Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Situation on La Septima

Cyclists on La Septima. 

The mayor's pedestrianization of the stretch of Ave. Septima between 19th and 25th streets has gotten lots of criticism: some shopowners say that it's reduced sales, made taxis scarce and brought more trash and beggars. Informal vendors have invaded the street and sidewalks, they complain.

But, I walk and bike that street every day, and I'm not convinced that these are real problems - or at least that they can't be addressed.
Pedestrians walk down the center of La Septima,
passing in front of the Teatro Gaitan. 

What is clear, is that in many ways La Septima has turned into a much more pleasant, dynamic place. It's become pleasant to walk, skate and bicycle on this part of the street, now that you're not imperiled by chaotic traffic and gassed by fumes. It's also opened the street to art and music, which were near impossible with vehicles honking and screeaching a few yards away.

Bikes to lend on La Septima. But the program
only covers these six pedestrianized blocks. 
THERE ARE piles of trash, beggars and street vendors on La Septima. But the critics of pedestrianization seem to have forgotten that these things were ALWAYS there, as you can see on the street's non-pedestrianized portions. And, there are plenty of things the storeowners and city government could do to use and improve this new public space. To start with, they could clean it up, by putting trees in the vacant planters, painting walls and scheduling concerts and other events in the street, which would attract people, who turn into customers. Why not also expand the street's bike lending scheme to neighboring areas, which would turn the program into a real transport option for the city center?

Mayor Petro is studying the viability of expanding the pedestrian corridor all the way south to Plaza Bolivar. But I wonder about the
City workers arrange planter boxes in the street.  

 impact on the city's historical center when all of Ave. Septima's traffic is forced thru old town's narrow streets.

The city government has some ideas to make the car-free Septima more amenable, such as permitting shops to set up umbrellas and chairs on the wide sidewalks.

An informal concert in the evening. 

Pedestrianization has potential to make downtown, now full of pollution, noise and traffic jams, more humane and liveable. But that will take real reform of the city's transport system, including a planned light rail line on La Septima.
Books for sale on the sidewalk. 
In the evening the sidewalk turns into a literal sales floor for random stuff. 

This sidewalk was not invaded by vendors...during the day. 

While this sidewalk, on a non-pedestrianized part of La Septima, was invaded by vendors. 

A cyclist carries his kid home down the middle of La Septima. 

Planting trees in the planters would improve the street. 

As would cleaning up trash and graffiti. 

A man places a poster amidst graffiti. A lot could be done to improve the street's appearance, such as hiring some talented street artists. 
I took these photos a few blocks south on La Septima. Pedestrianization does not fill the sidewalk with vendors.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Prospects for Peace?

Ready for peace? FARC fighters march down a road in rural Colombia. 

Reports that the Colombian government is in exploratory peace talks with the FARC guerrillas got the country talking about the possibility of something which Colombia hasn't seen for almost 70 years: Peace!

But is peace a real possibility? As El Tiempo reported today, Colombia has tried peace negotiations for the past 30 years, only some of which have succeeded. In 1985, the M-19 guerrillas handed over their arms and became a political party. Those talks followed several failed negotiations with the group, and followed the M-19s disastrous 1985 attack on the Justice Palace, in which many M-19 leaders died. Also, the M-19 ended up obtaining many of their goals, including opening up the country's political system and ending the policy of extradition, thru their participation on the 1991 Constitutional Convention. Of course, the guerrillas also got an amnesty, which enabled them to enter politics. Today, several ex-M-19 members are in Congress, and one, Gustavo Petro, is mayor of Bogotá.

In 1991, most of the EPL, or Popular Liberation Army, signed a peace treaty with the government and demobilized. Afterwards, the FARC assassinated thousands of ex-EPL members.

The ELN, or National Liberation Army, has held multiple conversations with the government. But only a single part of the ELN has demobilized, in 1993.

Colombia's most recent, and probably most controversial demobilization, was that of the right-wing paramilitaries beginning in 2005. The government-paramilitary negotiations were bizarre, since it was an open secret that the 'paras' fought alongside government forces and did their dirty work. The paramilitaries expected to receive what many considered a slap on the wrist, despite their many horrific crimes. However, the Uribe administration ultimately extradited many paramilitary leaders, altho few lower-level paramilitaries have been prosecuted.

What do these demobilizations have in common? While their number and my knowledge are limited, it seems to me that these groups turned in their weapons when they felt weak and/demoralized. An amnesty or soft punishment for ex-fighters also appears fundamental. And, at least in some cases, these groups wanted participation in the political system.

How about the FARC? While they are certainly greatly weakened, they still have a bite. They also earn huge sums from the drug trade. The case is far from clear that the FARC have reached a low enough point to drop their weapons. It would also be difficult for the government, which has long demonized the FARC as terrorists (and for good reason) to give them generous amnesty conditions or allow them participation in government. On the other hand, Pres. Santos' policies favoring the poor and landless give him an opening to satisfying FARC ideological demands without appearing to be giving in much. By the same token, the guerrillas could  justify their coming down from the hills by claiming credit for Santos' reforms.

But the most difficult thing for Colombia's government and society could be seeing ex-guerrilla leaders, who are guilty of massacres, recruitment of children and other horrific crimes, living comfortably, whether here or overseas. However, if that ended Colombia's long bloodletting, it would certainly be worthwhile.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The World Trade in Weapons: The Google View

Arms flow from the United States to Colombia. 
Google has created a website displaying the world trade in small arms and ammunition which makes the trade lines appear positively artistic.

A bad trend for the hungry: Colombia's arms sales and
purchases are trending upward.
But the graphics' beauty disguises the fact that these small weapons are creating mayhem and slaughter in nations around the world, including Colombia.

While not as dramatic as tanks, warships and dive bombers, small arms cause a disproportionate number of murder and mayhem around the world, both in domestic and international conflicts and in criminal violence. According to Google's arms project, light weapons and small arms cause 60 percent of the world's violent deaths.

Colombia's arms
are primarily
In purely economic trade terms, Colombia's arms deals are bad for the country: its exports of small arms and ammunition constitute only a few percentage points of its exports. But that of course is unimportant compared to the human suffering these light machine guns, handguns, assault rifles and their ilk cause.

The Google graphics are not complete. They off course do not include illegal arms transfers. And, the most closed and authoritarian nations, such as North Korea, Belarus and Zimbabwe, are precisely the ones least likely to report arms sales and purchases. Venezuela also does not appear to be disclosing all of its arms trades.

Discouragingly for all but arms dealers, the South American nations I looked at appear to be trading more small arms. How's that news for the region's poor and hungry?

The various nations' graphs also illustrate geopolitical connections. Venezuela is tied to Russia; Brazil, which appears to be making money as an arms exporter, trades with much of the globe.

The United Nations is working on a global arms treaty to at least place guidelines on this trade - but has met furious opposition from U.S. gun fanatics.

An arms highway from Russia to Venezuela. 
Brazil has become a major arms exporter. 
Brazil's arms trading trends upward. 
'Nobody wins' this street art tic tac toe game using
bulls eyes and rifles.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The House of the Female Orgasm

But not THAT sort of house. This house is in La Candelaria, a few doors south of Bogotá Bike Tours, where Frenchman Thierry Harribey has turned his home into an informal art gallery with periodic exhibitions.

The one which just ended today is by Cartagena artist Lila Isabel Miranda and is about that elusive and culturally-charged phenomenon: the female orgasm. According to an article in El Tiempo, Mirando enclosed herself for weeks with two women models to take the photos on which she based the paintings.

The female orgasm has become something of a symbol of women's sexual liberation. But, ironically, sex researchers believe that women probably inherited it from men, since it only a reproductive purpose only for males.

The exhibition's curators said that during the inauguration, when the artist offered kisses and affection  all around and talked about topics including masturbation, lots of the young visitors turned red with embarrasment. Also, one day a young man visiting the exhibition declared he was coming out of the closet as gay.

A visitor writes: 'Thanks from all women.'

"Which do you make: sex or love?"
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, August 24, 2012

Filming Pablo Escobar in the Central Cemetery

Didn't wait to find out whether these automatic rifles were for bodyguards or a bloody fight scene,.
During a bike tour today we encountered these folks filming an episode of the ongoing 'Pablo Escobar: Godfather of Evil' miniseries in the Central Cemetery. The episode included the funeral of Luis Carlos Galan, the politician assassinated in south Bogotá on Escobar's orders in 1989. The killing is still being investigated and apparently was carried out by a conspiracy involving corrupt politicians and security. 

Perhaps not coincidentally, the anniversary of Galan's killing was just last week. 

The Caracol miniseries has also been controversial. Some say it portrays Escobar too sympathetically. 

Galan's TV casket. 

The officiating priest, who deserves his own bicycle.

Are these good guys or bad guys?

Galan's real tomb. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bogotá's Once and Future Downtown

An idealized image of a quiet, tree-lined downtown street. 
The Museo de Bogotá has a photo exhibition about the past and perhaps future of central Bogotá.

The center's futures-past include plans by architects Le Corbusier and Rogelio Salmon, some of which have been carried out very incompletely and imperfectly.
A proposal by urbanist Le Corbusier and others. 

What does downtown Bogotá need?

Renovation of the many deteriorating old buildings. This is happening bit by bit here and there.

Better transit and traffic calming: The completion of the two new TransMilenio lines, whenever that finally happens, will be progress. And so will a light rail line on Seventh Ave - if the city ever actually does it. But hand in hand with that, we need measures to calm and reduce the center's horrific traffic jams, its chaos and pollution. This means limiting vehicle access to the city center.

A public market, long gone, at Carrera 10 and Calle 10. 
More after-dark activities to bring the district new life: More movie theatres and affordable housing would help.

Support for the homeless and drug addicts: Nobody likes being approached by one persistent beggar after another, sometimes aggressive, or to have to walk around piles of garbage scattered across the street and sidewalk by scavengers. Support centers for the homeless, like Mayor Petro has proposed, would benefit both the homeless and other neighborhood residents.

A colonial-era map of central Bogotá, which was all of Bogotá then. 

A timeline of plans for downtown. 

Plaza San Victorino: No longer so calm and quiet. 

The gateway to a central Bogotá reservoir. This hasn't changed. 

Calle 6, which runs past the presidential palace, perhaps a half-century ago. Today, it's paved.

A view of the hills above the Los Laches neighborhood. This spot contained the public cemetery for suicides and criminals, an area said to be haunted. 

One of the many bridges which existed in downtown before most of the rivers were put underground. 
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours