Thursday, November 1, 2018

Bad Times for Brazil

Brazil's Bolsonaro celebrates - but should Brazilians be celebrating?
One of the planet's largest, most multiethnic democracies will be governed by a racist, homophobic, misogynist with an admiration for dictators...and it's not the United States.

It's mind-boggling that a man who insults black and indigenous people could be elected president of a nation with a black and indigenous majority. But it's no more crazy than that a man who disparages women could be elected by a nation with a female majority.

Both of these things - as well as newly-elected Brazilian Pres. Jair Bolsonaro's endorsements of dictatorship and mass executions - should disqualify him from being president of anything but a neo-Nazi encampment in northwest Idaho.

Bolsonaro's presidency - part of an authoritarian wave across Latin America - will test Brazil's young and feeble democracy, already under huge strain because one former president is in prison for corruption and many other politicians are also under suspicion.

Brazil is far from the only nation in the region slipping into authoritarianism, or in danger of it. Venezuela and Nicaragua are ruled by self-described socialists who are really just authoritarians with plans for becoming presidents for life. Bolivia's Evo Morales appears to want to do the same thing. Many observers believe that Mexico's newly elected president, a leftist populist known as Amlo, believes more in himself than in democratic institutions. And Amlo will also enjoy majority support in Congress, giving him vast powers to reshape Mexico's institutions.

But if Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega is brutal and Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro is incompetent and brutal, both have at least preserved the forms of democracy in their nations. Bolsonaro, judging by his admiration for dictatorship, doesn't appear likely to do the same if he manages to consolidate power in Brazil.

Just a few decades ago, Latin America was emerging from a dark period of military strongmen into democracy. Today, many nations are electing authoritarians. Latin American democracy may have no more than a brief, passing phase.

Bolsonaro's victory is a massive tragedy for the environment, in a nation which is steward for most of the Amazon rainforest. And it will be a long-term tragedy for human rights and many young lives if Bolsonaro follows thru with his crackdown against criminals and popularizes gun ownership - a policy which has multiplied the U.S.'s homicide rate.

Perhaps Latin America's democracies suffered from a fatal error at birth by adopting presidential rather than parliamentary systems. In parliamentary systems the leader, or prime minister, must work his way up through the ranks, making compromises along the way. That process might produce predominantly mediocre, middling sorts of personalities. But, at least, the populists and extremists usually get filtered out.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Seventh Avenue's Suspended Works


Pedestrians walk around a pit on a stretch of Carrera Septima sidewalk beside the San Francisco Church.
Nobody at work here!
Be cautious if you take a walk on Carrera Septima north of Jimenez Ave. these days. The stretch was supposed to be pedestrianized - but the company carrying out the project went bankrupt, and the city has not found anyone willing to continue with the work, which was supposed to have been completed years ago.

Not only pedestrians and cyclists, but also the avenue's many merchants are complaining about the situation, and bracing for a difficult Christmas season.

This is the same city, remember, which promises to complete a metro line on schedule and within the budget. L.O.L.


By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Rolling Chimney Hack


If one day soon you see one of those ubiquous 'rolling chimneys' - buses, trucks or cars which belch out greasy smoke every time they move - sporting a sticker proudly announcing that it is a 'chimenea,' it's probably not because the driver is proud that he's poisoning us.

More likely, the vehicle is a victim of this blog's hacking campaign, which turns highly polluting vehicles into involuntary rolling billboards denouncing pollution.

A typical Bogotá Sitp bus on Carrera 10 this afternoon. 
An improved bus.
Did you notice it?
'I am a chimney'
Another rolling chimney on Carrera 10 today.
Now, helpfully labeled.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, October 19, 2018

Making Bogotá a Walkable City?


Pedestrians walk down the Eje Ambiental in La Candelaria.
This week, Bogotá hosted a conference, called Walk 21, of city planning experts keen on creating more walkable cities. The hope is to make walkng safe and pleasant, and make public spaces areas where a great variety of people mix.
La Salle University students paint a pedestrian area on Calle 11 in La Candelaria.
 Truly promoting walking will mean reducing crime and harrasment of women, as well as making one of the alternatives - driving polluting vehicles - less convenient and more expensive. In other words, a London-style congesting charge, which Bogotá officials have repeatedly talked about, but never implemented.



The conference was held in the Jorge Eliecer Gaitán theatre on Carrera Septima.


However, Bogotá's chronic traffic jams, like this one in La Candelaria,
can make walking unpleasant and even dangerous.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Latin American Democracy in Retreat

Authoritarian Venezuelan
Pres. Nicolas Maduro.
In the mid-2000s, Colombia's popular and hard-right Pres. Alvaro Uribe wanted to run for a third consecutive term. But the Constitutional Court ruled against the idea, saving Colombia's fragile democratic system from falling into the grip of a strongman. Uribe instead selected his defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, to run as his succesor. Santos won - but rebelled against his mentor, creating a sort of alternation of powers.

Similarly, in Ecuador Pres. Rafael Correa tried to maintain power by selecting his own succesor. But that man, Lenin Moreno, also rebelled against his mentor, saving Ecuador's instituations from becoming puppets of a strongman.

But Argentina did appear to be falling victim to a personality cult under the corrupt Kirchner dynasty - until Argentineans finally voted against them and elected Pres. Mauricio Macri, who is trying to clean up the Kirchners' mess.

Nicaragua's authoritarian president-for-life Daniel Ortega
and his wife, who is also his vice president.
Other Latin nations, however, have been less fortunate. In Bolivia, Nicaragua and, most notoriously, Venezuela, leftist leaders are turning themselves into presidents for life, sometimes with disastrous results in corruption, human welfare and the economy.

Now, some fear that Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, a
leftist populist admirer of Cuba's ex-dictator Fidel Castro who will have few checks on his power and who appears to believe more in himself than in democratic institutions, will weaken Mexican democracy, which has just suffered through a presidential term marred by flagrant corruption and is under strain from chronic drug violence.

Jair Bolsanero, potential
dictator of Brazil?
But now the greatest threats to Latin democracy are coming from Washington D.C., where a leader
 who patently does not believe in democracy is setting a deplorable example for nations which once looked to the U.S. for democratic guidance, and Brazil, which is about to elect a racist, homophobic misogenist and unapologetic admirer of military dictatorship, as president.

Brazil's importance can hardly be exaggerated. It is the largest nation in Latin America and the world's fourth-largest democracy. It is also the protector - if it can be called that - of the Amazon, one of the planet's treasures of biodiversity and storehouse of carbon dioxide. And if virtual Brazilian Pres. Jair Bolsonaro is even more extreme than Trump, Brazil's institutions are much weaker.

It's all enough to make one wonder whether Latin America (and even the planet's) brief experiment with liberal democracy was only that, and experiment, which is failing.








By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Students March


'Colombia on a war footing for education with dignity and liberty.'
Today, thousands of students - mostly from public universities - marched for more funding for public education.
A pair of indigenous women.


Racing down Carrera Septima.

Run, run, run!

'Education equals peace'.


'There are no virgins in this march, because the government screws us every day.'

'More money for education, less for the war.'

The communist flag, of course.

'Education is a right, not a privilege.'

Don't miss a photograph.


Sena students accuse their managers of corruption.


Encapuchados, the 'hooded ones.'



Che Guevara, naturally.






Indigenous activists block Carrera Septima.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Short People at a Tall Man's Game


Colombia is futbol country. Across Bogotá, the football pitches are usually crowded, while the few basketball courts often sit empty - except when they're being used to play football.

There are a few exceptions, such as the Parque Nacional, Parque La Florida and El Salitre on Sundays. And, on my way home this evening; I passed thru Tercer Milenio Park and came upon this scene:



On Sundays, Tercer Milenio seems to be transformed into Ecuadorean territory, probably because
many Ecuadorean immigrants live in the poor neighborhoods around it. And it was moving and startling to see dozens of boys, girls, men and women playing basketball. Women played in long dresses. They played three games simultaeneously on the same court, banging into each other. They played badly and without rules - but very enthusiastically. This was the real spirit of sports, and something which millionares like Lebron James and Cristian Ronaldo could never equal.

Go figger: What cultural happenstance moves these uniformly short people, of Quechua indigenous ancestry, to play a tall North American man's game.

Whyever it is, I found it heartwarming, and for a little while it cleared away my despair about the state of our world.



By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Pigeon Prohibition?


A human pigeon perch.
Pigeons are also a problem. Some people hate them and call them flying rats. And their feces corrode statues and public monuments. Which is why the city government recently banned pigeon feeding in Plaza Bolivar.

But other people love pigeons: They like to feed pigeons, run through crowds of pigeons and watch them scatter, even to put corn on themselves and become human pigeon roosts.

A pigeon selfie.
That's why the city's anti-pigeon rules are futile. The other day, post-pigeon ban, the buying and selling of corn and pigeon feeding were going on as normal.

All of which makes me ask: If Colombia cannot enforce a prohibition on its main plaza, amidst its government buildings, then how can it ever expect to do so in remote rural areas?

The answer is that it cannot, which is why drug prohibition has failed and likely always will.
Pigeon corn for sale.


Fighting for food!


Pigeons' droppings corrode public monuments.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours