Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Legacy of Leopoldo Rother

The National University's Fine Arts building is characteristic of the simple, block-style arhictecture employed by Rother.

German-Colombian architect Leopoldo Rother would turn 120 this August, and likely be disappointed at the sad state of many of his Colombian works. 

Born in 1894 in Breslau, Germany, now part of Poland, Rother designed governmental and athletic buildings in Germany. But the ascent of Hitler forced Rother and his family to flee because of their Jewish heritage. 

In 1936, Rother immigrated to Colombia, where he quickly obtained work designing public buildings and teaching at the National University. He designed the Edificio Nacional in Barranquilla and the Eduardo Santos Stadium in Santa Marta.

But Rother's best-known work is likely the Universidad Nacional's Bogotá campus. Rother designed the 121-hectare campus as an oval, with ring roads circling its periphery. The campus is so large that it is formally known as the University City. (The 'Nacho' was founded in 1867, but its buildings were scattered throughout Bogotá. The Ciudad Universitaria became Colombia's first university campus.) The buildings are block-shaped and unadorned, a style which he apparently adopted from a 1932 modern arquitecture exposition in New York's Museum of Modern Art. Today, the buildings can seem a bit boring and monotonous. And the government has allowed many to decay, a situation which has triggerred student protests. 

In his later years, Rother taught architecture at the Universidad Nacional and did designs for Colombia's public works department. In 1977, he was awarded the Cruz de Boyaca and died the following year in Bogotá.

On the National Univesity's campus, the architecture department's museum is named after Rother. The museum recently held an exhibition about his life and works.
A 1930s map of the National University's campus, showing its oval design. 
The National University's engineering building, designed by Rother and now under repair. 
A crumbling building on the National University campus.
The National University's Bogotá campus's newest building, which breaks the campus's block pattern, and has won recognition for its design. 
The Edificio Nacional in Barranquilla, designed by Rother. (Image: Wikipedia)

Eduardo Santos Stadium, in Santa Marta, designed by Leopoldo Rother (Image: Hoy Diario de Magdalena)

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Mixing Religion, Politics and Money

Church of God March for Respect. 
The MIRA political party has long been a special case in Colombian politics. The nation's only explicitly religious political party - there is no Catholic party, for example.MIRA was created by the Church of the Ministerial God of Jesus Christ Inrternational, which is controlled by the Piraquive family and has some 800 churches in 45 countries.

Despite the party's extreme conservatism on many issues, it has been a respected participant in Colombian politics, particularly as an advocate for the rights of the underprivileged.

We demand freedom of religion. 
So it was a big surprise when a video leaked in which church leader María Luisa Piraquive said that a disabled person, such as a person missing a limb, should not be permitted to preach in the church.

"The Holy Spirit taught us that for reasons of conscience a preacher in the pulpit should be a person who has all of his members," Piraquive said in the video.

Even Pres. Santos and Vice Pres. Garzon criticized her comments.

Soon after, another video appeared in which Carlos Baena, president of MIRA, asserted that the party should buy votes, because allegedly their political competitors were doing it.

Then things only got worse. A prosecutor investigating suspicions of money laundering ordered searches of two MIRA offices. According to news reports, party employees may have hustled documents out of their office just before the search.

MIRA party activists (Photo: El Tiempo)
The Piraquive family's personal troubles only complicated things. El Tiempo reported that María Luisa Piraquive had expelled one son from the church for being gay, and that another one of her sons had had an illegitimate daughter whom he had refused to recognize until a court forced him to.

Then El Tiempo searched business records in Florida and found eight businesses, including a real estate company and a car wash, as well as a six-bedroom, six-bath mansion, belonging to the Piraquive family.

I ask respect for Dr. Maria Luisa Piraquive.
US officials are now investigating suspicions of money laundering.

MIRA, meanwhile, is fighting for political survival. Unless it obtains 450,000 votes in the next election it will be decertified as a party. On its website, the party says that it's appealing to the United Nations and Organization of American States. The website also contains an article alleging a 'Political Religious Judicial Plot to Eliminate Us.'

Today, thousands of church members (many bused in from outside of Bogotá), marched down Ave. Septima during La Ciclovia.

The evangelicals carried signs demanding religious liberty - a deception, since the issue is the chuch leaders' alleged misbehavior - and asserting their allegiance to church leader Piraquive - which seems worrisomely like personality worship.

The faithful will never doubt.
'In Colombia everybody has the right to freely express their religion.'
Thousands of church members march down Ave. Septima.

'I support Dr. Maria Luisa Piraquive.'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Pit Bulls and their People

A young couple and their happy pit bull. 
 Pit bull owners invaded La Ciclovia today to 'make others aware that these dogs aren't vicious'. Some pit bulls are definitely vicious, but those apparently stayed at home. These animals seemed happy and playful. But even so, don't get too close.
Walking pit bulls on La Ciclovia. 
Pit bulls on La Ciclovia. 
A pair of pit bull pups playing in the Parque Nacional. 
Don't discriminate against pit bulls!
Pit bulls and friends. 

Pit bulls and bicyclists. 

Sit down and smile!

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, January 24, 2014

Oust Them All?

Public health menace? Pedestrians walk thru trash piles in Bogotá in late 2012.
Procurador Ordoñez has ordered Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro removed from office and banned from politics for 15 years for  'endangering public health and the environment' by mishandling the city's trash collection service - even tho nobody was killed or injured by the trash. 

That makes me ask how many public officials will be ousted from office for ignoring the city's air pollution, which causes thousands of premature deaths every year in Bogotá alone. Perhaps they can start with the Ministry of the Environment officials who last year suspended a regulation requiring pollution filters on trucks after U.S. truck makers complained it would hurt their profits.  

Health menace in the air? A bus produces a column of smoke near the Universidad Nacional in Bogotá.

Pedestrians cover their faces and flee from a smoke-belching TransMilenio bus. 
A truck produces a torrent of smoke on Ave. Septima, in front of the Ministry of the Environment.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Polemical Stoplight

A TransMilenio bus passes beside the red light on Carrera 30, the NQS. The light stops traffic to enable the TM buses to turn onto and from 26th St. Notice that, even tho the light is red for TM and thus green for the regular  traffic, the regular traffic is not moving.
The light's green. A TM bus prepares
to turn left, toward 26th St. 
This stoplight installed a week ago on the Ave. NQS, or Carrera 30, near the Universidad Nacional, to enable TransMilenio buses to pass between the NQS and 26th St., has produced complaints from drivers angered over having to stop for buses on Bogotá's only 'freeway.'

Except that it isn't.

Carrera 30/NQS becomes a huge traffic jam every day during rush hours, as well as much of the rest of the day. But motorists take these stoppages for granted. It's when they have to stop for a bus that they cry that things are unjust.
Green light. The TM bus turns
across the avenue toward 26th St.

A TransMilenio official explained that the stoplight was the least inconvenient solution for enabling the buses to pass between Carrera 30 and 26th St, and that it was justified because "the majority use TransMilenio," while only a small minority of Bogotanos drive private cars. That's true enough. But the deeper truth here is that cars are a dead end transit solution. Just take a look at the traffic jams on these avenues. Facilitating mass transit is the only realistic solution for moving people across Bogotá.

And that means inconveniencing private cars to favor buses.

A massive and routine rush hour traffic jam on 26th St. 
And a daily traffic jam on the NQS, Carrera 30. 
No coordination. The light turned green, stopping traffic, but no TM bus arrived to use the turn lane. The incomprehensible fact that, after a decade of operation, the TransMilenio buses still don't get priority at intersections, is another matter...
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Petro's Last Stand?

A sign on the camp in Plaza Bolivar says the Petro supporters have been there for '40 days of resistance.'
So much for my political predictions: Today, Thursday, Petro's cause won three tutelas, which either suspended or just postponed the procurador's order. Instead - as of today - Petro will face a recall vote in early March. Ironically, the procurador's ouster order has benefited Petro politically by making him into a martyr and mobilizing his supporters.

The reasoning behind today's rulings seems to be that Petro was elected and that his ousting by an unelected official violates his and voters' rights. Good enough, and, whether he wins or loses, deciding the mayor's fate by a vote will be much healthier for the city. However, it'll be interesting seeing what happens to Procurador Ordoñez's authority, and whether the 100s of other officials ousted by Ordoñez will now sue to return to office.

Supporters of Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro held yet another demonstration today on Plaza Bolivar in support of the beleagured Petro.

Union demonstrators in today's pro-Petro protest.
But Petro's hopes appear to be running out. Procurador Ordoñez has rejected Petro's appeals, and hundreds of nearly identical tutetals don't appear likely to keep Petro in office. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission is to rule on whether Petro's rights were violated, but nobody knows when that ruling will be issued, or whether Colombia will obey it.

As disproportionate and unreasonable as the procurador's ouster of Petro for mishandling the city's garbage collection certainly seems, it is also true that Petro accepted the rules when he became mayor, and that Petro voted for Ordoñez back when Petro was in the Senate.

On Feb. 8, Pres. Santos can appoint a temporary mayor who'll hold office until elections are held. And it would be nice for the city to try to move forward again.

A stand of 'indignant activists.'

'Petro against corruption.'

'Petro stays.'

Protesters allege that the procurador's penalties have been unfair to Petro.
The Pro-Petro camp on Plaza Bolivar surrounds the statue of Simon Bolivar.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours