, 2011

They Talked, They Died

Did someone die for talking about this?
Bricks of cocaine siezed in Cartagena this May.
(Foto: Dialogo Americas)  
In case you were wondering why the drug war's failing, the U.K.'s Channel 4 reports that a one-time British agent who worked with informants from Colombian drug cartels is remorseful because at least a half-dozen of them were murdered between the years 2000 and 2004.

A drug laboratory near the
Ciudad Perdida in Colombia. 
Apparently, the drug cartels had its own informants in British or Colombian anti-drug agencies, who sold the identities of the guys who were leaking inside info from the drug cartels.

How many people will risk a death sentence to squeal on fellow drug dealers? Is it any wonder that the cocaine and heroin keep getting thru?

The Telegraph newspaper's story also links to a news report about a group of high-level British ex-officials who called drug prohibitionism a "disaster" and "an expensive catastrophe."

This March 2010 story reported that London cocaine prices had actually fallen and that a line of cocaine there cost less than a coffee.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Go Straight to Prison, Without Passing Go

Work on Calle 26, east of Carrera 7. Scandal around this project has Mayor Samuel Moreno behind bars.
Bogotá's suspended mayor Samuel Rojas Moreno went to prison today, where he'll await his trial on corruption charges for allegedly receiving kickbacks for Bogotá publics works projects.

The judge evidently decided that the evidence against the mayor was strong and that Moreno posed a risk of flight - he also holds United States citizenship.

The mayor got elected on a smile and a promise to build a subway line. Bogotá still has no metro and the two Transmilenio lines under construction are way behind schedule and over budget. But, in the picture on El Tiempo's website today, Moreno's still smiling.

A bus belches fumes. Municipal
environmental officials can't see this. 
Bogotanos will remember the Moreno administration as a time of corruption, frustration and terrible traffic congestion. While the Transmilenio expansion was necessary, it certainly could have been handled much better.

Not smiling now. Today's news headlines. 
In addition to the mismanagement and alleged corruption, Moreno should also be remembered for having let Bogotá's laws go lax. During the Moreno years we've seen public space invaded by cars and street vendors, pollution go uncontrolled and traffic laws unenforced. Perhaps that is Moreno's worst offense.
A city council candidate from Moreno's Polo Democratico party, which has apologized  for the Moreno  fiasco.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Carnaval at the National University!

Painted faces.
Yesterday the 21st., the National University's students celebrated their annual carnaval. There was lots of color, music and crazyness. Naturally, at the always-leftist, always-political National University, the carnaval contained lots of politics, satire and less-than-fond commentaries on capitalism.

No idea why they chose this date, but fun is fun.

Get happy, get sad.

Get happy!

I'm gonna beat an education into you!
...whether you like it or not!

Cartagena bicentennial. 

Colorful costumes from Cartagena. 

Corporations on the attack!

Celebrating the train of capitalism. 

These proud grads can't spell. 

Horn man

Ready to write. The bigger the pencil, the better the grade. 

Pretty maidens. 
Celebrating rapacious capitalism. 

Make more money with Texaco!

A friendly spearman.

This bike tourer found a new friend!

Transmilleno (An overcrowded Transmilenio bus.)


Outside campus, anti-riot police wait in case things boil over. Notice the one smiling at the camera?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Minister From the Wrong Environment

Colombian biodiversity - in good hands?

After eight years, Colombia, one of the world's most biodiverse nations, finally has a minister of the environment again. 

In 2003, then-Pres. Alvaro Uribe merged the ministry of the environment into that of housing and territorial development - in order to save money, I suppose. A glance at the combined ministry's website shows that its housing side, which generates political support, gets lots more priority than does environmental regulation, which can cost votes.

So it was encouraging last June when Pres. Juan Manuel Santos once again gave the environment its own ministry.

Frank Pearl: Good at resolving armed conflict,
but can he protect the environment?
However, it would be more reassuring if Pres. Juan Manuel Santos had actually appointed an environmentalist to head the ministry. His designee, Frank Pearl is, by all appearances, an intelligent, accomplished well-meaning guy. He was Pres. Uribe's high commissioner for integrating ex-guerrilla and paramilitary combatants into society. He's also got university degrees in law, economics and business administration, and has taught, worked and studied in such far-flung places as Canada, Russia, Ukrania and Lithuania. He's also been an activist against Colombia's conflict.

An open-pit mine in Colombia.
The gold, coal and other industries
want more of these.
But missing from his resume is experience on the environment. As Colombia's environmental minister,  Pearl will be charged with safeguarding some of the planet's greatest biodiversity - at a time when it is under assault by oil, mining, agricultural and other economic interests eager to yank Colombia's natural resources out of the ground and ship them north to wealthy nations.

One suspects, unfortunately, that Pearl was chosen because, as a greenhorn on the environment  and untrained in biodiversity defense, extraction industries expect him to be a pushover for those strip-mining, clear-cutting multinationals.

Wasn't there anybody else available? The leader of an environmentalist NGO? A respected official in the existing ministry of the environment and housing?

Sandra Bessudo: Too radical to be minister?
Back in July, the president had said he'd appoint Sandra Bessudo, a current ministry official and accomplished defender of the marine environment, to head the new ministry. But Bessudo, something of a hippie Earth child, was perhaps too radical and unconventional for Pres. Santos' pro-business agenda. Fortunately, at least, she will be staying on at the ministry.

Most disappointingly, I haven't heard any objections to Pearl's apppointment. In fact, Colombian beauty queen crownings have sometimes generated more controversy.

Perhaps Pearl will surprise. For Colombia's future, let's hope he does.

But I'm not betting on it. And I suspect that the multinationals don't expect him too, either.

See Also: Environment: A Ministry Found. ... and Lost?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

One Project Finally Finished!

San Ignacio Church looks plain from the outside, but was a pioneer when constructed. 
In a city in which public works projects seem to drag on forever, it's nice to see something get finished!

Earlier this month renovation work was completed on San Ignacio Church, located on Calle 10 just east of Plaza Bolívar. The church appears pretty plain from the outside, but apparently has quite a spectacular interior - which I've never seen, since I've never found the church's doors open. 

Dogs' head decorations on San Ignacio's doorway. 
San Ignacio, built by the Jesuits, or Company of Jesus, beginning in 1610 (sections were added during the following centuries), had suffered from age, a 1763 earthquake which destroyed the cupola, and structural modifications by the Colegio de San Bartolome on the church's western side. In 1776, the king of Spain threw the Jesuits out of the Americas, forcing them to abandon their churches.

This page about Bogotá arquitecture calls the San Ignacio Church "the most important 17th-century building in Nueva Granada" because it was the first church to have a cupola, or dome, and because of the integrated concept of its interior space. I'll have to take their word for that.  

The church's renovation, begun in 2004 and carried out by the Jesuits order and Javeriana University (a Jesuit university), tried to recreate the church's original materials, including lime, clay and earth.  

A close up of San Ignacio's coat of arms,
showing lions, castles  and what looks like
some sort of dead rodent at the bottom. 
With the restoration completed on San Ignacio (its exterior, at least), the historical center's only major ongoing renovation project is the Teatro Colon one block uphill. 

Tenth must be one of the neighborhood's best-preserved streets, from Plaza Bolivar east all the way 
uphill to Carrera 2. Unfortunately, however, many buildings west of Plaza Bolivar have fallen into disrepair. 

Of course, about the last thing the La Candelaria neighborhood needed was yet another old church, no matter how beautiful. It has at least a dozen of them, including at least four within a three-block radius, giving no Catholic any excuse for missing mass. 

Now, let's see whether the Catholic Church can finish its other great project: repairing its section of the hiking path to the Iglesia de Monserrate, which was damaged by landslides about two years ago. Now that the city says it's repaired its own part of the path up to the church, it is incomprehensible why the church does not put the final several hundred yards, which it owns, back into hikeable condition. Many faithful Bogotanos of modest means can't afford the cable car, preventing them from making the pilgrimage to the hilltop church.   

San Ignacio Church's doorway. 

The church is still behind gates, but hopefully will open its doors soon. 

The San Ignacio Church's coat of arms. 

The statue of educator Camilo Torres in front of Colegio San Bartolome, located between the San Ignacio Church  and Plaza Bolivar. 

A pigeon flies past the statue of Simon Bolivar on Plaza Bolívar,  with La Catedral behind. 

Metalwork of the Teatro Colon - the Colon Theatre - a block uphill from the San Ignacio Church. 

A detail of the metalwork on the Colon Theatre one block uphill. 

The front of a neighboring building. 

Iglesia La Candelaria, on Calle 11. 

A streetlamp. 
Pattern of 'windows' on the rear of La Catedral Mayor. Are the three lower apertures windows? For defense purposes? For supplies? Perhaps they connected the Cathedral to another building since demolished. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours