Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bogotá's Gay Pride Parade 2014

Bogotá's 2014 Gay Pride Parade was the usual spectacle - and drew multitudes of spectators, despite competition from a World Cup elimination match.

Whether or not spectacles like this one contribute to the acceptance of sexual minorities, I'll let others decide.

Notably, the World Cup eight years from now is scheduled to be held in Qatar, a Muslim principality which imposes harsh penalties on homosexuals. If Qatar's discriminatory laws were instead directed against a racial or religious minority, then the FIFA would likely never tolerate them.

'For love, there are no barriers.'
'My best friend is gay.'

'Without political liberty, there is no sexual liberty.'
'A secular state now!'

The 'Bear club.'

When a city has a store catering specifically to closeted transvestites, it's means something, but I'm not sure exactly what.

'Our bodies are not puppets of the conflict.' - Stonewall Javeriana. The Javeriana, a Catholic university, recently cancelled an event about sexual minorities.


By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Born Without Hands, She Needs No Handout

Morales and her niece in her shop near San Victorino Plaza.
Mastering their tightly woven craftwork is a challenge for any young woman of the Zenu indigenous people in Cordoba Department. But Odalis Yaneth Moralez Velásquez had an added obstacle: she was born without arms.

Nevertheless, when she was eight, Morales began learning to make her people's traditional handicrafts: with her toes.

Weaving with her toes.
"I said, 'if I can do other things with my feet, why can't I weave?'" she recalled.

At first, it was difficult: "What a normal person learned in a week," she said, "I learned in two months."

Made by toes, worn on the feet.
But Morales persevered and succeeded.

But then appeared of a terrible force nobody could cope with. In 2009, right-wing paramilitary groups, which roam much of Cordoba, murdered Morales' father and older brother and stole the family's property. She says she has no idea why.

Devastated, Morales fled to Bogotá.

"I had to start from scratch," she says.

A rare sight: Customers in the La Fortaleza mall.
For years, Morales wove and sold her crafts on city sidewalks, where she often drew a crowd. I profiled her several years ago at work on La Septima.

Recently, however, she said police increasingly harassed street vendors, and so, when a mall owner who'd seen her on television offered her a shop rental, she moved in. She now sells her work in the La Fortaleza mini-mall off of San Victorino Plaza, adjoining Ave. Caracas.

Hidden indoors, however, she has much less foot traffic and fewer customers. Morales is a single mother with two children to support and a long commute from south Bogotá.

"This week, I haven't really sold anything," she says with her characteristic smile. Whereas on the sidewalk "there was always someone to buy, someone to help."

Artesanias Odalis: Cra 13A No. 12-13 Local 02. Pasaje Comercial La Fortaleza. 
Cel: 311-414-6865 / 300-715-7060. Land line: 795-5951. E-mail: . 

Related post:

The Armless Weaver of La Septima

Let your fingers do the dialing.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

The Match in Egipto

I happened to be in the hardscrabble Egipto neighborhood above La Candelaria this afternoon when Colombia won its match against Uruguay. The celebration was loud and predictable. 

Sport is fun, but I'm getting a bit tired of this obsession over which set of millionaires can kick a ball more times between some goalposts. After all, there just might be some more important things going on in the world...

The Egipto neighborhood, for example, high rates of violence, poverty and malnutrition. But that's all forgotten today.
In Egipto's traditional fruit and vegetable market, the vendors are glued to a TV set.
In an informal restaurant set up on a sidewalk, patrons celebrate Colombia's victory.
Young men wave flags on an Egipto street by La Circunvular.
This park off of La Circunvular was pretty desolate, except for a few kids skateboarding.

Waving the flag.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Bite of Luck for Colombia

Italian player Giorgio Chiellini shows his shoulder, bitten by Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez.
When Uruguay's star striker Luis Suarez bit an Italian opponent, he did Colombia a big favor. When the teams play tomorrow in the World Cup's first elimination round, Uruguay will be missing the man who scored its two goals against England.

Suarez holds his teeth after attempting live cannibalism.
The loss is a boost for Colombia, but only evens things out, since Colombia's own star striker, Falcao, is off the team because of a knee injury.

Suarez, meanwhile, has been welcomed back home as a hero. Uruguay's coach called FIFA's nine-game, two-month suspension of Suarez an unfair persecution pushed by the 'English-speaking media.' Perhaps that English-speaking media has a special prejudice against cannibals. A bit ironically, Suarez plays for Liverpool, in England.
A muzzle for Suarez? (Image: The Independent)

Some have suggested that Suarez needs therapy to control his aggression. But that aggression and lack
of inhibition is probably fundamental to his soccer prowess.

So far, Colombia has done great - but had a pretty easy run. Assuming a victory tomorrow, Colombia will next run up against the winner of the Brazil-Chile match, in other words, Brazil.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, June 26, 2014

No More 'Off to the Army Now'?

'Let's see those papers!' Soldiers review a young man's documents to see whether he's done the obligatory military service.
The batida has long been a disturbing and controversial institution in Colombian cities.

A young man is walking across a plaza or down a street, when he is stopped by soldiers who demand his papers. If the youth cannot demonstrate that he did the obligatory military service by displaying his libreta militar, he's detained and loaded onto a truck headed to a military base. Suddenly, he's in the Army now.
Some of these soldiers appear to have more
than recruitment on their minds.
Colombia has obligatory military or police service of one to two years for all young men - in theory. In practice, it's legal to pay to get out of the military service - referred to as 'purchasing the libreta militar.' As a result, wealthy Colombians generally pay their way out of the service, while the poor who end up trudging thru the jungle amidst mosquitoes, marshes and guerrillas.

The military service law does have exceptions: for only sons, conscientious objectors and those with physical disabilities.

Some rights activists argue that the public batidas are illegal - an issue which has been fought over in court.

You're in the Army now! A truckload of young men
caught in redadas are driven off to camp.
Of course, military service can be a positive experience. I've known parents who wanted their sons to join the Army in order to learn skills, discipline and to improve their future job prospects - as well as to get them out of the house and out from underfoot.

During his successful reelection campaign, Pres. Santos, who had been minister of defense, and whose son did perform military service, promised that if the government reaches a peace treaty with the FARC guerrillas, Colombia's military draft would be ended.

Perhaps sometime soon, young men will breathe a bit easier when they go out for that walk.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

New Name, Same School of the Americas?

For decades, the School of the Americas played a controversial role in Latin American politics.
Founded in 1946 in the United States-controlled Panama Canal Zone, the school trained tens of thousands of military and police officials from Latin American countries.

Some of the school's alumni notoriously went on to commit severe human rights violations and even become military dictators, giving the school a sinister image among the left.

In 1984, the school was relocated to Georgia, and in 2001 renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (Whinsec).

Through the school's first decades, when it concentrated on anti-communist training, as well as during its recent incarnation as a anti-narcotrafficking academy, many of the school's students have come from Colombia, according to the 2004 book 'The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas' by Lesley Gill. Between 2001 and 2003, 21 of the school's 88 Latin American instructors came from Colombia - more than from any other nation.

Under its new name, the school was supposed to place emphasis on protecting human rights, Pres. Bill Clinton said at the time.

However, a recent study by John Lindsay-­Poland of the Fellowship of Reconciliation found that a number of the school's Colombian ex-students were later implicated in or convicted of human rights violations.

For example, Mauricio Ordoñez Galindo taught a leadership course at the school in 2001-2. Back in Colombia, he commanded an anti-kidnapping unit. In 2009 he was charged with participating in the killing of four civilians and is now serving a 46-year prison term.

Maj. Alvaro Quijano Becerra and Capt. Wilmere Manuel Mora Daza taught courses about democracy in the school in 2003-4. Back in Colombia, they were charged a few years later with collaborating with outlawed paramilitary groups by leaking them military information.

Others have commanded troops allegedly responsible for murdering civilians, according to Lindsay-Poland's report.

Jaime Lasprilla Villamizar taught the General Staff and Command course at the school in the early 2000s. Back in Colombia, Lasprilla commanded the Ninth Brigade near Huila, which committed nearly 60 extrajudicial killings, according to Gill. Lasprilla was never charged in the killings and in 2009 was promoted to brigadier general.

The report lists some 14 of the school's alumni associated or convicted of human rights violations or other crimes. I have no idea what proportion of the school's ex-students that constitutes. But if the school is supposed to educate its students in human rights, then any participation in abuses seems to be too much.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Perils of Being a Colombian Athlete

Football star
Andres Escobar.
Almost 20 years ago Colombia was projected to do well in the World Cup, and was favored to beat the United States in their group stage match.

But then, in what sadly remains the best-known episode in Colombian sports, 27-year-old defender Andres Escobar scored an own-goal - apparently by accident - and Colombia lost 1-2 to the U.S. and made an early departure from the World Cup.

But that was only the first act of Escobar's tragedy. A popular and talented player, Escobar became the whipping boy for Colombia's disappointing performance. He returned to Medellin and hid in his house. Finally, on July 1, Escobar and a buddy went out with their girlfriends. There, the Gallón brothers, who were allegedly connected to paramilitaries and drug-traffickers, ridiculed Escobar from a nearby table.

"Autogol, Andrés, autogol" they yelled at him.

Escobar held his temper. But after leaving the restaurant at 4 a.m. he followed the brothers' car into a
Escobar's funeral procession.
parking lot. There,  Humberto Muñoz, the brothers' driver/bodyguard, fired six bullets into Escobar's head.

Afterwards, the driver would defend his employers, claiming they hadn't ordered him to kill Escobar "yet."

Colombian President Cesar Gaviria attended Escobar's funeral. The young football star had turned from hero to goat to martyr.

Gunman Muñoz did 12 years in prison. The Gallón brothers, who had influential friends, did short prison sentences for attempting to cover up the crime. Later, however, one of them was convicted of financing paramilitary groups. (El Espectador has an in-depth article here.)

Escobar, however, was far from the only Colombian athlete to fall victim to the country's violence.

A Cyclist's Father Murdered

Cyclist Rigoberto Duran.
Colombian cyclist Rigoberto Urán's second-place finish in the Giro d'Italia this month would have made headlines - if not for the fact that another Colombian, Nairo Quintana, finished first.

But Urán had to climb over more than hills to achieve cycling greatness. He also had to overcome illness, poverty and the tragedy of Colombia's armed conflict.

Born in 1987 in the municipality of Urrao, Antioquia, Urán grew up poor, helping his father collect farmers' milk and sell lottery tickets. The young Urán suffered from asthma, so to cure this his father took him cycling thru the region's hills. The boy soon improved.

However, like much of Colombia, the Urrao region was roamed by violent bands of leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries. One day, the elder Urán - also named Rigoberto - went out on a training ride and encountered an illegal paramilitary checkpoint. Altho what happened next is uncertain, the younger Urán says that the paramilitaries forced his father and others to steal cattle for them - and then killed the men.

Fatherless, the 14-year-old Urán was forced to support his family by selling lottery tickets. Nevertheless, he continued training, and soon after was signed by the Orgullo Paisa racing team. Now, he supported his family with his cycling income.

By age 18 Urán was in Colombia's national team, and a year later Team Tenax had signed him and moved him to Spain.

Kidnapping - a Professional Risk for Cycle Racers

Cyclist Luis 'Lucho' Herrera.
Other Colombian cyclists' scrapes with their nation's armed conflict have fortunately not been so tragic. Luis 'Lucho' Herrera was a legendary climber who achieved immortality in 1987 by winning the Vuelta a España. He retired in 1992 to spend time with his family.

However, in 2000 Herrera guerrillas kidnapped Herera. According to one report I read, only after grabbing Herrera did the guerrillas discover who they were holding. They then asked their captive to recount his racing glories, and freed him after only 24 hours, apparently embarrassed about having kidnapped a national hero.

Oliverio Rincón, kidnapped
twice in one year.
Also in 2000, fellow cyclist Oliverio Rincón was kidnapped twice,
once together with his family, the first time by the ELN and afterward by the FARC guerrillas. The ELN held Rincón for a week, and the second kidnapping lasted for only one day. After his second kidnapping, Rincón said that the guerrillas had apologized to him.

The kidnappers "told me that I wasn't the person they were looking for, that it was a mistake and that they were very sorry about it," Rincon said.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Original Pan-American Highway

The original Inca road system.
(Image: New York Times and Intrn'l
Council on Monuments and Sites
Thousands of years before the asphalted Pan-American Highway which today (almost) connects Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, another, much slower and narrower, highway connected parts of western South America. That road system, now known as the Inca Roads, actually had been started more than a 1,000 years before the short-lived Inca Empire.

The road, called the Qhapaq Ñan in Quechua, connects together parts of present-day Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and a corner of Colombia. The Incas invaded a bit of present-day Colombia near the Ecuadorian border just before their empire collapsed with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in 1533.

The Inca roads are something of an engineering marvel for their day, with reinforced walls, paving in many parts and drainage systems. They didn't need to be smooth, since the Incas didn't have wheeled vehicles. (But, paradoxically, they did make wheeled toys for their kids). One of the road's rope bridges, the Qeswachaka, originally built by the Incas, still survives near Cuzco, Peru. Locals tear it down and rebuild it every year.

UNESCO just designated parts of the Inca road system as a World Heritage Site. The six nations which proposed the designation hope it will help preserve the road network and its associated resting houses and other infrastructure, which, unfortunately, has fallen victim to agriculture, asphalt and erosion.

But will farmers and asphalt companies respect the UNESCO designation?
The Pan-American Highway in South America.
The Qeswachaka roap bridge near Cuzco, Peru, is torn down and rebuilt every year by descendants of the Incas.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Minute Man

We all know the ubiquitous 'minutos' sellers, who seem to be on every corner, plaza and corner store, with their signs offering to let you use their phones by the minute. While I see them with signs, and sometimes even hats offering minutos, this is the first fellow I've seen wearing a minutos uniform. The ingenuous fellow was working today on Plaza San Victorino.

The good news for our cost of living is that the minutos price is actually dropping, in terms of pesos, as this 100 peso-per-minute offer shows.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours