Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Art to Fly For

Laura; 'Luis Paz.'

This Avianca collection on exhibit now at the Museum of Modern Art may be more notable for the works' origins than the art itself. Many of artists gave their works to the airline in exchange for flights back when they were unknowns. Since then, many of those people have become well-known artists, and Avianca has created a notable collection of works by Colombian and foreign artists. 

In conjunction with this exhibit, Avianca has donated 154 pieces from its 356 piece collection to the MOMA.
Feliza Bursztyn; 'Chatarra.' (Junk)

Delia Cugat, 'A las cinco y media de la tarde 37.'

Dario Morales 'Nude.'

Juan Antonio Roda 'Retrato de un Desconocido' (Portrait of an Unknown)

Portraits of women, by Maripaz Jaramillo. 

Jorge Elias Triana: 'La Tarde.'
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Erotic Art in the MOMA

This exhibition of erotic art, called Sicalipsis, by Juan Carlos Suzunaga, is on in Bogotá's Museum of Modern Art. The works are erotic - well, more homoerotic, and sadomasochist. Is this stuff art?

Below is another piece of 'art,' by Sophie Calle, in the Casa de Moneda's Museo de Arte. Is an empty, desolate hotel room art? It's titled 'No sex last night.'

And this one, in the MOMA's Avianca exhibition, looks nice to me - and a lot like those Playboy magazine pics we lusted over back in high school. So, apparently, Playboy is art, too

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, July 30, 2012

Colombia Pushes Coca Over the Border

El Tiempo reports on the latest coca bush acreage (hectareage?) statistics from the U.S. government, which show a continued drop in Colombia's crop, to a 15-year low.

That would be excellent news - if it meant advances in the drug war's REAL goals: fewer addicts and less money going to violent, illegal groups. Unfortunately, there are lots of reasons to question whether that's happening.

In the first place, the United Nation's latest coca survey found that Colombia's acreage had actually increased, albeit only by 2%. More significantly, coca acreage has clearly expanded in the world's two other producers: Peru and Bolivia.

"Each decrease in Colombia has shifted to Peru and Bolivia; the laboratories have moved to Ecuador and Venezuela and the trafficking to Central America and Mexico," University of the Andes Professor Daniel mejía told AFP.

In today's paper, El Tiempo asks U.S. Ambassador Michael McKinley about this 'balloon effect.' However, he prefers not to talk about it, concentrating instead on Colombia's accomplishments.

The ambassador seems to be suggesting that Peru and Bolivia could accomplish as much if they only applied Colombia's aggressive erraddication strategies. That a poor, highly corrupt and underdeveloped nation like Bolivia could carry out such an effort seems unlikely, but the fact is that it won't even try: Bolivia's anti-Washington government - whose Pres. Evo Morales also heads the national coca leaf growers federation - has been scaling back cooperation with U.S. anti-drug efforts and lobbied for the U.N. to legalize coca leaf  chewing. In Venezuela, Pres. Chavez has completely cut anti-drug cooperation with Washington, while allegedly opening the borders wide to drug traffickers. The only reason I can think of why cocaleros haven't yet started planting in Venezuela and Ecuador is because they haven't needed to. And little Uruguay's plan to legalize and produce marijuana can't be encouraging for prohibitionists, either.

Meanwhile, use of synthetic drugs, especially methamphetamines, appears to be booming.

Colombia's reported drop in coca area is positive, but isolated, and perhaps pointless in the context of wider trends.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Drumming for Peace

This colorful and slightly eccentric group was drumming for peace today near the planetarium and bullfighting stadium. For Sept. 11, they're planning to drum for 126 hours straight in defense of human and animal rights.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Honking for the Virgin

Today, the fans of the Virgin of Carmen, patron saint of drivers, filled the city with the noise of firecrackers and car horns.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bogotá's Bus Problem

Take a look at Bogotá's fleet of old, chaotic, smoke belching buses, usually jerking along in fits and stops, and you'll be hard pressed to believe that buses are the solution to this city's transport.

But it's true: Most Bogotanos can't afford private cars, and if they could, the city would turn into one huge traffic jam. A subway line or two won't be operating for another decade at least. And, in any case, even cities with great subways, like New York, Mexico City, Santiago and London, still depend on buses.

But Bogotá's buses are so old, highly-polluting and inefficient that they've earned the nickname 'rolling chimneys.' On top of that, there are thousands too many of them. And, City Hall recently made the situation worse by eliminating the Pico y Placa restriction on buses. Yes, the city has purchased and junked close to 1,000 old buses over the past year - but according to its own statistics the excess is close to 4,000. And that number will only increase as the two new TransMilenio lines slowly go into service.

Those old buses continue to plague the city because of the bus companies' huge economic and political influence. It's exaggerating little to say that they elect and overthrow mayors. And what other explanation but undue influence can there be for the way many buses so shamelessly flout pollution laws and mechanical standards, such as by driving at night without headlights?

Bogotá desperately needs fewer and newer, more efficient buses, as well as a rationally-designed route system.

That's what the long-awaited Integrated Public Transit System, or SITP, is supposed to bring - but it will take strong-willed city officials to make it happen.

As long as buses generate profits, their owners earn more for each additional machine they crowd onto Bogotá's streets - no matter that traffic slows to a crawl. Perhaps by paying bus owners for kilometer traveled, as the SITP is supposed to do, that dynamic will change - but that's a ways off, if it comes at all. A proposed congestion charge would be another huge step forward, but imposing such an unpopular policy would require huge political determination.

Converting Bogotá's buses from a plague on the city into an asset is perhaps the greatest challenge facing Mayor Gustavo Petro's administration. Unfortunately, his recent decision to exclude buses from the Pico y Placa rule makes one wonder whether he's got what it takes to stand up to their mafia.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Sinking of the Resolute

A schooner like the Resolute,
which was sunk by a Nazi U-boat.
Seventy years ago today, a Nazi U-boat sank a Colombian schooner, setting Colombia on course to join the Allies in World War II.

The Resolute was a wooden, two-masted civilian vessel flying the Colombian flag and carrying materials to the tiny island of Providencia, part of the San Andres archipelago. There was no mistaking it for a warship, much less one belonging to Holland, United States or Great Britain. But the Nazis, characteristically, didn't care. According to El Tiempo's report today, the submarine crew wasn't satisfied with sinking the schooner, but also machine gunned its crew and passengers, killing six people, including a woman and her infant son. Several others were wounded. The survivors, saved perhaps only by the unexpected appearance of a United States airplane, later said that the submarine crew laughed as their victims fell into the ocean.

The next year, a Nazi submarine sank a second Colombian schooner, the Ruby.

A painting of a World War I U-boat sinking a troop transport ship, by Willy Stower.
Colombia responded by first siezing the property of German, Japanese and Italian citizens in Colombia, and later interning them. Undoubtedly, most of those people were industrious residents loyal to their country of residence. Colombia also supported the Allied cause by supplying raw materials and monitoring the approaches to the strategic Panama Canal.

The Caribbean was a forgotten front in history's most terrible war. Some 100 German U-Boats and several Italian submarines roamed the area, attacking Dutch, British, U.S., Canadian, Mexican, Colombian and other ships. Wikipedia's entry on The Battle of the Caribbean doesn't even mention Colombian casualties, suggesting to me that many other vessels from South American and Caribbean nations were sunk but never recorded in the annals of the war.

In fact, this page reports that U-boats sank three civilian vessels from the San Andres, killing 34 people on board.

The victims' relatives and descendants, mixed-race people called Raizales, have not forgotten. In 2001 a group of them filed a lawsuit against Germany demanding compensation. No word about any results.

According to the same web page, the Colombian warship ARC Caldas sank a U-Boat which was attacking a petroleum ship the Caldas was escorting. The report has been disputed, but if true could be Colombia's only violent participation in the Second World War.

Related posts:

Did a great Colombia Hide a Nazi Past?

Shoa Remembrance in Bogotá

German Immigrants in Colombia

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I Spy, You Spy: So What?

Nicaragua's arrest of an alleged Colombian spy has again ruffled relations between the two countries, which have an old dispute over the San Andres archipelago and its surrounding waters.

While these latest accusations could be false, it should be no surprise that Colombia does whatever it can - aboveboard and via subterfuge - to collect economic and military information about Nicaragua - and it's a sure bet that Nicaragua does the same about Colombia.

Even war planning is natural between to such adversaries. But it's a pretty certain bet that no sane mind in either government would want an armed conflict. For Colombia's part, any attack on Nicaragua would gain it little, cost money and lives and bring down on Bogotá the world's condemnation, in addition to all the moral issues. Nicaragua would have all the same reasons to avoid war, as well as the fact that it would get beaten soundly by Colombia's much larger and more tested military.

None of which, of course, means that an unpopular leader might provoke a confrontation in order to rally nationalist sentiment.

An international court in The Hague is now evaluating Colombia and Nicaragua's conflicting claims to the San Andres archipelago and surrounding waters. Colombian government officials have promised to accept the court's ruling. Nicaragua's have not - because they know the court won't give them the islands, over which Bogotá has long exercised sovereignety.

Grindingly poor and underdeveloped, Nicaragua does its impoverished people no favors by keeping this old and futile dispute alive. But it serves the politicians in Managua well, by distracting Nicaraguans from their pressing troubles.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The End of Pedestrian Paradise on the Septima?

The scene the past few months on
Seventh Ave. between 19th and 26th Streets. 
For the last five months, central Bogotá has been blessed by a stretch of Seventh Ave. almost exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists, thanks to the replacement of the bridge over 26th St. 

For a brief period, you could enjoy Seventh Ave. without its chronic noise and pollution. It's like another world. 

Nearby, a band plays. 
But yesterday the bridge was completed (ahead of schedule and under budget), altho one of the on-ramps still needs work. 

Now, will the stretch of Seventh between 19th and 26th streets return to its old urban misery?

Mayor Gustavo Petro says he's considering restricting Seventh Ave. to only pedestrians and public transit. While that would be a bit better than its old chaos and congestion, until Bogotá has a modern, clean and efficient bus fleet, pedestrians and cyclists will look back on these past months as a pedestrian paradise.
Red light for bicyclists?

The near future for Seventh Ave.? The scene on Carrera 10, congestion and pollution. 

Nicer? Healthier? (And the bikes move lots faster)

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bolivar's Birthday Party

Scenes from today's celebration of Simon Bolivar's birthday. Bolivar, of course, led the armies which freed northern South America from Spain, and half of the streets, plazas, parks, currencies and even nations in this region are named after him.

Even tho Bolivar's been idolized, he was a mixed bag. In the end, he wanted to be made dictator for life. Bolivar also famously denounced the young United States - but pursued alliances with England, then the world's super power.

Posters for a competing celebration of Bolivar's birthday, this one also celebrating populist leader Gaitan and Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Motorcyclists Rev Up Against Drunk Driving

A group of motorcyclists rallied on Plaza Bolivar today demanding harsher punishments for drunk drivers - somewhat contradictory, perhaps, considering some motorcyclists' rep for doing just that.

However, the group was responding to a recent tragedy, when a car killed three members of a motorcyclist club on an outing and injured a fourth. The prosecutor initially gave the driver house arrest, altho he did send him to jail following public outcry.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Bankers' Prison?

Not going to jail for pocketing billions. 
That strange concept occurred to me after reading about the scandal at the HSBC bank, which laundered many millions in money from drug sales, as well as outlawed organizations and nations. HSBC, too, is apparently only an example of widespread practices in the banking industry.

So I Googled combinations of 'banking executives' and 'money laundering' and 'prison' - and came up quite empty. I did find one case - from 1994. I'm sure there have been others since, but they seem to be very few.

In contrast, of course, innumerable poor people have gone to prison for cultivating a patch of coca or marijuana plants, or smuggling a few ounces of a prohibited psychoactive substance.

The inequity is huge and obvious, but the solution difficult as long as wealthy bankers can hide behind teams of lawyers and corporate shields.

One solution would make everything more equal, however: Decriminalize drugs, and make their profits just as licit as those from whiskey, tobacco and orange juice.

Then, banks would have one less thing to worry about, governments would have lots more taxes, and lots of poor people would get out of jail.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, July 21, 2012

La Concordia's Festival

A traditional weaver and knitter at work.
The La Concordia neighborhood is a small corner of La Candelaria, tucked between the city and its Eastern Hills. But few people besides locals have heard of La Concordia, which consists of a traditional market, a high school and a few blocks of small businesses and houses. To try to create an image for their neighborhood and generate neighborhood spirit, the neighborhood put on today's festival, with food, dancing, music and handicrafts.

Get down, you kids!

Dancing, with a hillside backdrop.

Indigenous tunes. 

Coca leaf products from El Chocó for sale. 

A mime M.D.

Inside La Concordia's traditional market.

This is La Concordia, between the hills and the city. 
Veggies for sale in La Concordia's old market. The market, nearly a century old, was one of the city's biggest decades ago. Now, it's a quiet place. 

Mime at work. 

Mini pizzas. 

A girl with a painted face. 

La Concordia's view of Bogotá's skyline. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours