Sunday, December 17, 2017

One Gender Equity Word Too Far

The girls and women of Bogotá have lots of concerns: crime, sexual harassment, employment
The new official Bogotá uniform?
discrimination, and others. But I've never heard a Bogotana say she suffered from oppression by grammatical discrimination.

But this is what Bogotá's legal system, in all of its wisdom and blindness, is now charging ahead with.

A judge just ordered Mayor Peñalosa to modify his city slogan from 'Bogotá Mejor Para Todos' to 'Bogotá Mejor Para Todos y Todas.' In other words, he's to add the words 'y todas' so that nobody gets the idea that the city's goal is to make life better only for its male residents.

Aventureros hostal: Only male adventurers allowed here?
Sensibly, Peñalosa is appealing the decision, which would require the modification of innumerable city signs, uniforms, websites and literature, not to mention making the city's slogan sound wordy and awkward. The slogan was changed when Peñalosa became mayor a year ago, and will be changed again if the current recall effort against Peñalosa succeeds.

In protesting the ruling, Peñalosa pointed out that 'every high school teacher knows that in Spanish the masculine words include both male and female individuals'. That's why when schools refer to their 'alumnos' nobody thinks they mean boys but not girls. And when presidents refer to 'ciudadanos' they mean both male and female citizens. 'Abogados' includes lawyers of both genders. And so on.
Welcome to La Candelaria: But only for males,
unless your an Engish-speaker.

Specify the female gender in everything and you not only state the obvious and treat your audience ciudadanos y ciudadanas' and 'candidatos y candidatas' and 'senadoras y senadores.' I'll never forget a mind-numbing talk I suffered thru one evening in Bolivia as the speaker went on about 'campesinos y campesinas,' 'maestros y maestras' and 'profesoras y profesores.' Perhaps he also specified that the people owned both 'perros y perras.'
like idiots, but you generate documents like Venezuela's Constitution or Colombia's peace agreement with the FARC, which drone on repetitively about '

If not for the time and effort wasted by this habit isn't enough to ban it, the trees needlessly killed and the gigabytes of computer memory needlessly filled should do it.
'A better Bogotá for all' - but only if you're a male?

But if always specifying the female gender really is required, then Bogotá is in big trouble:

The Down Town converntion center says its closer to male Bogotanos.
The Procudaria warns males not to be corrupt.
Unquestionably, Spanish is sexist - as are most languages. But Bogotá won't change it, and will make a fool of itself. A more practical solution would be to convince the ultra-conservative Real Academia de la Lengua in Madrid to accept use of the @ symbol to include both genders, as in 'Hola chic@s'.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Marquéz on the Web

Gabriel Garcia Marquéz
When Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel García Marquéz's family decided to sell his documents to a center in Texas after his death in 2014, it caused lots of teeth grinding back in Colombia. After all, Marquéz, a leftist buddy of Fidel Castro, was no great admirer of Yankeeland - and was even banned from entering the U.S. for many years.

Yet, the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas has accomplished something which many Colombian institutions with less resources and sophistication might not have: It has placed tens of thousands of pages of Marquéz's documents online, where they are indexed and accesible in both English and Spanish. Expect a flood of high school and college papers on topics such as Marquéz's relationship to other authors, his publishers and the evolution of his works.

Bill Clinton and Marquéz.
The New York Times reports that the documents have already destroyed the myth that Marquéz (like Jack Kerouac with his On The Road) wrote his great novel One Hundred Years of Solitude in a spontaenous flow of creativity. Rather, Marquéz 'regularly sent out sections for reactions from friends and literary critics. He also published about a third of the chapters in newspapers around the world before the book’s publication, and sometimes made adjustments according to audience reaction,' says the Times.

Of course, Marquéz's relationship with the U.S. wasn't one dimensional. He traveled across the U.S. South, admired and learned from North American authors such as William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway, and was buddies with Bill Clinton.

Among the documents on the Ransom Center's website are manuscripts, reviews, press clippings, letters and lots of photos of Marquéz with other literary luminaries, such as Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, Venezuelan newspaper editor Teodoro Petkoff and even U.S. film makerWoody Allen.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Doubling Down on Climate Change

The World Bank will stop financing oil and natural gas prospecting and drilling projects after 2019, but Colombia's oil industry vows that won't slow its exploitation of the dirtiest sorts of hydrocarbons.

So, even tho Colombia will be hard hit by climate change: it will lose biodiversity, coffee-growing regions will suffer, its glaciers will melt and the city of Cartagena may be left as an island - its oil sector sees no reason to reduce its contribution to that crisis.

That means investing some US $42 billion over the next two decades, say oil industry officials to drill
Colombia's non-conventional hydrocarbons
are in some of its most biodiverse regions.
some 7,000 new wells and perhaps double Colombia's new hydrocarbon production by increasing controversial methods such as fracking, which some experts warn threatens Colombia's water supply.

'Colombia doesn't have the luxury of leaving these resources in the ground,' the El Espectador newspaper writes, in what sounds like a quote from an oil executive.

Unfortunately, the cost of pumping out these resources, in lost biodiversity and natural areas, and particularly in destruction from climate change, may far outweigh its oil income. But nobody appears to be considering that side of the balance sheet.

Colombia can't stop climate change on its own - and it may in fact be way too late to stop it at all. But once it really gets going, Colombia will have nobody to blame but itself.

And many of the non-conventional resource blocks overlap indigenous territories.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Split Mind on Smoking

'You could lose your baby by smoking.'
Colombia is renewing its graphic cigarette warnings, which is a good thing, and likely not to the liking of the smoking industry.
'The smoke you produce is fatal for everybody.'
'Are you willing to die this way?'
The existing warnings are also pretty dramatic, but replacing them's a good thing so that the public doesn't become jaded.

Today's warnings: 'Smoking causes impotence, addiction, cardiovascular sicknesses, etc.'
But why doesn't Colombia (or Bogotá) do the other thing which would reduce smoking - particularly by kids: Crack down on loosie sales? Such sales are illegal, but the law is a dead letter.

A man lights a loosie boiught from a street vendor.
The street vendors sell cigarettes alongside chips, candies and other kids' treats.
Cartoon cigarette lighters, obviously designed to appeal to kids.
Cigarette companies are prohibited from advertising - but they do so, anyway, by calling their ads 'display cases.'

The lighted case on the street vendor's stand shows off cigarettes.

Not very subtle: The huge case shows off Camel cigarettes, notorious for marketing to youth, which have just come to Colombia. So, celebrate!
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Sugar Conspiracy

There's no escaping: Selling junk food on La Septima.
We spend lots of time looking for supposed conspiracies: The Freemasons; The Bilderburg group; the Bush family and 9-11, the Kennedy assassination; the shooting of Colombian politician Jorge Eliecer Gaitán, and on an on.

But they all lack a key ingredient: Evidence.

Yet, the opposite is true of one deadly conspiracy staring us in the face: Big sugar.

It's bad when millions of people get addicted to a substance which can wreck their health. It's even
Junk food and sedentarianism
mean more obesity.
worse when that substance's producers have so much economic and political power that they fight for their right to push it on us.

Sugar's been in the news recently: A recent study found that more than half of Colombians are either overweight or obese - a result of consuming more and more sugary and other junk foods, as well as an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. And research increasingly points to it causing illnesses including diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.

The sugar epidemic cuts short countless lives every year. But even tho sugar harms many more people than do heroin, cocaine or even alcohol, it's advertised constantly and the government does almost nothing about that. Why is that?

Perhaps that's because Big Sugar has so much economic and political power.

Soft drink ads outside a
store in Bogotá.
Yet, paradoxically, in the last couple of years the percent of children suffering acute malnutrition shot up from 0.9% to 2.3%. That could be because children as switching from a traditional diet high in fruits and vegetables to a diet high in processed, sugary foods. The malnutrition was particularly high among indigenous children, whose bodies are not prepared for the sweet, processed food diet they adopt when they come into contact with Western culture.

Soft drink workers protest a proposed tax.
When several Colombian NGOs recently tried to educate consumers about sugar's damages, and a sugar tax was proposed, sugar producers fought back, as detailed in the New York Times. After the Educar Consumidores foundation prepared a television ad linking sugary drinks to obesity and diabetes, soda maker Postobon sued and got the ad removed from television, because it was supposedly 'scientifically imprecise' - and even got a judge to prohibit Educar officials from speaking publicly about the link between sugar and diabetes, according to the Times.  I wonder whether media ever asked soft drink companies to prove their ads' messages that sugary drinks will make you happy and popular, or tobacco makers' messages that smoking would make you sexy. (The Constitutional Court later reversed the judge's ruling.)

A lonely sight: An anti-sugar billboard.
Ironically, it was the Superintendency of Industry and Commerce, supposedly a consumer-protection agency, which got the health ad banned.

Educar's director was also hit with criminal charges for a humorous blog post about sugar, and the
organization's staff reported harrasment, including computer and cellphone problems they suspected were caused by spyware. None of the problems were proven to be linked to the sugary food makers, who deny any wrongdoing.

But what Big Sugar unquestionably did do was flood Colombia's Congress with nearly 100 lobbyists to fight against a proposed sugar tax, an unprecedented political onslaught.

Meanwhile, reports Semana magazine, another NGO, Red Papaz, created a series of ads criticizing
Obesity in Colombian children
has increased in recent years,
and children get fatter
as they get older.
advertising directed at children and urging parents to consider the health impacts of sugary foods. The ads were rejected by some media companies, which claimed that they lacked scientific evidence. (Again, it would be interesting to see how much evidence they seek when companies claim that their car or clothing or deoderant will make you sexy, beautiful or a great athlete.)

"The private stations won't show our commercial," the director of Red Papaz said. "We understand that this is obviously due to industry interests."

The sugar industry doesn't lack influence in media or government. The same conglomerate which owns Postobón also owns RCN Television and radio, and an industry lawyer once headed the nation's consumer protection agency.

Despite its huge size and influence, the sugar industry tries to make us believe that it's the defender of the little guy, such as the corner shopkeeper, who makes part of his income by selling candy, sugary drinks and other vices, such as cigarettes. However, it's a deceptive argument. If Colombians were persuaded to stop paying money to sicken themselves, they'd still spend that money - but maybe on better things, such as clothing, soccer balls and schoolbooks, not to mention fruits and vegetables.

My advice to Big Sugar is not to worry. Fast foods and junk foods and their advertising are so prevalent that we can't escape. And Red Papaz's campaign is sadly insignificant and poorly designed.

I happened to spot a Red Papaz ad link on The New York Times' website. How many Colombians,
Big cola, big calories.
particularly overweight Colombian children, read the Times? I also spotted one anti-sugar billboard high above Calle 26. In contrast, nearly every store features posters pushing candy and soft drinks, along crowded Carrera Septima, young people wearing billboards hand out flyers for McDonald's treats, and seemingly every corner in Bogotá hosts a street vendor hawking candies and cigarettes.

With saturation advertising like that, health education doesn't stand a chance.

The New York Times just published a big report about the North America Free Trade Agreement's destructive inflluence on Mexicans' health. Prominent in that is the Oxxo junk food store chain, a leading purveyor of sugary, salty and highly processed foods (not to mention alcohol) in Mexico, and which is proliferating fast in Colombia. There are already about a half-dozen Oxxos just in La Candelaria.

Afterthought: All of this is actually an argument in favor of prohibitionism. Prohibitionism hasn't stopped the consumption of drugs, sex or alcohol - but it does at least clamp down on the advertising of such 'vices.'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Night of the Little Candles

Tonight was the annual Noche de las Velitas (the Night of the Little Candles) in La Candelaria, the symbolic beginning of the Christmas season.

The beginning of the consumer Christmas season, of course, started more than a month ago.

A bit surprisingly, this sweet and innocent tradition has a sinister past involving close mindedness and violence. In 1854, Pope Pius IX issued an Encyclical declaring that the Virgin Mary was "immaculate," or untouched by original sin.

Pius's supporters celebrated his decree with a candle-light march, beginning the 'little candles' tradition.

All this says a lot, of course, about what the Catholic Church values in women, and its hostility to a fundamental biological function. But Pius went further. To ensure that no future Pope - or anybody else - would ever call into question Mary's immaculatedness, Pius ordered that anybody who expressed doubt about Mary's immaculatedness be prohibited from speaking, and that all literature doing that be banned. To doubly ensure the certainty of his theology, Pius also ordered that anybody who persisted in questioning the immaculatedness, receive multiple "mortal blows," reports Semana magazine.

Isn't it a lucky thing that religious institutions are no longer in charge of most educational and research institutions?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Dangerous Art in Egipto

Three Kings, a symbol of Egipto. By K-no. Delix, of Bogotá.
Ark, from Bogotá
Recently, Fundación Colectivo Atempo painted one of the Egipto neighborhood's narrow, winding streets as part of the La Re Pública Cultural Circuit, an annual cultural event. They had painted one house in the neighborhood, which prompted neighbors to ask them to decorate theirs as well.

The works make the neighborhood colorful and evocative. Unfortunately, however, they are out of bounds for most of us, both foreigners and Colombians, because of the neighborhood's violent crime problem. Stories abound of foreigners wandering into Egipto to photograph the view and returning without cameras, money, even their clothing.

A few months ago, a foreigner walked up there and got stabbed and robbed, apparently by the same gang of drug addicts who hung around watching the grafiteros paint their street. The police don't appear to have done anything, as seems to be usually the case.

An old man, by Onírica, from Bogotá
When I went up to photograph the painters working (Bogotá Bike Tours paid for some of the supplies, as did Bogotá Graffiti Tour, which also helped coordinate the event) the local gang gathered around me, the only non-Colombian around, asking me to buy them beer and other goodies. If the grafiteros hadn't been present, no doubt the knives would have come out.

Colectivo Atempo (Bogotá) ft Raw (UK)

The hand of God, by Almiron, from Argentina.

A face, by Feck, from Mexico.

By DJ LU, from Bogotá

Colectivo Atempo (Bogotá) and ft. Raw (UK)

La Wife, from Argentina, with the local gang nearby.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Beginning of the End for Coffee?

Production in peril. Coffee may be on the way out.
Is this the beginning of the end of Colombian coffee? That's the suggestion of the Australia-based Climate Institute, which reports that Colombian coffee production will suffer greviously 2050, while the world's wild coffee could be extinct by 2080.

Sacks of Colombian coffee ready to be shipped. 
The Climate Institute is undoubtedly correct that the planet is warming and that will cause devastation in crops around the world, particularly in tropical regions such as Colombia - where coffee now grows best.

Coffee won't end, however. Researchers will develop new varieties, new growing techniques and plant the crop in new regions further north and south. In fact, they're alread planting coffee in southern California.

But those measures won't prevent huge dislocations: What will happen to the millions of small farmers and others who depend on coffee now? They will not be able to migrate to any new coffee-growing regions, because other people already live there. Moving uphill to cooler climes won't solve their problems, either, since mountains shrink towards their peaks. And, as coffee shifts to the north and south, that will mean huge environmental impacts as land is deforested for new plantations.

All these changes will mean a more expensive mug of Starbucks. But that will be the least of our
Colombian coffee employs more than a half-million families,
or 2.7 million people.
problems. Because, if a warming climate alters coffee cultivation, it will also change farming of other more critical food crops. And that could mean famine, migrations, epidemics and other human and natural catastrophes.

Coffee alone supports more than two million people in Colombia, and tens of millions across the globe.

The Climate Institute's advice to drinkers is to purchase carbon neutral or sustainably grown coffee. But that doesn't address the climate change gases generated by coffee's shipment across the world from tropical to wealthy nations. And the coffee economy's impact is only a drop in the barrel compared to the global economy's climate change change gases.

All of which means that to save coffee - as well as many other crops and innumerable wild species - we'll have to fundamentally change the world's economy - fast - and that's not likely to happen in time.

Colombia will suffer badly from global warming. The country is already losing its glaciers, and the city of Cartagena may be transformed into an island, among many other impacts. But none of that has slowed Colombia's own enthusiastic contribution to climate change: Colombians are buying cars and traveling by airplane at a frenzied pace; gasoline and other fuels receive huge subsidies; deforestation is charging along; and the government aims to pull all the oil, gas and coal it can out of the ground.

Colombia is a victim, but also perpetrator of its own suffering.
The climate institute predicts dire consequences for Colombia from global warming.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, December 4, 2017

When is a Massacre Not a Massacre?

A newspaper announces deaths and injuries in labor conflicts
in the banana region. (Photo: Radio Nacional)
The 1928 massacre of workers of the United Fruit Company was one of the signal events in Colombian history, retold in song, painting and in Gabriel García Marquéz's most famous novel, and the event which launched politician Jorge Eliecer Gaitán to fame - and tragedy.

However, bizzarely, nobody's sure exactly what happened in Ciénaga, Magdalena on that 5 and 6 of
Banana workers of the era.
December 1928.

The event burst into the news recently when conservative Senator María Fernanda Cabal claimed that it was the workers who attacked the soldiers that day.

"The confrontation did happen," she said on W Radio. "But what turned into a myth is the idea that the massacre was committed by the Army against unarmed workers. That's a lie: The workers were armed by the International Socialists, and they attacked by security forces."

"During that massacre, more soldiers than workers died," she added to the El Espectador newspaper.

That's exactly the reverse of the story I have learned, in which the striking banana workers had gathered in the town's plaza. Unbeknownst to them, the army had machine guns set up on the plaza's corners, from which they poured a murderous fire upon the strikers.

February 1929 letter by the U.S.
ambassador citing a fruit company
 executive's statement that
1,000 banana workers were
killed by soldiers.
Cabal's comments were met with an avalanche of ridicule and criticism, including a statement by 76 political science graduates from the University of Los Andes, of which she is an alumni.

The statement said that Cabal "discredits the profession" and "offends not only the dignity of the victims, but also the nation's historical memory."

Cabal is correct that the events of that day are unclear - but her accusations against the workers - based on a vision of great communist conspiracy - appear groundless.

Cabal first aims her criticism at novelist Marquéz, who made the masssacre a key event in 'One Hundred Years of Solitude,' the novel which earned him the Nobel Prize.

In that novel, the soldiers kill 3,000 workers. But Marquéz was always clear that he had written fiction, and exaggerated the number of dead to fit the dramatic proportions of his novel. He said that before writing he had first researched the event, but could not determine how many died.

"To say that all of that (drama) took place for just 3, 7 or 17 deaths...So I decided that they were 3,000 deaths, because was what was required for the proportions of the book I was writing," he said later.

But fiction became fact. The 3,000-deaths number was even repeated in Colombia's Congress - to Marquézes' objections.

In support of her argument, Senator Cabal also cited a book by Eduardo Mackenzie called 'Las FARC, Fracaso de un Terrorismo.' However, the pages which Cabal posted on Facebook argued only that no thorough investigation of the events was done, but did not support her argument that the workers massacred soldiers.

Perhaps the most concrete number came from the U.S. ambassador in Colombia, who sent a telegram to the U.S. State Department saying that a United Fruit Company official had told him that 1,000 workers were killed in the massacre. It's a suspiciously round number, but it doesn't seem likely that the either the company or the embassy would exaggerate the number of dead when they themselves were implicated in the killings.

We'll never be certain exactly what happened in Cienaga on that warm day in 1928. However, it is undisputed that the banana workers were badly exploited, at least by today's standards, by the fruit company. For example, they had to work Sundays, did not receive compensation for injuries, were paid not with tokens instead of money, and could only spend the tokens at the company's high-priced stores. And, with low banana prices, conditions had worsened, triggering the strike.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, December 1, 2017

Sexual Violence as a Weapon in Colombia's Conflict

Sexual abuses have been in the news not only because of the endless parade of headline-making sex crimes, often targeting children, but also because of revelations of wholesale sexual attacks being used as a weapon of war by Colombia's various armed groups. 

A recent report by the Centro de Memoria titled 'The War Written on the Body' counted more than 15,000 sexual attacks amidst Colombia's armed conflict, committed by armed groups of all types, including the official military. That number, of course was surely a huge undercount, since most such crimes are never reported.

The report included testimonies by women and girls recounting attacks by armed groups, often as punishment for supposed disobedience. One woman, for example, had helped her children escape from being recruited as FARC fighters, for which misdeed the guerrillas gang raped her. Other women were targeted with attacks as warnings to or punishment against their husbands, for example for not paying protection money to the armed groups. 

One FARC leader, Raul Reyes, who was killed in 2008 by a Colombian military bombing of his camp in Ecuador, kept an escort of female guerrillas, some as young as 10 or 11, whom he sexually abused.

A graph shows numbers of reported cases of sexual abuse
related to Colombia's armed conflict. Cases
peaked in 2002 and 2014.
A young girl recruited by the guerrillas described in the Centro Memoria's report how the guerrillas arranged newly arrived girls up in two rows: the virgins on one side, the rest on the other. The virgins were given to the guerrilla commanders for their recreation, while lower-echelon guerrillas had to make do with the others.

Female guerrillas who became pregnant were usually forced to have abortions or had their newborns taken from them.

A conservative politician calls for
life sentences for child abusers.
Sex crimes are also in the news because some conservative politicians are advocating for capital punishment or life in prison for child rapists. That has many asking why the demobilized guerrillas - many of whom committed sex crimes, as well as murder, kidnapping and forced displacement - should get off with little more than a symbolic punishment, and even be allowed to hold political office.

And I also wonder why the wave of accusations (almost all of them certainly true) of sexual misbehavior against prominent men in the U.S. has not spread to other places, particularly Latin America. After all, in a nation like Colombia where many men feel entitled to make sexual comments to women on the street, and where machismo culture is strong, is it credible that much worse things don't happen in the privacy of offices and studios?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours