Sunday, March 30, 2014

Street Art and Politics

Painting a face on Calle 26.
It took only  a few days after the ouster of Mayor Petro, a promoter of street art, for official Bogotá to make a 90 degree policy swerve on the issue.

A few days ago, city workers erased illegally-painted graffiti painted along Calle 26, including along the walls of the underpass where several months ago Justin Bieber and his buddies infamously painted a marijuana leaf and other graffiti (which was erased the next day).

Militant Bogotá grafiteros didn't wait to respond. This weekend they were out painting new stuff along 26th - including defenses of the right to graffiti.

Ironically, the city's anti-graffiti work just provides fresh canvases for more painting.

Find a lesson in that, temporary Mayor Rafael Pardo!

A graffiti artist sits on Calle 26 above graffiti calling Bogotá's temporary designated Mayor Rafael Pardo 'illegitimate.'
Grafiteros paint along Calle 26, including a phrase demanding 'Respect for graffiti.'
Street art provides a colorful backdrop for bicyclists in Sunday's Ciclovia. 

Jorge Eliecer Gaitan.


By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours, which offers street art/graffiti tours.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Colorful Capoeira in the Parque Nacional

These folks practice capoeira - the sport/martial art developed by African slaves in Brazil - every Saturday and Sunday in Bogotá's Parque Nacional. Today, they were dressed particularly colorfully as they practiced a new dance.

It looks really fun - for those who have the coordination and agility.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Displaced People, an Endless Tragedy

"The guerrillas left my town a ghost town," she said. Guerrillas and paramilitaries had been fighting to control the region. 
Colombia's armed conflict has made fewer headlines recently - except for incidents like the two policemen murdered by the FARC the other day. But in the countryside, where armed groups still terrorize campesinos, the conflict remains very real.
Displaced people camped on Plaza Bolivar,
in front of City Hall. 

These people camped in Plaza Bolivar walked for 40 days from Valledupar to Bogotá to demand assistance for displaced people which they say the government owes them. The 13 adults and 3 children come from different parts of Colombia, and were driven from their homes by various armed groups, they said. This woman is from Cesar Department, and said that the guerrillas attacked her town, driving out all the residents.

Displaced women. 
"They left a ghost town," she said.
Guerrillas and paramilitary groups were fighting to control the region, she said.

Colombia's displaced - often the nation's poorest, most humble people - receive very little attention, despite the fact that Colombia may have the world's largest number of displaced persons, according to human rights organizations.

With FARC-government peace negotiations advancing in Havana, Cuba, stories like this woman's also make one ask whether the guerrillas really deserve a role in politics after any peace treaty. But they also provide the hope that, if the conflict ends, perhaps displacement will too.
A mural on 26th St. near Bogotá's Central Cemetery memorializes Colombia's millions of displaced people. 

Photos in the Centro Memoria illustrate the sufferings of displaced people.

Displaced people carry their belongings as they seek a new home. 

A girl amidst the wreckage of her town. 

Boats and violence.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Do As I Say, Not As I Sell

This CAFAM pharmacy on Ave. Septima provides a sad contradiction:
Eat your fruits and veggies, we tell you!
The windows show healthy, happy people consuming healthful fruits and vegetables. But look past the woman with the salad at what CAFAM actually sells: junk food, including soft drinks and ice cream.

Of course, it makes sense. Healthy people don't need pharmacies. And CAFAM sells obesity and diabetes medicines.

Pushing junk food makes business sense.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Venezuela's Slide Towards Dictatorship - and Colombia's Complicity

Maria Corina Machado.
Maria Corina Machado is a Venezuelan national assemblywoman and fiery opponent of that nation's 'socialist' government.

Or, at least she was an assemblywoman until a few days ago. That was when Machado, in an attempt to publicize the government's widespread abuses of human rights and free speech, accepted a speaking slot from a Panamanian representative in an Organization of American States meeting. As it turned out, Machado did not get to say much. Venezuela used parliamentary maneuvers to suppress her, and Venezuela's allies - more accurately called satellites and receivers of petroleum handouts - shouted her down.

Nevertheless, Venezuela's National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello decided that Machado's actions meant that she had 'accepted a government post' from Panama, and Cabello announced that Machado was ousted from the Assembly and stripped of her parliamentary immunity.

No matter that nobody else equates accepting a speaking slot with holding a government post, nor that Venezuela's Constitution doesn't give the Assembly president the power to unseat deputies by fiat. But Venezuela's 'Bolivarian' rulers have long wanted Machado shut up and preferably in prison. They have accused her of rebellion and complicity in the killings which have occurred during recent anti-government protests. But, like the three military officers arrested the other day on charges of planning a coup, the government has offered little evidence against Machado, whose most evident 'crime' is being an outspoken critic of chavismo.

For Venezuela's Bolivarian government, it's all part of a pattern. Another prominent opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, is being held prisoner on a military base, also on dubious charges and in apparent violation of the constitution. And the government has progressively restricted the opposition press and made the legislature and courts rubber stamps for the president's orders.

This is the definition of an authoritarian tyrrany: A government which makes decisions by fiat, without feeling a need to supply evidence, nor bother with the mechanisms of independent courts or parliament.

Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín visited Venezuela this week and met with government officials and opposition leaders. But her ministry did no more than issue a non-judgmental wish that violence would end. Colombia does not want to strain relations or lose Venezuelan cooperation for the peace talks in Havana. (You can be sure that if people were protesting and dying in the streets of Bogotá, Venezuelan leaders would be denouncing Colombia as a 'fascist state' and 'puppet of the empire.')

Lopez, the imprisoned government opponent, wrote a letter to the New York Times blasting "the shameful silence from many of Venezuela’s neighbors in Latin America...To be silent is to be complicit in the downward spiral of Venezuela’s political system, economy and society, not to mention in the continued misery of millions."

He could say the same about the United States, which remains addicted to Venezuelan oil.

As long as other nations fear taking a stand for civil liberties in Venezuela, Venezuelan leaders will feel little need to respect basic democratic values.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Gaitán, the Right-Wing Mayor?

'Gaitán, the People's Mayor'
Gaitán, amongst the people. 
He banned children from the street at night. He prohibited begging. He ordered taxi drivers to wear uniforms. He banned the traditional ruana. He even decreed what colors people could paint their houses.

A right-wing politician? No, this was leftist icon Jorge Eliecer Gaitán as mayor of Bogotá in 1936-7 - the same martyred political leader remembered as a champion of the poor and underprivileged.

Gaitán became famous for denouncing the 1928 massacre of the banana workers and for his assassination in 1948 on Carrera Septima, while he was preparing for his second presidential campaign.

But Gaitán was also a congressman, minister of education and mayor of Bogotá. His short and polemical nine months as mayor are the subject of an exhibition on now in the Archivo de Bogotá. Gaitán, then president of the City Council, was appointed mayor in June 1936 by the governor of Cundinamarca. (The mayoralty only became an elected office in 1986.)

Gaitán's core mission as mayor seems to have been preparing the Colombian capital for the 400th anniversary of its founding. But while today that might mean celebrating the city's cultural diversity, for Gaitán it seems to have meant a public hygiene campaign - cleansing Bogotá of its 'unwanted' elements - particularly signs of poverty and 'backwardness'. Beggars were banned from the streets, as was the traditional ruana overcoat and alpargata slippers, popular with the poor. Children were to be at home by legally approved hours. Gaitán even ordered the city's houses and shops painted only certain socially-approved colors.

Do Gaitán's policies are more evocative of the right-wing paramilitaries than of Che Guevara and
A beggar on a sidewalk in La Candelaria. She would
have been violating Gaitán's decree.

Salvador Allende, to whom he is often compared?

I don't dare ask what Gaitán would have thot of graffiti.

But Gaitan met his match when he ordered taxi and bus drivers to wear uniforms and imposed formal fare systems. The cabbies went on strike and Gaitán was ousted from office. He had lasted only nine months - even less than Bogotá's just-removed Mayor Gustavo Petro.

A newspaper headline about the taxi and bus drivers
strike which led to Gaitán's ouster.
The Archivo's exhibit seems to try to depict Petro as an inheritor of part of Gaitán's legacy. The two did have in common their efforts to make transportation a public service. However, whereas Gaitán appears to have done a lot as mayor, and pursued a vision of the city, to me Petro's great failing was doing too little. His policy changes, such as fiddling with the Pico y Placa, shutting part of Carrera Septima to cars and not allowing bullfighting, were - good or bad - small-scale changes which will very possibly be reversed by a new administration. The main exception, Petro's land planning rules, will likely be modified as well.

'Cleanliness and Order the
First Orders From Gaitán'
Gaitán's policies as mayor suggest what he would have done as president if he hadn't been assassinated and had won the 1950 election. Perhaps he would not have been the fiery revolutionary his rhetoric made him out to be.

But Gaitán's authoritarian bent as mayor is frightening in another sense. Gaitan had studied law in the late 1920s in Italy, then ruled by fascist dictator Benito Mussollini. Many say that Gaitan learned his fiery rhetorical style from Mussollini. And perhaps Gaitán also brought home an authoritarian, intolerant governing style.

The colors permitted for houses. 
Micromanager Mayor Gaitán ordered stores to have entrances of a certain width.
A Gaitán decree detailing the colors permitted for houses and stores.
Pedestrians pass plaques on Carrera 7 marking the spot where Gaitán was assassinated. 

Today, trash is still a problem in Bogotá.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Gesture for Buenaventura

Yellilng 'Break the silence!' women raise their fists in protest against violence.
These women were rehearsing today for a march protesting violence against women and violence in general in the violence-scourged city of Buenaventura. With a population of 362,000 people, Buenaventura has had 87 murders this year - a rate triple Colombia's much-too-high national homicide rate.

Despite having Colombia's most important seaport, Buenaventura is extremely poor. Because the city is a corridor for the export of cocaine toward North America, gangs, paramilitaries and guerrilla group fight a vicious war to control the area. Several of those murdered this year have been dismembered and their body parts scattered for their families to find and bury. The government recently sent 200 additional soldiers to try to reinforce security in Buenaventura.

Shacks line a shoreline in Buenaventura. The city is overwhelmingly Afro-Colombian and impoverished. (Photo: El Espectador)
Soldiers stand guard on a corner in Buenaventura. The government recently sent more than 200 soldiers to the violene-wracked port city. (Photo: El Espectador)

'Do you want me to tell you something?'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours