Saturday, November 29, 2014

La Perseverancia Chicha Festival, 2014

How about some chicha? These folks also had chicha made from quinua.
This weekend the La Perseverancia neighborhood is putting on its annual Chicha Festival. Chicha, usually made from fermented corn, is a traditional drink inherited from the Muisca Indians. La Perseverancia is a hardscrabble, working class neighborhood where families have made chicha for generations.
The 'best' chicha. And they
say so themselves.
The neighborhood, popularly known as 'La Perse', has a reputation for crime and is off limits to tourists and even most Colombians on normal days. But during the festival police abound and the place opens up. 

The area was long known for making chicha. But around the turn of the last century Gustavo Leo Kopp founded the La Bavaria beer brewery down the hill and built a model neighborhood for his employees here. Beer payed taxes, chicha did not. Industry and government allied themselves to denounce chicha consumption as dangerous and unhealthy. But chicha-making persevered, and today many residents brew the drink in homes and stores. And, ironically, fermented foods have today become trendy for the health-conscious. 

We visited La Perseverancia today during a bike tour.

The festival continues thru tomorrow.
Pouring chichas. 
The statue in the background is of Jorge Eliecer Gaitán, a populist politician assassinated in 1948, who was popular in this working-class neighborhood.
'Delicious chicha of corn and honey.'
The chicha festival, with La Perseverancia's church in the background.

'Chicha Doña Leo.' Doña Leo has won several chicha competitions.
Baby birds for sale on the street. 
This boy got a baby chick. 

Don't wander down here. A closed-off street in La Perseverancia.
A La Perseverancia house.

A tourist tastes chicha.
'Chicha creates brutes. Don't consume fermented drinks.' A sign from another era warns against drinking chicha.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Death Sentence for La Conejera?

This week, environmentalists held this protest in La Candelaria against apartment construction impacting the Conejera wetland in Suba. 
It's become almost routine the way that Bogotá natural areas are absolutely, completely protected - except when they're not. And that all-purpose exception seems to apply to Bogotá's Eastern Hills, where apartments, parking garages and gas stations pop up with regularity, and the city's protected wetlands, important guardians of biodiversity and fresh water, are gobbled up by new buildings and poisoned by industrial and agricultural run-off. 
A view of the Conejera wetland. (Photo: Humedales de Bogotá)
But builders may have gone too far with an apartment building in Suba, which environmentalists say would impact the La Conejera wetland (the name means 'rabbit hutch'). Young people staged a camp-in against the project, and local residents have marched in protest in both Suba and Bogotá. 

Environmentalists say the apartments would frighten off wildlife (obviously true, especially since residents will have dogs, cats and children), and generate noise, light and water pollution. The prosecutor's office visited the construction site and pointed to various irregularities, including the construction license having been issued 'in record time' and that the license had first been rejected and then issued. 

A bit strangely, perhaps, Bogotá Environment Secretary Susana Muhamad defended the project, saying it has all its necessary papers. 

A bird in the Conejera wetland. (Photo: Humedales de Bogotá)
Amidst all the legal wranglings, no official appears to have the interest or authority to say that this project is bad for Bogotá's long-suffering environment and should be stopped. 

Hanging over the debate - and probably the only reason this project has received attention at all - is the fact that the construction company's board of directors includes several relatives of Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro. Petro says his administration has shown no favoritism and that the license was issued by a previous administration. 

That corruption played a part is not unthinkable. In Bogotá, construction licenses are issued by strange offices called Curadurias, which have a dubious reputation for corruption. Petro's predecessor, Samuel Moreno, is in prison on corruption charges unrelated to this project. 
Environmentalists this week protest apartment construction impacting the Conejera wetland in Suba. 
An areal photo from RCN Noticias shows construction apparently invading the Conejera wetland.
(Photo: RCN Noticias)

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Gabo Lands in El Imperio

Marquéz at work on 'One Hundred Years of Solitude.'
The Marquéz family's sale of the Nobel laureate's papers to an academic center in Austin, Texas has, understandably, generated lots of polemic back in Colombia.

"For the National Library (of Colombia) it would have been an honor to have those materials," Culture Minister Mariana Garcés told the FM radio. "For Colombia, it's a great pity not having them."

She said that Colombia had expressed interest in the collection.

One of the manuscripts donated to the Harry Ransom Center.
(Photo: Harry Ransom Center)
But the location is also appropriate in some ways. For one thing, the Harry Ransom Center, which is part of the University of Texas, also holds documents from some of Marquéz's literary influences, particularly William Faulkner, whose fictional Mississippi community helped inspire Marquéz's town of Macondo.

Perhaps more relevantly, Marquez lived the last half century of his life in Mexico City, where he is buried. Some Colombians resented what they considered Marquéz's small contributions to the mostly poor people who inspired his stories. So, it's in a way appropriate that his papers will rest outside of Colombia as well.

Marquéz's corrections and editions on manuscript
of 'The General in his Laberynth.'
But the Texas donation also draws attention to the Colombian novelist's often difficult relationship with the United States. A life-long friend of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, the young Marquéz worked for Cuba's government news service, Prensa Latina, for which he was based for a time in New York. But because of Marquéz's relationships with leftist groups, including the Colombian Communist Party and the M-19 guerrillas, Marquéz was for decades banned from entering the U.S., which he sometimes referred to as 'El Imperio' - until his friend Pres. Bill Clinton reversed the order. Now, Colombian Marquéz scholars will have to travel not only to El Imperio, but to the land of the Bush family, in order to study the Colombian idol.

Marquéz's family did not completely stiff Colombia. Items including the typewriter he wrote 'One Hundred Years of Solitude,' on and his Nobel Prize medal will go to the Colombian National Library.

Many commentators on the El Tiempo newspaper's story about the sale seemed to get a cynical pleasure from the spectacle of the leftist writer's family selling his material to a United States institution.

"That's the Colombian left," wrote Fercast0513. "Just imagine, Gabo's son sold his leftist father's files to a university in the North American empire."

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Paper Butterflies in La Nacho

Fold it this way.
During a bike tour today, we got a lesson from Alexei in folding paper butterflies, part of Bogotá's week against violence against women.
Look - I made a buttefly!
Participants wrote anti-violence messages on the butterflies' wings and glued them to the wall.

'Down with machismo!'

'Strong ovary!'
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Cartels: Then and Now

That was then: In 1993 Colombian hit men pose with the corpse of Pablo Escobar, leader of the Medellin Cartel.
Not long ago, there were the Cali and Medellin cartels, which brought a drug-fueled scourge of murder and bombings to Colombia. Then came the Norte de Valle and Oficina de Envigado cartels.
Face of the new criminal cartel?
Toilet paper for sale.

And now, the diaper and toilet paper cartels?

According to government regulatory agencies, companies in these industries have conspired to manipulate and raise prices, cheating consumers.

A few companies dominate
Colombia's toilet paper industry.
Investigators say they've found e-mails and other evidence to back their accusations. Allegedly, the companies met secretly overseas to set prices and quality. But, whatever the truth, just the fact that Colombia now has the time and resources to worry about the behavior of the diaper and toilet paper industries is a sign of how far the company has come from the time that it was near being a failed state.

A generation ago, Colombians worried that the Medellin Cartel would overthrow the government. Today, they worry that the diaper and toilet paper cartels will strain household budgets.

Capitalist greed is bad. But it's a relief compared to what Colombia's been thru.

Stealing from babies? Diapers may be the face of a dark conspiracy.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bogotá's Dangerous Campaign Against Gender Violence

A banner hung on the Plaza del Che in the Universidad Nacional publicizes 'The week of no violence against women.' 
 Don't hit a woman...tomorrow.

ADN newspaper reports that Nov. 25 is
the 'day without violence against women.'
That's the message Bogotá seems to be sending out these days. Violence against women - or any sort of violence - is a terrible thing. But the instruction not to commit violence today, this week or this month seems to send an implicit message that committing violence tomorrow, next week, or next month IS alright.

It's the same message I get from those useless warnings stenciled on Bogotá streetcorners and alleys:

'Urinating prohibited on this street.'

So on the next street it's okay?

While it's a good thing to designate a week to draw attention to gender violence - a huge problem in Colombia - they'd better serve their goal by simply drawing attention to the problem, rather than calling on men to stop hitting women 'this week.'

'Urinated Prohibited On This Street.' And on the next street?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

How to Not Recycle the Bogotá Way

Don't worry. They'll soon be in an empty lot or public park near you.
Want to condemn a recycling program to failure? Try this:

Take a group of people known for limited education and zero environmental awareness but a great capacity for drinking beer and ogling women, and put them in charge of carrying out an environmental program.

The result is predictably a disaster - which is the situation Bogotá is in.

Will they catch fire?
Thank such good planning for the piles of tires on our sidewalk, and carcinogenic tire smoke in our lungs. Did you enjoy the other week's used tire fire, which turned our air gray? Count on Bogotá's environmental policy bureaucrats ensuring it happens again!

The city has no rational disposal system for the tens of thousands of used tires produced each year, which litter public parks and sidewalks. A few weeks ago, a dump containing more than 100,000 used tires caught fire, poisoning the air for days. According to, tire smoke is some 13,000 times more cancer-causing than pollution from a coal plant equipped with emissions controls.

You probably haven't heard of Bogotá's EcoPuntos program, and there are good reasons why: the city hasn't publicized it and it barely functions.

Could those tires on the sidewalk around the
corner have come from here?
Bogotá's EcoPuntos program, supposedly involves 92 spots across the city where people can drop off used tires for proper disposal or recycling. Of course, it seems that those tires just get tossed into unregulated dumps, where they breed mosquitoes and eventually catch fire. But, no matter.

And, Bogotá City Councilman Diego García, a member of the Green Alliance party, visited a dozen of those designated drop-off points and found that half didn't know about the program and others didn't have anyplace to store old tires. Only one of the dozen sites actually accepted tires. But, no matter.

The real flaw in this system is its lack of incentives.

EcoPuntos everywhere, but nobody's seen them.
How many environmental idealists do you think Bogotá has willing to lug a heavy tire across town to dispose of it correctly -  for free? And how many of those people work in tire shops?

As is evident on many Bogotá sidewalks, tire shops find it easier to toss their waste tires around the corner, where they become the public's problem.

The only solution here are economic incentives.

Consider two scenarios.

Scenario No. 1, Bogotá's existing disfunctional system: A bunch of guys are sitting around a tire shop one afternoon scratching their balls. The boss asks:
Deposit your can here, and feel good
about producing garbage.

'Hey guys, who wants to load those old tires out back into the truck and drive them across town for ecologically proper disposal?'

Tire shop employees look around awkwardly, scratch their balls and ponder the pin-up girls on the walls. They suddenly recall urgent commitments they have for that afternoon.

'Alright', says the boss, impatiently; 'We've gotta get rid of those tires. Someone load them up and get them out of my sight! Remember that dumping them in the park or on the sidewalk is against the law - but I won't ask any questions.'

Tire shop workers grumble, load up the tires and return 15 minutes later, the problem solved.

Scenario No. 2, with economic incentives: In this case, the tire industry pays a small deposit for each tire imported or manufactured in Colombia. That deposit goes into a public fund. Upon delivering the used tire for proper disposal, part of the deposit is returned.

Back in the tire shop, with used tires piling up in the corner.

350,000 bottles is a tiny proportion of the
millions used by Bogotanos each week.
Better not to have used
them at all. 
'Who wants to take these tires off to be disposed of?' the boss asks.

The shop employees stop scratching their balls and look up with interest.

'The desposit's all yours,' the boss adds.

The shop employees envision beer money, a date with their girlfriend, perhaps even buying the kids' schoolbooks. Hands shoot up all over the room.

'Hey boss! I'll take those tires away!'

The shop guys compete to load up the tires and drive them to a collection point, where an employee eagerly receives them, knowing that he'll also get a deposit for delivering them to a disposal point.

The rest of the deposit goes to subsidize some use for the old tires, such as shredding them to be used as road material or burning in a cement plant.

That same mechanic who's been using the neighborhood park as his dumping ground, has now become an environmentalist - not because he loves the planet, but because it fills his pockets.

The EcoPuntos program has another part, only slightly less perverse.

Those are reverse vending machines located in some Bogotá malls, into which people drop used beverage containers to receive 'EcoPuntos', which are supposed to be good for something. The percentage of bottles thus returned is infinitesimal. Still, hopefully, those bottles do get reused instead of ending up in the dump.

Unfortunately, however, the consumer walks away from the EcoPuntos machine with a positive feeling that he or she has done something good for the planet, when all he's done is delay the bottle's trip to the dump. Much better would have been not to use that can or bottle at all, especially since it probably contained something either useless, such as bottled water (the tap water here is perfectly potable), or a sugary soft drink which only did its drinker harm.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Anglolandia for the FARC

The people's army? Or the army against the people?
This pro-FARC graffiti appeared this week on the Universidad Nacional's Bogotá campus, and, strangely, it's in English.

A mural in the Teusaquillo neighborhood
portrays a landmine victim. The FARC
plant landmines to protect themselves
against soldiers, but many civilians are
injured and killed by those mines.
But isn't English the language of the United States, the 'empire'? And isn't Spanish the language of romantic revolutionaries, not to mention of the students and professors of the Nacho?

Was this written by a native English speaker? Maybe, but perhaps maybe not. A native, it seems to me, would have written that 'Simon Trinidad and Sonia are examples of...'

Grammar aside, the statement made me think about the foreigners who support Colombia's largest guerrilla group. Mostly, these seem to be young idealists in comfortable places like Sweden and Denmark, who read the FARC's websites and swallow unquestioningly their language about revolution and social justice. These true believers don't bother with the reality, easily available on human rights organizations' websites, about the guerrillas' innumerable atrocities, including recruiting children, massacring civilians with mortars and car bombs, planting land mines, displacing peasants, murdering indigenous people, and on and on.

Those sorts of outrages would never be tolerated in the comfortable, law-abiding wealthy nations where these fellow travelers live and enjoy good lives. However, by supporting the FARC, they implicitly condone such crimes when they are committed against the poor of Colombia.

A FARC motorcycle bomb killed and injured civilians
in the town of Tumaco in July, 2012.
But there's a saying here: 'If you're under age 30 and not a communist, you don't have a heart; if you're over 30 and still a communist, you don't have a brain.'

Simon Trinidad and Sonia, by the way, are FARC leaders imprisoned in the United States.

The people's army? In 2002, a FARC mortar landed on the roof of a church in the town of Bojayá, Chocó, killing some 120 townspeople who had taken refuge in the church from fighting between guerrillas and paramilitaries.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours