Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bullfighting: Fiesta Brava or Fiesta Cruel?

Anti-bullfighting protesters on Jimenez Ave.
Prospective bullfighters practicing in Bogotá's Plaza Santa Maria

Bullfighting dates from time immemorial and enacts something primordial about men (and sometimes women) risking their lives in confrontation with a savage beast. In modern times, when our biggest worries may be getting phished by e-mail, bullfighting seems like a savage holdover from another era. Or, maybe it's an important reminder of something real we're missing in today's safe and secured world. Or both.

Pepe Caceres, a bullfighter who was killed by a bull at age 53.

Today, bullfighting is practiced in only a few countries, and Colombia is one of those. Reportedly, it's the third-most active nation in Spanish-style bullfighting - in which the bull is almost always killed - after Spain and Mexico. (Following independence, some Latin American nations banned bullfighting because it represented the influence of the mother country). In Colombia, all major cities have bullfighting stadiums, as do many small towns. The sport - if it is a sport - has many aspects: tradition, skill, cruelty, injury, torture, killing, courage, pageantry. Bullfighting advocates speak reverently of the bulls, but that doesn't stop them from using the poor, confused animals as vehicles to show off the bullfighter's skills, which are almost always killed in the end. (Very occasionally, a bull considered to be very courageous is given an 'indulto' or 'forgiveness' and allowed to live.

Main entrance to the Plaza Santa Maria, with its dramatic moorish architecture.
As in other countries, in Colombia there are lots of protests against bullfighting, because of its cruelty and its celebration of violence. And, bullfighting is evidently in retreat: The legislature of Cataluña, Spain just banned bullfighting, although many observers say that was motivated more by separatist nationalism than concern about animals. In Colombia, a legal complaint recently called for the banning of bullfighting, cockfighting and other related practices. Colombia's legal prohibition against cruelty to animals includes exceptions for bullfighting and cockfighting, because they're traditional. But that doesn't make them any less cruel (and cockfighting is much worse than bullfighting, in which at least the people take risks.) The Constitutional Court will apparently rule in bullfighting's favor, but that won't change the fact that the practice's years are numbered.

On Aug. 29, the court ruled that bullfighting, cockfighting and other practices can continue - but should be phased out.

This blog written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

Chicken Hell, and Signs of the Times in Bogotá

You'll see some interesting signs on Bogotá's Streets!

This new fried chicken place appeared recently in the Santa Fe neighborhood, which is also the city's low-rent red light district, formally known as the zona de tolerancia, or tolerance zone.

The sign is certainly accurate enough for the poor chickens, altho the rooster on the sign doesn't appear too miserable.
An English institute: Learn English Easy - to Talk Good! (in Teusaqullo) .

In May, 2011 the institute realized that their sign was wrong - and erased the wrong word!
Hygiene signs in the Teusaquillo neighborhood.
Do not poop here! (In case you were wondering.)
No pissing either!
Driving instructions?
No way out? This sign saying 'Salida' (Exit) in a public park near Los Andes U. shows  that Colombia just might beat out the U.S. for the most absurd safety regulations. 
A sign in the Santa Fe neighborhood reminding passers by not to poop, pee, litter or sleep in the street. 
And the effective results. 

Blogged by Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Two-Century-Old Post-Mortem

Simón Bolívar on his deathbed.
Almost two centuries ago, did one South American revolutionary hero kill his rival?

And does it matter anymore?

Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez thinks so, and that's why he had Simon Bolivar's body dug up last week for a very post-post-post-post-mortem to determine how he died.

Simón Bolívar, a murder victim?
Establishment history has it that Bolivar died in 1830 from tuberculosis, in the Colombian city of Santa Marta on his way to Europe for treatment. Recently, a U.S. academic concluded that Bolivar might have been poisoned with arsenic - but that he most likely ingested the poison in the day's contaminated water or as a 'medicine.'

Santander, a killer?
Bolivar's great ally and later rival was Fransisco de Paula Santander, born in Cucuta, Colombia. The two fought side-by-side, but in later life developed great animosities. Bolivar warned against United States influence, while Santander signed free trade agreements with the U.S. Santander was also a man of law, whereas at the end of his life Bolívar wanted to establish a sort of monarchy in the 'Gran Colombia,' in which rulers for life would designate their succesors. Santander rebelled against that idea. The tale does have shades of Brutus and Caesar.

And the history holds surprising parallels to current political tensions between leftist, anti-U.S. Venezuela and conservative, pro-U.S. Colombia. Bolivar was born in present-day Caracas, Venezuela and died in today's Colombia. Santander was born and died in Colombia. Bolivar also warned against the U.S.'s influence, while Santander embraced relations with the giant to the north. In recent years, the Venezuelan and Colombian governments have taken similar attitudes.

But there is precious little evidence that Bolívar was murdered, much less by Santander, who went on to become president of Colombia after it separated from present-day Venezuela and Ecuador. And, even if Venezuelan scientists were able to show that Bolívar was murdered, how much difference would it make almost two centuries later? Venezuela has an astronomical murder rate, a shrinking economy and lots of other problems. Doesn't Pres. Chavez have more important things to focus on?

If things to true to form in Venezuela, where a possible motive and being politically incorrect are sufficient for presumption of guilt, then Santander will be convicted en absentia.

This blog written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

Friday, July 23, 2010

Venezuela Breaks Relations (and what else is new?)

Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chávez has broken all relations with Colombia - just as we knew would happen.

Colombia had presented evidence in the Organization of American States that Colombian guerrillas have been camping out quite comfortably on Venezuelan soil. Of course, that was something we all knew anyway. While working as a journalist, border-area residents told me personally some years ago about this situation.

Colombia's evidence isn't bulletproof - but it certainly looks strong. Strong enough to justify investigation by Venezuela, rather than just an angry and self-righteous slamming of the door. For me, this episode has shades of the South Korea-North Korea dispute over the recent sinking of the South's naval vessel by the North. Here, too, you have a self-described leftist/revolutionary government using military measures against a democracy, if a troubled one. Venezuela's economy is shrinking, it's got the worst inflation in the region and people can't find basic foodstuffs in stores. Chávez's response has been to repress the independent media and look for enemies to rant and rage against: the 'Empire' (read: United States) and its supposed stand-in, Colombia.

In this case, Chávez made his self-righteous speech about dignity accompanied by the one-time drug addicted Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona, a man who tattooed communist revolutionary Che Guevara on his shoulder but still sucked his fortune up his nose. Maradona, a role model whose example has undoubtedly ruined the lives of countless kids who admired 'el crack' argentino and concluded that cocaine (and crack) were no obstacle to fame and stardom. (This isn't supposed to be a post about Maradona, but the guy's ego, hypocrisy and selfishness do say something about the morality of the crowd Chávez hangs with.)

What will happen now? Venezuela will investigate the claimed guerrilla sites after giving the guerrillas ample time to leave and then declare that the guerrillas were never there.

Once new Colombian Pres. Manuel Santos takes office, the two leaders will give each other a second chance. After all, neither country's economy can afford a permanent suspension of trade.

Written by Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bogota's Bicentennial Protests

Guambianos in San Victorino Plaza
A Chiva bus in San Victorino

Just in time for Colombia's Bicentennial celebration, thousands of indigenous people and peasants have invaded Bogotá, demanding social justice and support from the government.

Indigenous people comprise just a few percent of the country's population, but are among Colombia's poorest and those who suffer the most from the country's armed conflict.

The Guambianos, who live near the town of Sylvia in Cauca Department, filled San Victorino Plaza. Thousands more campesinos packed the Parque Nacional and marched down Seventh Ave. Their rhetoric denounced

Police watch protesting peasants in the National Park
Displaced people march down Seventh Ave. 

Blogged by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Independence Day on the Way!

On July 20, 1810 in La Casa del Florero (the House of the Flowerpot), located on the corner of Bogotá's Plaza Bolivar, a group of Colombians got into a dispute with a Spanish-born man over a flowerpot. When the Spaniard refused to lend the Colombians the flowerpot, the Colombians smashed it and ran into the street yelling in protest.

That incident is considered the beginning of the region's revolution against Spain, and Colombia will commemorate its bicentennial this Tuesday.

Expect lots of parades, concerts and fireworks, which will scare my dog. They're already getting ready, with concert structures filling the plaza, and concert platforms between the pillars of the Congress building.

All around the plaza lots of street vendors and performers are doing their thing. Also, a group of Afro-Colombians, who are among the poorest Colombians and those most impacted by the its outlaw guerrilla and paramilitary groups and narcotraffickers, are demanding more attention from the government.

Look here for a humorous take on the bicentennial, with a few digs at Argentina:

This blog written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

Friday, July 16, 2010

Colombia and Venezuela go at it!

Yesterday, the Colombian government accused Venezuela of tolerating FARC guerrilla camps in its territory. It's an old story, but still an important one. There's overwhelming evidence that Colombia's guerrillas operate on Venezuelan soil, and that Hugo Chavez's leftist government hasn't tried to do much to combat them - and has in fact sympathized with and supported them. On the other hand, the Venezuelans are correct that Colombia's internal conflict isn't their fault (at least to the extent that they don't support the guerrillas) and they have no obligation to be fighting Colombia's guerrillas.

Right now, both governments are trying to make political profit from the dispute: Colombia's Uribe wants to cement his reputation for holding a tough line against Chavez and the FARC guerrillas, while for the Venezuelans it's another opportunity to rally the faithful by denouncing Colombia as a puppet of el imperio (read: the United States).

None of which should distract from the reality that Venezuela should not be harboring or supporting and supporting guerrillas trying to overthrow Colombia's government, as it is evidently doing.

Blog written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Here comes the SITP!

While bogotanos were transfixed by a soccer tournament in South Africa, back home something very boring happened, but which might actually affect people's daily lives.

That was the beginning of the process to create a unified bus service system in Bogota, to be named the Integrated System of Public Transit, or SITP. In it, the private buses, Transmilenio and a planned metro would have a combined fare collection system, using an electronic fare card system, and bus lines would be reorganized to favor efficiency rather than individual profit. Some 8,000 older buses are also to be junked, ending the city's excess bus capacity.

It's glaringly obvious that Bogota needs to tame its thousands of private buses: they're old, polluting, sometimes dangerous, chaotic, loud...and add any more ugly adjectives you like. However, according to Ricardo Montezuma, head of Ciudad Humana, a progressive urban planning company, and ex-Bogota mayor Enrique Peñalosa, the SITP plans are deeply flawed. Several months ago, the city's private buses went on strike against the planned new system, forcing the city almost to a standstill. City Hall ended the strike by promising the private bus companies a bigger slice of the profits of the planned system.

Those additional costs, say Peñalosa and Montezuma, may come from the pocketbook of the city's poorest citizens. And, because the plan involves dividing the city into 13 regions and contracting the bus lines in each individually, the system may encourage short bus runs with lots of inconvenient transfers.
But, whatever the system's flaws, it's gotta be better than the current state of affairs, as this commentary argues. But let's hope that Bogotá learns from Santiago, Chile's disastrous introduction of a similar system.

Blog by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours and Rentals.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Colombian Coffee

Coffee is at record-high prices, which is good news for coffee growers, altho perhaps not for drinkers.

Colombia is only the world's fourth largest coffee producer. However, it is known for high-quality coffee - just ask the Colombians themselves.

Coffee once powered Colombia's economy, although it's since fallen to being the third most important export, after oil and coal. But it is certainly the most environmentally sustainable of the three.

Ironically, Colombians commonly drink a cheap type of coffee called 'tinto', sometimes made of beans imported from Brazil or even Vietnam. Most of Colombia's quality beans are exported to Europe and the U.S.

Colombia's coffee production has declined in recent years, due in part to climate change, which has raised temperatures and changed rainfall patterns. 

Cafe de la Fonda says it's Bogotá's oldest coffee producer and exports to Chile, Italy, France and Germany. The company also has an environmental ethic - it produces some organic coffee, and collects its smoke and ashes. The organic ashes are collected by local nuns to make paper and by flower growers for compost.

Esteban, of Cafe de la Fonda, creates art with coffee and milk!

An Indian head-dress
A fern.
Blogged by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours and Rentals

Peace Corps are Coming Back!

The Peace Corps is coming back to Colombia! After almost three decades of absence, it's just another sign of the nation's new stabilityand security and the increased international faith in Colombia.

Of course, security concerns weren't the only troubles the Peace Corps had here. There were also crazy rumors about them supposedly being part of a conspiracy to drive Colombians to extinction by promoting birth control. Hopefully, this time the volunteers will be met with good faith. In any case, I'm told that initially they'll only be teaching English, which is a less-sensitive activity.

Evidently, many one-time volunteers haven't forgotten Colombia.

Blog by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours and Rentals

Colombia in the Top Ten (and it's not futbol)

Look around at Bogotá's smog, at its deforestation rate of probably several thousand hectares per year, smell the Bogotá River, and ask yourself how it's possible that Colombia made it into the top ten nations in a ranking of environmental performance.

There's only one possible conclusion: The other 150 ranked nations are real, real disasters. Which is no surprise, considering how humankind continues racing towards the catastrophes of overfishing, global warming and severe deforestation.

The 2010 Environmental Performance Index , produced by Yale and Columbia universities, ranks countries how well they managed issues such as forest management, air pollution, greenhouse gases, the impacts of diseases and fisheries sustainability.

Rule of law obviously outweighed biodiversity and per-capita greenhouse gas production: the top performers were Iceland and Switzerland, nations known more for orderliness than jungles. Unsuprisingly, Costa Rica was third, followed by law-abiding Sweden and Norway. Colombia came in tenth.

Colombia is said to be the second-most biodiverse nation in the world, with 10% of the world's species. But some of its cities are smoggy, it's losing forest cover at the rate of several hundred thousand hectares per year and is afflicted by the many noxious impacts of the drug trade: deforestation, poisoning of rivers and mass displacement of civilians.

The poor rankings of most of the region's 'socialist revolutionary states' suggests that their claims to be saving the planet from capitalism are just hot air.

This blog written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ingrid the Ungrateful?

So, a presidential candidate and her running mate venture into guerrilla-prowled territory to campaign. The pair get kidnapped by FARC guerrillas and held in the jungle for six traumatic years. Finally, they are rescued by the military in a daring operation.

And now, the ex-candidate, French-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt, is demanding compensation from....the government.

Yes, you read it right. From the folks who rescued her, not the terrorists who kidnapped her.

Betancourt argues that the government didn't provide her with adequate protection and that it should have negotiated her release. Whatever the level of protection, Betancourt entered the region knowing that the guerrillas were there and that they sometimes kidnapped prominent people. She even signed a document accepting the dangers of venturing there.

Betancourt isn't the only one demanding compensation for a kidnapping ordeal. But, unlike some other politicians, she seems to have almost set herself up to become a victim. Three U.S. citizens and U.S. government contractors who were kidnapped after their small plane went down on a coca plantation-hunting flight and later rescued with Betancourt are suing Chiquita Corp. because of protection payments the company made to the guerrillas.

This blog written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

Sidewalk Portraits

Hugo Chavez is armed to the teeth!Want your portrait painted? Walk down Seventh Ave. anyday, especially Sundays, and you'll see the painters at work, doing portraits and caricatures.
Wow! What a portrait!
This blog written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

Sidewalk Portraits

Hugo Chavez is armed to the teeth!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Rock al Parque

This weekend was Rock al Parque, three days of free live music in Bogotá's Simón Bolívar Park. The park is bigger than New York's Central Park, and Rock al Parque is said to be the biggest free music festival in Latin America (some even say the world).

The festival draws fans from all over the continent and bands from all over the world.