Monday, April 30, 2012

Where is Roméo Langlois?

Roméo Langlois, a reporter with France 24.
I met Roméo Langlois, the French journalist who disappeared during a battle between the military and the FARC, only a few times and social and journalistic events. But I often saw him around La Candelaria, where we both live.

I only remember one conversation we had - a debate about whether the leader of Germany was conservative or liberal. Langlois was right.

Yesterday, in the midst of a battle between soldiers and FARC guerrilla fighters, Langlois was injured and disappeared into the jungle, according to military reports. Today, he might be lost, injured, held captive by the guerrillas or even, God forbid, dead.

Langlois was with troops covering an anti-drug operation when the soldiers encountered more than 100 FARC guerrilla fighters in civilian dress, according to the military's account. During the battle, which lasted for hours, four soldiers were killed and several wounded, and Langlois was shot in the arm. Perhaps desperate to show that he was a civilian, Langlois pulled off his bullet proof vest and ran toward the guerrilla line, according to soldiers accounts. He has not been seen since.

Let's all hope that Langlois is alright and will soon return to his home and work. If and when he does, he'll surely bring the story of a lifetime back with him. Let's also hope for the best for the injured and the families of those killed in the battle.

Langlois' ordeal provides yet another reason to ask whether drug production should be legalized. If it were, then, rather than armed outlaws, it'd be produced by tax-paying businesses. That would, of course, mean less work for journalists like Langlois, but also a better world.

Langlois' ordeal reminds me of some hairy journalistic times of my own. For example, the time I interviewed a local paramilitary leader late one night along a desolate road outside of Cucuta, near the Venezuelan border. The man told he how evil the FARC and Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez were. He showed me the pistol he carried under his waistband. Afterwards, I asked the taxi driver who'd made the contact for me where the 'para' was going at that hour.

"Oh," the cabbie replied quite mildly, "he's going to the next town to kill people."

The paramilitaries were notorious for the practice of social cleansing, the murdering of 'unwanteds' such as drug addicts, prostitutes and petty criminals.

Another time, I was in Venezuela interviewing peasants who'd been driven out of Colombia by paramilitary violence. One day, my hosts suddenly told me that I needed to go interview someone out in the jungle. We made a long trek there, didn't find the person, and returned the next day after spending a mosquito-infested night in a hammock. Then my hosts explained to me that they had found out that a group of ELN guerilla fighters were searching for me, and so they'd sent me into the jungle to hide me.

It turned out that my host was himself a FARC operative. A few weeks later, he went into town to buy medicines and was gunned down in street.

The FARC should release Langlois, who was a civilian doing his job. They should also stop disguising themselves as civilians, which is a violation of the rules of war. And, while they're at it, the FARC should also give up their futile struggle, which only inflicts more suffering upon Colombia.

Update: On May 6 the guerrillas finally acknowledged that they're holding Langlois, and said they'll releae him 'soon' - but didn't say when. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Fighting for the Right to Pollute

Small-time bus owners and/or drivers making themselves heard today outside City Hall. 
A small crowd of owners or drivers of those creaky old buses which infest Bogotá's avenues held a noisy protest today outside of City Hall. They said they're demanding three things from the government: cheaper fuel, a bigger cut from the planned Integrated Public Transit System (SITP) and an end to the retirement of the oldest buses. 
Blow, blow, blow the walls down. 
These guys are undoubtedly hard-working and often low-paid, so it's easy to sympathize with them. But all of their demands are bad for Bogotá, which desperately needs to make its streets less chaotic, less congested and less polluted.

Check out this video, in Spanish, denouncing pollution in Bogotá. (Video sobre contaminacion en Bogotá.)
Worth defending? A bus belches its way along Carrera 10.

Cheaper vehicle fuel would mean more congestion and pollution and less money for things like schools, hospitals and police. 
Forward! Suddenly, the protesters storm City Hall. 
The SITP, which would integrate TransMilenio, the existing private buses and a promised rail system into a single system, keeps getting postponed, but will come indefinitely. It's also a necessity, to put some order and efficiency onto the streets. 
Protesters both inside and outside City Hall. 

Transit experts also say that Bogotá has an excess of thousands of private buses - a number which 

will grow when the two new TransMilenio lines finally go into service. And, lots of those excess buses are old, unsafe and highly-polluting - but they also pay the bills for their owners, so it's understandable that they fight for their right to keep them on the road and poisoning Bogotá's air.

But the city's transport system is not a social service agency, to support people in their old age. The cost to the other eight million Bogotanos is just too great. The city needs to retire these old buses and pension these guys off or find some other work for them to do. That won't be easy on them, but their vehicles' pollution and congestion is very hard on everybody else. 

Inside City Hall. Making the lives of public employees intolerable. 

A protester removes a barrier to the City Hall entranceway. 
Smokin' away! Old buses on Carrera 10. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ten Years After the Bojayá Tragedy

Bojayá's destroyed church, in which 119 people died.
Photo: Victimas del Terrorismo
Ten years ago, as FARC guerrillas fought against paramilitaries for a small town in El Chocó, the women and children took refuge from bullets in the church.

Suddenly, a home-made FARC bomb launched landed on the church roof, killing 119 people and injuring more than 60. The victims, impoverished Afro-Colombians, were just the kind of people whom the guerrillas claim to be fighting for.

Bojayá was the worst atrocity in Colombia's half-century of armed conflict; but, tragically, it did not bring any shift in that conflict.

A decade on, the violence continues, particularly in rural regions, Bojayá is still devastated, and the guerrillas continue launching home-made bombs, despite condemnations by human rights organizations. Just two days ago, a FARC bomb killed a family in the town of Puerto Rico in Caquetá Department, El Tiempo reported.

Posters placed by Afro-Colombian demonstrators ask: 'Do you know where Bojayá is?'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The MOMA's Permanent Collection

A chained electric chair?
Part of Bogotá's Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection, on display now. 

What the stuff means, who knows?

This one reminds me a bit of the San Agustin monuments, influenced by Disney. 

A tomb. 

A Salvador Dali figure. 

Two chair - the profound meaning is evident. 
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Conspicuous Consumption in the MOMA

The Casarta Royal Palace in Florence, Italy.  

I didn't find the exhibition I'd heard about at Bogotá's Modern Art Museum, but instead just the sort of things I don't like: Abstract modern art (what's the point here?) and huge, luscious photos of centuries-old European conspicuous consumption.

But, upon reflection, the gaudiness and ostentatiousness of Europe's rich of another era does provide insight on today, when many of those same nations are in recession, and perhaps permanent decadence, while the New World - from which the Old World wrested much of its wealth - is vigorous and growing. (The photos are by Massimo Listri, of Florence, Italy.)

Today, is wealth better or worse distributed than in the days of the Medicis? Do the super-rich plutocrats contribute more to society and suck less out of it? Is royalty less luxurious and wasteful?

The Campiegne Castle in France. 
It seems to me that by many measures things have improved. I'm not sure about wealth distribution, but most likely overall our era's Bill Gates, Sam Waltons, Mark Zuckerbergs, Santodomingos and Sarmientos  bring the common people more benefits than did the money lenders of Florence. Which isn't to say that a guy like Woods Staton, the third-wealthiest Colombian, has done wonders for the country by stuffing stomachs with saturated fats and cholesterol thru his McDonald's chain.

As for the much-diminished modern royalty, the King of Spain recently apologized for taking an African safari with his German girlfriend while his recession-stricken subjects scramble to pay the rent. But not long ago such extravegances were royalty's God-given right, and while royals still live in splendor, I haven't heard of any of them putting up new palaces recently.

The exhibition goes until May 25.

The Archive of the Indies in Seville, Spain. 

The Medicis Chapel, Florence, Italy. 

I'm not sure why this poor horse is hanging in the Rivoli Castle in Turin, Italy. 

The Uffizi's gallery in Florence, Italy. 

The Abadia Library of Kremsmunster, Austria. 

Colombia's National Library seen thru the museum's window - not quite as ostentatious, but more useful. 

Bogotá's own overly-expensive construction project - the Transmilenio line to the airport, which allegedly enriched an ex-mayor. But at least it's useful, and for the common people. 

The Royal Palace in Caserta, Italy. 

The Royal Palace in Caserta, Italy. 

Sala de Niobe, in Florence, Italy. 

Semazzenno Castle in Florence, Italy. 

In the Vatican, which has had its own troubles recently. 

The Vatican Museum - but doesn't the Catholic Church frown on public nudity? Maybe not when it's 'art.'

The Vatican. 

And Versailles, synonym of wealth and debauchery. 


Versailles, again. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours