Thursday, March 29, 2018

Fish Frenzy at Paloquemao

Hawking hanging fish in Paloquemao.
With Easter Week comes Lent, when millions of practicing Catholics give up meat for fish. That means packed fish markets, especially Paloquemao today which we visited during a bike tour.

Sliced bagre.

Dried, salted fish.

The demand was so great that they set up tents outside the market.

The fruit section was packed, too.

But the red meat section...abandoned.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

The Real Scandals Behind the Oil Spill

Spilled out from Ecopetrol's Lizama 158 well poisons a nearby stream. (Photo: Vanguardia Liberal)
An abandoned oil well pouring out petroleum since the beginning of this month has generated angry headlines about animals killed, fishermen out of work and residents sickened. But the real scandal may be state oil company EcoPetrol's alleged irresponsible handling of its exhausted wells.

The Lizama 158 oil well in Santander Department has been pouring out oil, much of it into a nearby river, since the start of March. At least 550 barrels of oil - according to the company - and perhaps as many as 23,000 barrels - according to the National Environmental Licensing Agency (ANLA) - have spilled out.

Ecopetrol has speculated that a nearby tectonic shift could have triggered the leak. But whatever the immediate cause of this spill, the press scrutiny has exposed a much larger scandal. According to multiple Controlaria reports, Ecopetrol frequently failed to seal exhausted oil wells, leaving the wells a threat to pour petroleum onto their surroundings.

How many times will this disaster be repeated? How many Ecopetrol wells are leaking away into the jungle?

The accompanying scandal here is the, despite the repeated Controlaria reports, apparently no government enforcement entity bothered to force Ecopetrol to obey the law.

How many other environmental regulations are being ignored, setting the scene for future disasters?

It's worth pointing out, too, that even when it's not spilled into the jungle, oil is an environmental disaster all along its life cycle: Even the cleanest oil wells often require road and pipeline construction, opening the wilderness to farmers and deforestation.

And the oil that is processed 'correctly' will ultimately be burned, polluting the air and contributing to global warming.

The best solution for the environment is not to finally seal well Lizama 158, but to end our addiction to oil.

Meanwhile, yesterday El Espectador printed this impactful article about Colombia's worst environmental disasters. As the paper points out, the leaking oil well is a minor disaster compared to Colombia's terrible deforestation rate, the innumerable rivers destroyed by illegal mining, and the Ciénaga Grande, a wetland on the Caribbean coast, is being steadily killed by roads, dikes and canals.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, March 26, 2018

A Face-Off Over Abortion in Teusaquillo

Cyclists besides the pro-choice demonstration in Teusaquillo.
During a bike tour the other day, we came upon this face-off over abortion beside the Santa Ana Church in Teusaquillo. Bizarrely and uncomfortably, the Catholic church is surrounded by women's health clinics which are notorious for offering abortions.

Abortion is prohibited in Colombia except in cases of rape, incest, when the woman's life is in danger or when the fetus has a severe abnormality.

In recent days, an organization called '40 Days for Life' has been holding an anti-abortion vigil beside the church. On this day, pro-choice activists held their own demonstration across the street.

Handing out flyers.
An active civil society is a sign of a healthy society. But the influence of religion in a supposedly secular nation makes me worry a bit.

A little guitar music always contributes to a protest.
The anti-abortion protest beside the Santa Ana Church.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Vote for Petro is a Vote for...Duque?

That's the thesis of Daniel Coronell, veteran columnist of Semana magazine, executive of Univision and perpetual critic of ex-Pres. Alvaro Uribe, who happens to be the political patron of right-wing presidential candidate Ivan Duque.

Daniel Coronell and Gustavo Petro (inset).
As Coronell sees things, many politically moderate and conservative Colombians are terrified that if leftist Gustavo Petro is elected president he'll turn Colombia into another Venezuela. Their fears might not be completely unfounded. Altho Petro was a respected congressman and as Bogotá mayor he did nothing more radical than causing a crisis by foolishly handing over the city's garbage service to the water company, during the 1980s he was a leader of the M-19 guerrilla group. His guerrilla past might be excused as youthful idealism if not for the fact that Petro has repeatedly refused to criticize the government of Venezuela, which has run that nation's economy into the ground, trampled civil liberties, become increasingly authoritarian and generally transformed what should be the region's wealthiest nation into a disaster area.

More than a million Venezuelan refugees have fled into Colombia, so Petro can hardly plead ignorance about the scale of the humanitarian disaster there. Petro's silence about Venezuela probably isn't due to political interests, since Colombians' rejection of the Venezuelan government seems to be overwhelming. So that makes one wonder whether Petro, if he's elected, hopes to make deals with the Venezuelan regime - and that is a scary thought.

All of which might make more and more centrist Colombians support Duque just to stop Petro. (On the other hand, of course, a vote for Duque could also be called a vote for Petro.)

Coronell's comments didn't sit well with either the left or the right. Uribe warned him to watch out, as president Duque would review media licenses. Uribe's comments were immediately condemned as a threat to freedom of the media, which Uribe denied.

Duque also scares many people, who see him as the political puppet of Uribe, who selected him to be the Centro Democratico party's standard bearer. As president from 2002 to 2010, Uribe beat back the FARC guerrillas, but at a tremendous cost in human rights. And Uribe displayed a paranoia about the media, human rights defenders and his political opponents, whom he often saw as guerrilla sympathizers.

If recent polls are any guide, Duque has a lock on making into the second round of presidential
Ivan Duque, Colombia's next president?
voting, where he'll be the overwhelming favorite to defeat petro or any other candidate who runs against him. The best prospect to stop Duque might be for the centrist presidential candidates to ally themselves and attract some voters from both extremes - but that looks like a longshot.

But, even in the case of a Duque victory, Colombia's many Uribe haters can hold on to hope. After all, years before Uribe selected Duque to carry on his policies, he selected his defense minister Juan Manuel Santos to do the same thing. Santos was elected president, and still holds the office. But in addition to fighting the FARC guerrillas, Santos entered into peace negotiations with them, infuriating Uribe, who became Santos' political enemy. A similar things happened in Ecuador.

The same might yet happen with Duque. God bless term limits!

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Street Repair Scam

Hard at work - apparently - filling in a pothole in Bogotá's Samper Mendoza neighborhood.
Perhaps you've seen one of these guys, toiling selflessly and interminably filling in potholes for the common good.
Here comes a car!

Unfortunately, what you saw was probably a scam. The guy was likely only pretending to work, to squeeze donations from sympathetic motorists.

I've also seen these guys at 'work' sweeping pedestrian bridges. One time, I walked past one of these public-minded individuals sweeping away on a pedestrian overpass. On my way home hours later I passed him again, standing in the same place, sweeping the exact same spot.

It's a bit sad to think of the good people handing over money, even if it's just a bit, to these scammers. But perhaps the good feeling the donor gets is worth more than the pesos.

And if the city wants to shut down these scams, I'll suggest a simple method: Actually maintain the streets and pedestrian ways.

'How about donating a couple thousand pesos, man?'

Check out also the spilled food trick.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

The Danger of Daily Life

The fallen Claro sign on the sidewalk.
I was pedaling into the Las Nieves neighborhood this afternoon when I heard a loud noise and people yelling. The sign above the Claro customer services office had broken loose and fallen onto the sidewalk. At least one man was injured and lay on the sidewalk awaiting an ambulance.
A junior policeman attends to a victim.
Sure, today was a bit windy. But bolting or screwing a metal sign securely to a building's side doesn't seem too difficult. Is this the fault of a lazy, corrupt or incompetent contractor, perhaps combined with a lazy, corrupt or incompetent building inspector? Or both?

Whatever the case, I hope that Claro - which belongs to Carlos Slim, one of the world's richest men - has to open its wallet to the poor guy the sign fell on.

The building before the fall.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Cheating Children of their Green Space

'We need green areas to breathe!'
'We want more recreation.' 'We want to breathe.'
 Recently, schoolchildren marched thru the gritty Santa Fe neighborhood calling for more green areas and recreational spaces - which are in short supply in the poor, industrial area. The neighborhood also has some of Bogotá's poorest air quality.

Yet, ironically - and infuriatingly - just a few blocks away there ARE large green spaces - which are -incomprehensibly - fenced off from the neighbors' use.

A fenced off green space along Calle 26,
across from the INPEC.
When the city built the TransMilenio line along Calle 26 to the airport in 2011, for no apparent reason they demolished houses and businesses long both sides of the avenue. Since then, the land has sat empty and unused, fenced off with barbed wire and with dogs and guards to keep out anybody who dares to walk their dog or play ball on the grass.

When tourists ask me why this is, I just shake my shoulders and confess that city bureacrats, who are obviously much more intelligent than I am, must have very good reasons to spend our tax money  to deny Bogotanos access to public green space.

Jaime Garzon, the martyred comedian, scowls down at the off-limits green area.
Don't dare walk your dog in this green area along 26th Street.
Don't you dare walk on the grass!
No approaching this mural.

A grassy area, once part of the Central Cemetery, could be turned into a large park, rather than fenced off.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Dillema of Memory

Tourists in front of the Edificio Monaco. (Photo: El Tiempo)
If Medellin Mayor Federico Gutiérrez follows thru with plans to demolish drug king Pablo Escobar's old apartment building, he'll have eliminated a symbol of Medellin's times of terror - but also a warning about what should not be repeated.

The Edificio Monaco, an uninteresting white block in Medellin's exclusive El Poblado neighborhood,
U.S. rapper Whalid Kalifa stands in
front of the Edificio Monaco.
came to represent Escobar's power over the city - and to be the target of attacks by Escobar's enemies, who bombed it in 1988 with 80 kilos of dynamite. (Escobar was not at home at the time.) Today, it stands abandoned.

Like Escobar's tomb, his Napoles estate and his old mansion, the Monaco building is now a stop on the city's Escobar tours - an uncomfortable situation for Medellin's leaders, who fear the narcos are being glamorized, and would like to have the city's terrible past forgotten and replaced with a brilliant future.

But the authorities are waging a futile fight against human nature. Sadly, crime, violence and depravity sell big. Few of the people on our tours have heard of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who won the Nobel Prize for literature by writing beatifully about Colombia. But virtually everybody's heard of Escobar, who unleashed terror on Colombia and beyond. And that won't change.
The Justice Palace in Bogotá, where the
M19 guerrillas, financed by Escobar, attacked in 1985.
All across the world, blood, guts, crime and violence sells. Visit Transylvania, and they'll offer you a vampire tour; In Chicago, they'll tell you about Al Capone; In London, the Tower; In the Caribbean, pirates; And in Berlin, the Nazis.

A tall stone wall surrounds the one-time estate of
'El Mexicano', an associate of Escobar. The north Bogotá
property was just purchased by the Chinese Embassy.
And Colombia simply cannot eliminate the reminders of the narco violence. Not as long as it has a Justice Palace where the Escobar-financed M19 guerrillas attacked in 1985. Or cemeteries, which hold the remains of Escobar and his many victims.

The best that Medellin's leaders can hope for is that Escobar and his ilk are seen as the criminals they were, instead of some sorts of glamorized action figures, or comic book anti-heroes, as has happened to the pirates and Genghis Khan.

In that sense, the mayor's proposal to raze the Monaco building and replace it with a memorial for Escobar's victims makes a lot of sense.

Understandably, Medellin authorities protested several months ago when American rapper Wiz Khalifa placed flowers on Escobar's tomb and posted the photos on the Internet. And they protested again when Medellin city employees posed for photos with 'Popeye', one of Escobar's assassins, who was released from prison about a year ago.

Plaques commemorate the 'Holocaust of the Justice Palace,'
in which more than 100 people were killed.
Colombian authorities also need to remember the saying about those who forget history being condemned to repeat it. And that seems to be happening already. Colombia's coca leaf and cocaine production have boomed in recent years, perhaps to levels surpassing the Escobar years. Thankfully for Colombia, the drug boom has not brought back the violence of the '80s and '90s. But, as long as drugs are illegal, meaning that violent outlaw groups earn millions by trafficking them, the threat of wholesale violence will remain.
A memorial in the spot where politician
Jorge Eliecer Gaitán was assassinated in 1948,
triggering the Bogotazo riots.

The best lesson we can learn from the stories of Pablo Escobar and Al Capone and others who became wealthy and violent by trafficking illegal substances is that as long as drugs are outlawed, violent outlaws will get rich trafficking them.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

The IberoAmerican Theatre Festival's Inauguration Parade

The bi-annual (every two years) Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro is about to start, and they inaugurated it this afternoon with a colorful parade down Jimenez Avenue.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours