Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Scapegoating Colmobians

Deported Colombians wait with their belongings.
"They're driving them out of their homes, and stealing their belongings," one of the guys who works with me said angrily, turning away from the TV news.

He had been watching a report about Colombians being driven out of their homes in Venezuelan border regions and deported back to Colombia.

Those Colombians are, according to the Venezuelan government, the cause of Venezuela's problems.

Venezuela has one of the world's highest homicide rates - so high that its government has stopped publishing crime statistics. Its economy is floundering so badly that the economics ministry has quit publishing inflation statistics. Its troubles with shortages and corruption go on and on.

Now, with parliamentary elections just a few months away, the Venezuelan government has decided that the culprits are not Venezuelans, but Colombians (not to mention the evil, imperialistic U.S.)

Venezuela's continuing crisis will likely only get lots worse before things get better. And, Venezuela will badly need the goodwill and assistance of its most important neighbor and important trading partner.

Venezuelan Pres. Maduro may see electoral advantages in scapegoating Colombians, but he's not doing his nation any long-term favors.

Maduro's '21st-Century Socialism', which consists mostly of populist give-aways and economic controls, is based on denial of economic realities. Price controls and a command economy caused shortages and long lines in communist Eastern Europe. Now they're bringing the same results to Venezuela. Why should anybody be surprised?

It is true that, on a small scale, Venezuela's troubles are contributed to by Colombian (and Venezuelan) smugglers, who carry subsidized Venezuelan gasoline and foodstuffs across the border and cocaine the other way.

Guess what happens when something costs pennies on one side of a line and dollars on the other? That product gets shifted from the cheap side to the rich side, no matter what anybody tries to do. It's like water flowing downhill.

Venezuela has always been unsustainably dependent on oil income. But that independence has only increased during the years since Hugo Chavez was elected president, making the recent price plunge extremely devastating. The Venezuelan government has only made the situation worse by making gasoline free, hemorraging many billions of dollars annually with a subsidy which also harms the environment and goes disproportionalely to the wealthy.

Until Venezuela discovers economic reality its troubles will worsen. Sadly, that means that persecution of Colombians may only get worse.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Importance of Barry Seal

Barry Seal
Barry Seal, the legendary drug plane pilot, is back in the news, thanks to a film about him starring Tom Cruise, who is now in Colombia.

Expect an exciting, shoot-em-up flic - which ignores Seal's real importance on the hemisphere's history.

Seal certainly did have an exciting life. According to the Spartacus website, Seal smuggled arms to Fidel Castro's Cuban rebels and later to the forces trying to overthrow Castro; Seal flew in the Vietnam war and for decades worked for the CIA. Seal eventually discovered that he could make lots more money hauling illegal substances than passengers - some perhaps for the CIA. Some even link Seal to the John F. Kennedy assassination. Seal was caught smuggling quaaludes into Florida, indicted, and agreed to cooperate with U.S. authorities. In a plane equipped with hidden cameras, he picked up a load of cocaine in the Nicaragua ruled by the leftist Sandanistas, whom the Reagan administration considered a communist threat to the hemisphere.

The photos Seal brought back showed showing Medellin cartel leaders Pablo Escobar, Jorge Luis
Medellin cartel leaders load cocaine
onto Seal's plane in Nicaragua.
Ochoa and others loading cocaine into a C-123 transport plane with the help of a Nicaraguan government official - great evidence for the Reagan administration of the Sandinistas' evil nature. Reagan released the photos to win support for the U.S.-financed Contra war against the Sandinistas.

Seal was murdered in Feb. 1986 by Medellin cartel hit men while serving probation in a Salvation Army halfway house in Baton Rouge Louisiana.

The U.S. Congress had prohibited aid to the Contras, who had committed severe human rights violations. In response, the Reagan administration cooked up the scheme known as Iran-Contra, in which the U.S. illegally funnelled money from arms sales to Iran to the Nicaraguan Contras. Many say the scheme was worse than Watergate, but Reagan's popularity and great media skills enabled him to save his presidency.

The Contra scheme was later dropped, and Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega was eventually elected president of Nicaragua, where he has shown himself to be a competent administrator but has restricted media rights and perpetuated himself in power. If Nicaraguan dictatorships of previous decades handed the nation's resources over to U.S. companies, Ortega seems to be giving them to the Chinese.

Seal may or may not have changed the America's history, but he was certainly a part of it.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, August 21, 2015

Painted Into a Box

Gridlocked cars block Ave. Caracas
Recently, some city transit official with great faith in human nature decided that painting the intersection of Ave. Caracas and Calle 13, which suffers chronic, daily gridlock, would make the traffic chaos magically disappear.

Of course, drivers ignore it. Look at the results.

Has anybody thot of fining drivers who stop inside intersections? Thjs practice, which seems easy enough to discourage, costs Bogotanos immeasurable frustration and countless hours of lost time.

The result.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Naked Statement

No, these are not victims of the Ashley Madison leak, but a piece of performance art by students from the Universidad de Antioquia and the Universidad Nacional. They pulled the cart of nudes from the university's campus all the way to Plaza Bolivar today. Lucky thing the weather was warm and not raining, but hope these folks invested in sun-screen.

The perfromance, named Carga Monton Colectivo 'El Cuerpo Habla', was a protest against racism, fascism, sexual violence and all sorts of other evil things.

The bodies represent death, a student accompanying the work told me, "but we Colombians are a very lively people."

The nude performers pass a school, drawing a bit of attention.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Clearing The Air?

No worries: A bus belches its way down Calle 19 today.
A group of Bogotá residents recently received a reply from the Secretaría del Ambiente to our list of questions about why they don't bother to enforce pollution laws.

Naturally, they're doing a great job. They even say so themselves. According to the Secretaría they carry out daily checks on polluting vehicles. Only trouble is, that none of us ever see them do it, and in my ten years in Bogotá I've never seen them stop a single one of those smoke belching buses in the center of Bogotá.

'The Environmental Secretariate carries out daily pollution controls.' But apparently they do it in secret.
A cyclist campaigning for the Green Party wears an anti-pollution mask.
This smoking truck somehow escaped the controls.

The Secretaría does measure air pollution, altho I suspect that their devices are high up, where the air's cleaner and far from where people actually breathe. But even according to their doubtful data, the city's average air pollution is in the 'moderate' range. That means that in highly polluted corridors like busy avenues, where many people spend a lot of their time, the pollution's terrible. And, according to the Secretaría's own data, the concentration of the tiniest, most dangerous. particles, is getting worse.
Air pollutiong getting worse.
But the Secretaría doesn't seem to think that they could do anything better - for example by citing those chimeneas rodantes which we all see every single day, but which the Secretaría apparently does not.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, July 24, 2015

Carrera Septima's Warning

The new Septima is taking shape...but still has a ways to go.
Is anybody surprised? The pedestrianization of the few blocks of Carrera Septima between the Plaza Bolivar and Jimenez Ave. was supposed to be finished by February. But the project has been prolonged three times now, and is now projected to be completed in August. Undoubtedly, the project's price tag has similarly elevated.

Workers prepare the street's foundation. The excavation
uncovered the part of the old streetcar tracks.
Certainly, the pedestrianization will be a huge improvement, of course, transforming a chaotic, noisy, polluted avenue into a pleasant place for walking, shopping and watching street performers.

But the project's price tag should serve as a warning for advocates of building a subway in Bogotá. Such as project will be infinitely more complex and expensive. Does anybody really believe that it won't take lots longer than the official projections, or cost a whole lot more.

A metro, just like the pedestrian-friendly Carrera Septima, will be great to have. But Bogotá shouldn't embrace the metro based on false or unrealistic premises.

The new street will be nice - once it's completed.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Convoluted Case of Álvaro Gómez

Alvaro Gomez Hurtado.
Álvaro Gómez Hurtado was like a comet across Colombian journalism and politics during the 1980s and '90s.

The son of ex-president Laureano Gómez, Alvaro worked for his father's newspaper and other publications as well as serving as Bogotá city councilman, in both houses of Congress and as minister and ambassador in various nations. A leading member of the Conservative Party, he ran three times unsuccessfully for president. In 1998 he was kidnapped by the M-19 Guerrilla group, who were demanding the convening of a Constitutional Convention. The guerrillas achieved their goal, and Gómez Hurtado served in that convention.

Gómez then became an academic, helping to found two universities. But he may have signed his own death warrant by becoming a furious critic of Pres. Ernesto Samper, who was embroiled in a scandal over drug cartel financing of his presidential campaign, known as the Proceso 8000.

"The regime must be overthrown," Gómez said in at least one interview.

In Novemember, 1995, as he left a university, Gómez was gunned down.

His assassination has never been solved. Pres. Samper, guerrilla groups, paramilitaries drug cartels and others have all been suspects in the killing.

Ignacio Londoño Zabala, today an attorney with ties to criminal gang leaders, may have played a role
Ignacio Londoño
in the assassination.

And now, Londoño's assassination may guarantee that the mystery will never be solved.

Londoño, an attorney and local politician in Valle del Cauca with ties to drug cartel leaders, was gunned down the other day in Cartago, Valle del Cauca, where he was a candidate for mayor.

Londoño had given two of his bodyguards the weekend off and sent the third to do a chore in Bogotá. Londoño was in his office when someone shot thru the window, killing him.

Londoño was allegedly linked to the Proceso 8000 as well as various drug cartel leaders. Investigators wanted him to testify about Gómez's killing.

Londoño lying murdered on a Cartogo street.
The Londoño killing is itself the subject of mystery, which will likely never be resolved. Was he killed because of his campaign for mayor? Because of his possible declarations in Gómez's assassination? Because of his links to drug cartel leaders?

The Gómez-Londoño saga is yet another example of the intersection of politics and violence, which so often ends in impunity.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours