Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Law is Blind - and Tasteless

An environmental menace? The San Isidro Restaurante,
in a 60-year-old building on Monserrate.
For almost four decades, the Restaurante San Isidro has served food and drinks on the summit of Monserrate, an area of asphalt where thousands of tourists wander around some days, eating, drinking and taking pictures. Before it, another restaurant functioned for two decades. The area, which used to be a quarry, is also the scene of a church and occasional fireworks displays, as well as a cable car station.

But the summit of Monserrate, one of Bogotá's most popular tourist destinations, is pristine forest, a court just ruled, and the San Isidro, as well as other restaurants and handicraft shops located there, will have to close.

The businesses' closing will throw hundreds of people out of work, and deprive visitors of a meal
Dining with a view.
(Photo from Trip Advisor)
with Bogotá's best view.

The San Isidro, which is fighting this absurd ruling, is ranked 11th among Bogotá restaurants on Trip Advisor and says it employs almost 50 people, who would lose their jobs if the ruling is carried out. More importantly, one  of Bogotá's most important icons will lose part of its attraction.

This French dish Chateaubriand Portobelo - whatever it is -
will disappear from Monserrate's summit
if the restaurants close.
This is all despite the fact that the San Isidro, at least, says it respects environmental regulations and disposes correctly of its wastewater.

Pristine natural territory? The summit of Monserrate, with the church. 
However, the law being blind, it has a remarkable ability to ignore the reality that, even tho these businesses are surrounded by forest, they are actually located on cement, in an area that has been cement for decades.

The Externado University cut down forest to
build these towers, which block residents' view
of the hills. That apparently does not count
as environmental damage.
Meanwhile, the city turns a blind eye while the powerful Universidad Externado has deforested a large area to build two huge towers which block the view of the hills from the La Candelaria neighborhood.

While they're worrying about Monserrate, the city might also consider reopening the hiking trail to the summit. The trail was closed for a long time for reconstruction, then reopened briefly, only to be closed again early this year because of supposed damage from forest fires. The trail provided exercise, good family recreation - and free access to the summit for many Bogotanos.

Prohibited! The popular hiking trail has been closed most of this year, and shows no sign of reopening.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Gorgona Island: Natural Wonder or Military Outpost?

Gorgona Island from above. 
Gorgona Island, located 35 kms off of Colombia's Pacific Coast, is a natural wonderland. In the past, however, the place was a nightmare. When Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro took refuge there in 1527, so many of his men died from snake bites that he named it after a monstrous goddess from Greek mythology who had serpents growing from her head.

From 1960 to '84, the island contained a much-feared prison, where prisoners died from snake bites, tropical diseases and beatings from sadistic guards and vicious fellow inmates. Finally, the prison was shut down under pressure from human rights defenders and prisoner advocates.

Today, the island is a national park, boasting sloths, monkeys, sea lions and, of course, snakes. It has
Isla Gorgona, (E), off of
Colombia's Pacific Coast.
41 species of reptiles, 155 species of birds and 13 of bats. In the surrounding waters, swim sharks, dolphins and humpback whales.

But environmentalists now charge that this natural paradise is threatened. The Navy plans to buid a communications base on top of the island's tallest hill. Naturally, the military moved ahead with the plan to alter this national treasure without any public hearings.

Unquestionably, the island is strategically located to monitor drug trafficking and illegal fishing in the region. The military points out that its project - consisting of a telecommunication tower and support facilitie - will be built on already-disturbed land, an old prison football field.

A sloth on Gorgona Island.

A lizard on Gorgona Island.
But that's not the point. The base will inevitably require road building, loud, heavy machinery and the arrival of outside workers, who many not be environmentally sensitive. The base will also house about 28 soldiers.

Those young men will be bored and restless. And young military conscripts don't have the best reputation for environmental sensitivity. Will officials be able to prevent them from hunting, building campfires, smuggling animals onto or off the island, riding around on dirt bikes, and all kinds of other destructive misbehavior which bored young men are inclined to? Remember that Gorgona used to be a prison, where men suffered from heat, insects and snakes. For tourists, the island may be a natural paradise. But for someone stuck there involuntarily for months, the place could be a living hell.

Whatever the military ultimately decides to do on Gorgona Island, the decision should be taken with public input, rather than behind closed doors, as the Colombian government unfortunately is wont to operate.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, November 10, 2016

DJLU Does Donald Trump

Colombia had better watch out. If Donald Trump, who is now (gag) president-elect of the United States, decides to make a Latin American nation his scapegoat, Colombia may be it: We've got terrorists here, and lots of illegal drugs headed toward the U.S. border, and even Latinos.

DJLU, one Bogotá's best-known street artists, stencils pithy messages on city walls. A lot of them seem to critique Trumpian values:

Trump may stumble the world into war - or barge into it.

In the Trumpian world, the super-rich like himself certainly outweigh the common people. And those hard-working common people, who've heavily supported Trump, will be left worse off when Trump starts slashing millionares' taxes.

A bullet-headed sperm. Sex and violence and Donald Trump. What more is there to say?

In the U.S., white evangelicals, who also happen to generally be enthusiastic supporters of easy access to guns, strongly supported Trump - despite Trump's multiple marriages, affairs and predilection for sexually assaulting women. Doesn't the Bible say 'Thou shalt not kill.'?

Trump means to loosen even more gun restrictions. The U.S. has the highest homicide rate in the developed world, and a U.S. free market in firearms already supplies guns to drug cartels in Latin America. Some of those weapons have appeared in Colmbia. Under Trump, firearm proliferation will boom, and some of those weapons rain down on Colombia, where they'll facilitate killings by drug cartels.

Land mines, sewn by guerrillas, are one of the most cruel and preverse weapons used in Colombia's civil war. Trump will almost certainly retreat from involvement across the continent, and reduce support for Colombia's peace agreement.

Internet spying, by Russia in particular, hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign. Leaks can help transparency, but in this case they produced Donald Trump, who is the least transparent politician seen in a long, long time.

Expect Trump to weaken environmental safeguards and abandon efforts to slow global warming, which he's said is a 'Chinese conspiracy.' The Trumpian planet Earth is a time bomb.

My impression of many Trump voters, who got manipulated by propaganda, stereotypes and organizations such as the NRA. Many of Trump's supporters are lower-income whites. Here, they've elected a man who will work to benefit the rich, and hurt working people's interests.

As an addendum, here's an anguished message I received today from a mixed-race woman from Colombia who lives (legally, as a U.S. citizen) in a midwestern U.S. state which voted for Trump, where she has a small business.

 I am very sad.  I have cried every day.  The situation is going to be very difficult for me as I represent what Trump followers hate.  Hopefully I will be safe. I hope God protects me from those crazies. 
The world is now in danger. 

A final question: Brexit, the plebiscite's 'No' vote and now Trump: What's happening to the world?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Who Said They Can't Coexist?

Who said that Starbucks would drive Juan Valdez out of business? Here in the Centro Internacional, the two cafés operate side-by-side, and both seem to be doing okay. I don't know the prices, but have been told that Starbucks appeals to a higher-income market. These two, however, appeared to have pretty similar clientele: businessy-looking people pecking at laptops or staring at their smartphones.

At least, they're both serving up Colombian beans, even if the farmer likely gets only a drop from each cup.

Coffee, it's worth noting, was a big productivity booster when introduced in Holland centuries ago and replaced beer, which wasn't great for productivity.

According to their websites, there are 106 Juan Valdez cafés in Bogotá and 10 Starbucks.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Who Said They Can't Coexist?

Who said that Starbucks would drive Juan Valdez out of town? Here in the Centro Nacional, the two café's operate side-by-side, and both seem to be doing okay. I don't know the prices, but have been told that Starbucks appeals to a higher-income market. These two, however, appeared to have pretty similar clientele: businessy-looking people pecking at laptops or staring at their smartphones.

At least, they're both serving up Colombian beans, even if the farmer likely gets only a drop from each cup.

Coffee, it's worth noting, was a big productivity booster when introduced in Holland centuries ago. Of course, it gives drinkers a lift. But back then it also replaced beer, whose consumption didn't have the best effects on productivity.

According to their websites, there are 106 Juan Valdez cafés in Bogotá and 10 Starbucks.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Zona Rosa's English Problem

Archie's and the Rock'n Jazz Casino. 
La Zona Rosa, Bogotá's high-end nightlife area, is perhaps notorious for its Yankee influences: TGIF, Hard Rock Cafe, McDonald's, Burger King, and on and on. But I looked around and could hardly find a business name - even Colombian brands - that wasn't an English word. Here's a sampling. 
It's something you find far beyond the Zona Rosa. Bogotá, including even poor neighborhoods where hardly anybody knows English, is saturated with English business names. Do people feel that a gringo title will make them more successful? Make them appear more sophisticated? Give customers more confidence in the business?

Perhaps it works for Colombians. But for someone from North America, at least for me, it all seems like cheap imitation yelling out a mentality of insecurity and inadequacy.

Burger King.

Go Cycling, with, for good measure, 'Columbia'.
The Fuga Cafe Bike Studio.
Inside the Fuga the books are all in English.

McDonald's and Chuck e Cheese.

Life Fitness.

Parking, and Zara Home.

Seven Seven and Archie's.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, November 6, 2016

On Clinton vs. Trump, it's No Contest

Clinton for president of the U.S.
Tuesday's U.S. presidential vote will be a monumental event for both the U.S. and for the world. El Tiempo's editorial section today is full of column's about the election - all warning about the dire consequences of a Trump victory. And anybody who's followed this blog has no doubt where I fall, for the interests of Colombia, the U.S. and the globe.

El Tiempo's editorialists point out the likeliest immediate consequences for Colombia of a Donald Trump victory: a reduction in aid and more barriers to trade and immigration. Trump's discourse is erratict and his policies unclear, but he speaks like an isolationist. That suggests that he'd cut back on the post-Plan Colombia aid programs and reduce support for any peace processes here. Trump might also kill free trade agreements with Colombia, as he's denounced such agreements with Mexico.

Trump's evident hostility to and even racism against Hispanics would not help relations, either.

El Tiempo's editorialists also point out that most economists predict a recession if Trump wins and
The dangers are endless.
imposes protectionist trade policies and slashes taxes for rich people like himself, which would balloon the U.S.'s budget deficit.

Trump's authoritarianess, as eloquently described by the Washington Post's libertarian Volokh Conspiracy blog  could not only endanger the U.S.'s constitutional system, but also set a terrible example for weak democracies in Latin America.

Trump "is thrilled by the kind of authoritarian government that the Colonists fought a revolution to end." writes Volokh. "His world is a world of conspiracy theories, not reason and evidence. It is a world of putting your opponent in a jail cell after the election, not peaceful transitions of power. It is a world of mob violence, not law. It is a world of crushing political dissent, not limited government."  

The Volokh writers compare the U.S.'s possible future under Trump to Venezuela, where democratically-elected presidents have trampled institutions, converted the oil-rich nation into a near-dictatorship and, along the way, also devastated its economy. 

Trump's ignorance and denial of reality on environmental issues, particularly climate change, is yet another disqualifier. Climate change is already affecting Colombia and would undoubtedly accelerate under Trump policies.

I could go on about Trump's misogyny and sexual predation, his lack of political experience, his rotten business ethics, his instability, his evident affection for violence and for authoritarian leaders such as Russia's Vladimir Putin, and perhaps most of all the danger of a man like him controlling nuclear weapons - but you get the picture.

Hillary Clinton certainly also has her ethics challenges. But, as an experienced politician she's performed competently and has generally respected constitutional norms, as Volokh, normally no friend of liberals, points out. And Clinton would undoubtedly continue the Obama administration's policies of engagement with the world and Latin America. And her economic policies would likely continue those Obama, who has shepherded the U.S. out of a deep recession into a slow but sustained recovery. Even with the rise of China, Latin America's economy still depends heavily on that of the U.S.

For Colombia, for the U.S., for the planet and for decency, support Clinton.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Dubious Drug Numbers

A Colombian police officer looks over seized cocaine bricks.
El Tiempo crowed the other day Colombian anti-drug forces' record cocaine haul this year: 306 metric tons - which is already 50 tons more than all of last year, with almost two months left to run.

To antidrug warriors, that means they're doing great! More pressure, more cooperation, running down
Colombia shifts strategy from fumigation to drug seizure.
(Chart; Wall Street Journal)
more of those bad guys.

But there's another possible explanation: Maybe now there's just lots more cocaine out there to be captured.

Colombian coca leaf production trends thru 2014.
The rise has continued. (Graph: Washington Post.)
In fact, Colombia's coca leaf acreage has more than doubled over the last couple of years, for reasons nobody's sure about. And all the cocaine not consumed inside Colombia gets exported.

So, anti-drug police may be doing better precisely because they're losing the drug war.

At least, however, Colombia has switched to a more effective strategy than focusing on machetiing coca leaf plantations. Besides impoverishing campesinos and pushing them into the arms of guerrillas and drug cartels, coca erradication also has the fatal result of raising drug prices. The less coca leaf supply, the higher the price, and therefore the bigger the profit and incentive for planting the stuff. By attacking the drug industry further down the supply chain, that effect is reduced.

Drug warriors are inflating their accomplishments a second way. El Tiempo also reports that the seized cocaine would be worth 6 billion dollars on the streets of New York or Los Angeles.

However, that cocaine was seized not in New York, but in Colombia, where it's worth much less. The new book Narconomics points out that this would be similar to valuating a stolen cow in Argentina according to how much it would cost in the form of t-bone steak served up in a Boston restaurant.

Colombian farmers and traffickers keep producing cocaine for a simple reason: They expect to sell enough of it to make a profit. And, as long as there's money in drug trafficking, you can be certain that someone will continue producing them.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Our Pigeon Problem

Young fun! An older woman gets a thrill from a headful of pigeons on Plaza Bolivar.

Feathered friends or rats with wings, Bogotá's got plenty of pigeons. Too many, says City Hall: the animals roost on statues, churches and historic buildings, damaging and discoloring them with their feces. A few years ago, the Cathedral placed spikes on its front to repel the animals. But, pigeons not being the brightest creatures, they impaled themselves, creating a gruesome version of crucifixion. The church removed the spikes.

Now, the city's considering more humane methods of population control, such as lacing their foods with contraceptives or building a pigeon roost, where their eggs would be taken away.

My bet is that the hated and beloved pigeons will be with us for a long time.

A pígeon in hand is worth two on the pavement.

The pigeons make the picture on Plaza Bolivar.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Indigentes All Over

Homeless drug addicts pass the hours away on the median of Carrera 10 south of San Victorino.
When thousands of police invaded El Bronx this May, they discovered a place of horrors. Crack addicts, child crack addicts, prostitutes of all ages, torture chambers, and even murder victims, buried and forgotten beneath the buildings.

However, what might have been a new life for the addicts and criminals in the bronx, who are also
Residents of El Bronx. (Photo: Semana)
victims, has not come to pass. According to news reports and people who work with addicts, many Bronx residents were bussed to neighboring towns, where they were just dumped on the street, or dropped off on the banks of the Rio Bogotá.

Of course, many addicts reject assistance, so social workers' jobs aren't easy. But now, complain residents of neighborhoods like San Bernardino, located just south of Tercer Milenio Park, the drug addicts camp on their doorsteps. Businesspeople complain about addicts sleeping and defecating in front of their doorways and have marched in protest to Plaza Bolivar.

Permitting a criminal district in the city's center, just a few blocks from City Hall and the presidential palace was intolerable. But now things may be worse, both for the Bronx residents, who lost their homes and community, and neighbors, who now feel as tho they're living in El Bronx.

The 'good' news? Just as before the Bronx there was El Cartucho, sooner or later the same population will settle someplace new and establish a new 'Bronx.'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Halloween on La Septima

Knights on crusade.
As usual, La Carrera Septima turned into a party tonight. A Saturday night on La Septima without a party? That's a scary thought!

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours