Friday, September 30, 2016

Colombia's Oil Addiction

Articles in El Tiempo call for more investment in
petroleum production.
Colombia is not often seen as a petroleum state like its neighbors Ecuador and Venezuela. Yet, until oil prices tanked, Colombia earned more than half of its foreign exchange income from petroleum exports. And oil provided a big chunk of government royalties - money that Colombia is desperate for to pay the costs of the peace deal to be voted on Nov. 2.

However, oil has brought big environmental costs, and produced relatively few jobs.

Now that petroleum's price dive has demonstrated the danger of relying on commodity exports, Colombia's response is simple: Double down on oil.

EcoPetrol's headquarters building in
Bogotá. The company's mascot
is an iguana.
El Tiempo has run a series of stories emphasizing the need to boost oil production with subsidies and tax breaks, neglecting to mention that these subsidies also benefit some of the nation's wealthiest men and corporations.

Nor is the newspaper or the government bothered by the contradiction between their dire warnings about the effects of oil-driven climate change and promises that Colombia will do its part, and the nation's oily ambitions.

I read recently that Colombia has only 7 years of petroleum reserves at the rate that it's pumping them out. Undoubtedly, they can extend those with more prospecting, but in the end it's probably a losing race.

There's also a vicious cycle (another type of tragedy of the commons) involved in the race to pump
An electric tax. Bogotá has exactly 43 of them on the streets,
according to El Tiempo.
(Photo: Ministry of the Environment)
more oil, which many other producers are also engaged in. The more oil producers pump to compensate for low prices, the lower prices will drop, making production gains valueless.

Colombia should instead direct subsidies toward manufacturing, which employs lots of people and is more sustainable in the long run. (And would produce employment for ex-guerrillas who may not want to become poor farmers.) It should also make real efforts to shift toward more efficient and oil-free energy in transportation and industry.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Lonely 'No'

This gentleman walking along Carrera Septima today was one of very few people I've seen campaigning for a 'No' vote, against the peace deal with the FARC, in the Oct. 8 plebiscite.

The 'Si' campaign has been a no-holds-barred, full frontal assault on our senses, in the media, on the streets and from the Santos administration. While I agree that the agreement, with all of its flaws, will be a good thing for Colombia. However, such a lopsided campaign makes one question the vote's fairness.

Animals for the 'Si.'
A bicyclist for the 'Si' vote.
Get on the Si bus!

Vote 'Si' and we'll clean up this trash on Carrera 7 and Jimenez Ave.
A 'Si' rally.
Teatro Ensemble in Teusaquillo plans to vote 'Si.'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Where are the FARC's Million$?

Drugs illegality means fortunes for violent, illegal groups.
FARC leaders have, belatedly, apologized for the many horrors they committed against Colombia's civilians, such as the more than 100 Afrocolombians murdered in the Bojayá bombing, and the 12 deputies from the Valle de Cauca kidnapped and massacred, both in 2002.

But the FARC have never come clean about the whereabouts of the fortune they obtained from extortion, drug trafficking, illegal mining, which could serve to compensate some of their victims, and the peace deal signed yesterday doesn't require them to.

The fate of the FARC's illegally fortune has been one of conservatives' biggest criticisms of the peace deal. The guerrillas historically controlled at least a third, and perhaps much more of Colombia's cocaine exports, according to U.S. anti-drug officials. They also control illegal mines and extort ranchers. But where are those millions?

Historically, Colombia's illegal armed groups have buried their money, invested it in land and
businesses under false owners or hidden in in foreign banks. In 2003, Colombian soldiers found some $20 million in cash buried in the jungle, apparently by the FARC. They blew that fortune on prostitutes, alcohol and fancy motorcycles.

In a few years, expect to hear about ex-guerrilla leaders fulfilling their revolutionary values by buying BMWs and mansions with money of unclear origin,

It's hard not to observe that the guerrillas would have lots less money - and likely caused lots less harm - if cocaine were legal and exported by legitimate, tax-paying businesses.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, September 26, 2016

An Unfortunate Exit

This emergency exit sign was unstrategically placed today on the second floor of the Casa del Florero on Plaza Bolivar.

Hopefully, none of the building's occupants took such an inconvenient exit.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Referendum Lies and Half-Truths

'Yes to peace,' at a rally on Carrera 7.
The peace agreement signed with the FARC guerrillas will be a huge milestone for Colombia if citizens vote to approve it on Oct. 2. Whichever side wins, however, loses legitimacy if it bases its campaigns on lies and distortions:

'Si' Campaign: Pres. Santos claims that 'Colombia's war is over.'

Perhaps Santos forgot that the smaller ELN guerrilla group has not entered negotiations and has even launched an offensive in recent months. And that Colombia has myriad other violent outlaw organizations, including the bacrim and paramilitaries, some of which control territory. A few months ago, the government even authorized the military to bomb criminal groups' campsites. That sounds like war to me.

The peace deal is only one single step towards peace.

'No' Campaign:  The Deal Will Bring Castro-Chavismo to Colombia. (In other words, it will transform Colombia into Cuba/Venezuela.)

This is a tough charge to understand, since the Cuban and Venezuelan economies are so different. Cuba is a communist dictatorship, while Venezuela is still capitalist, albeit with lots of government control and media and democracy under siege.

In reality, the peace agreement is supposed to increase regional participation in decisionmaking and promote land redistribution to poor peasants, but it will not fundamentally alter Colombia's capitalist, free market economy. If it did, can you imagine Washington backing the deal?
'Let's stop this war now!' Well, maybe, kinda.
'No' Campaign: The agreement means that Colombia has surrendered to the guerrillas.

Actually, just the opposite is true. The FARC are a Marxist, revolutionary group whose have fought for more than a half-century to overthrow the Colombian government and replace it with a communist state. By making peace, they recognize their failure and resign themselves to working within the democratic, capitalist system.

'No' Campaign: The deal hands the guerrillas control of Colombia's government.

This claim is absurd. The guerrillas will receive ten guaranteed seats in a Parliament with several hundred members. That'll make them a marginal force, and, given the guerrillas' history of atrocities, other leftist parties will keep their distance from them.

'Si' Campaign:  The Peace Agreement Will Jumpstart Colombia's Economy.

Well, perhaps. Less violence will increase investors' confidence and attract more tourists. It will also open more regions of the country to mining, petroleum and other sorts of development. Colombia will also reduce its security and military expenses. If thousands of ex-guerrillas turn to agriculture or factory work, they will also grow those sectors.

However, the peace deal also means huge expenses, such as compensating victims, removing land mines and retraining ex-fighters. I've seen estimates that Colombia requires US $50 billion, an impossible sum.

'Si' Campaign: The peace deal will be a boon for the environment.

Partly true. The guerrillas - including the ELN, who continue fighting the government - have committed many environmental crimes, in particular blowing up oil pipelines. And drug crops, which the guerrillas tax and protect, cause lots of deforestation.

However, without guerrillas terrorizing ranchers and industries across rural Colombia, expect agriculture to expand and mining and oil industries to invade virgin lands. That will accelerate pollution and deforestation.

'No' Campaign: The deal means impunity for guerrillas who've committed human righs abuses.

This one's true. Guerrillas, as well as soldiers and others, who confess their crimes will serve symbolic sentences, where they'll likely be restricted to a single municipality, of something similar. That's a far-cry from prison time. However, as many have pointed out, as long as the conflict continues, so does widespread impunity.

In short, the peace deal is imperfect, and its results will be mixed. However, it will be a step toward a more peaceful Colombia.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Parks Which Might Have Been

Prohibido entrar: Pedestrians walk past an off-limits green space.
A few years ago, when the city built the TransMilenio line to the airport along Calle 26, they demolished houses and businesses on both sides along the blocks west of the Central Cemetery.

Since then, the areas have remained vacant, unused, abandoned, in a neighborhood in dire need of green space to walk dogs, play football or throw frisbees.

Now, to add insult to injury, the city has walled off the lots with barbed wire and hired security guards with vicious dogs to keep neighbors out of green space which they should be welcomed into. More than one passerby has observed the resemblance to a prison camp.

A dog doing his duty.
The barbed wire adds an ugly element to the colorful city-sponsored murals.

Nearby, during its last months, the Petro administration made a poorly-thought out effort to turn parts of the land into a seating area, by building wooden floors. But the few tables and chairs the city supplied quickly disappeared, apparently stolen. Today, skateboarders make use of the city investment, whose only other beneficiaries were likely Petro's business acquaintances.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, September 19, 2016

The New Septimazo

Looking for some style?
On Sunday afternoons, Carrera Septima transforms spontaneously into Bogotá's biggest variety store, with all the random and wonderful things you can imagine - clothing, electronics, art and food. Check it out. You'll find something you want.

Found what I needed.

Refreshment stand.

The world's literature, at your feet, for a few thousand pesos.
Need a charger for that old cellphone?
Want to fire up the old VCR?

Someone's got the time.
Nearby, rises the BD Bacatá tower, Colombia's tallest.

A battery for every (old) phone.

Just the thing for the kitchen.

South of Calle 19, the offerings move up an estrato in cost and sophistication.

A running exhibition about (government sponsored) human rights violations.
Sweaters from Ecuador.
Get your portrait painted.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, September 16, 2016

Cultural Cacophony in the Gabriel Garcia Marquez

On the main patio of the Gabriel Garcia Marquéz Cultural Center you'll find something startling - unless you consider big time wrestling high culture: There's a wrestling ring, surrounded by lurid and violent images of Mexican wrestling.

Sure, violent, obnoxious, glamorous wrestling is big in Mexico, but does it really rate center stage in an institution named after Colombia's Nobel Prize-winning novelist? (The center, bizarrely, has no exhibition about Marquéz himself.)

However, in the art gallery downstairs, one finds something more fitting: an exhibition about the legendary and tortured Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Frida fans will enjoy the different perspectives on the artist, who suffered physically from polio and a car accident (she underwent 32 reconstructive surgeries) and a tumultuous relationship with muralist Diego Rivera, a fellow communist. Both Rivera and Kahlo, who was bisexual, had numerous affairs, altho they managed to stick together.

Kahlo died in 1954 following several suicide attemps.

Perhaps fittingly, Frida painted herself, portraying her own physical and mental sufferings.

In the exhibition, 23 Mexican, one Chilean and one Mexican artists, portray Kahlo's suffering, sexuality and religiosity.

Frida, Prince, or both?

Frida having fun.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours