Sunday, April 19, 2015

History Unearthed on Carrera Septima

Old streetcar tracks uncovered on Carrera Septima.
Skating by streetcar tracks
near Ave. Jimenez.

Laborers working on the pedestrianization of Carrera Septima have uncovered some reminders of the Bogotá of yore - tracks of the old tranvias, or streetcars.

The tranvia network was damaged severely by the April 1948 Bogotazo riots, which followed the killing of populist leader Jorge Eliezer Gaitan. The system limped on for a few years, until a mayor who was in the pocket of the competing bus companies, had his friends asphalt over the tracks.
Remaining streetcar tracks
in San Victorino.

The streetcars were replaced by 'modern' buses, which have brought us noise, pollution and traffic chaos.

Mayor Petro has proposed a light rail line for Carrera Septima, altho it is one of many Petro ideas which have gone nowhere.

Municipal archaeologists are proposing a museum to display the rails and other objects. They'd better hurry: Sooner or later, bazuco addicts are liable to carry off the antique rails to sell them as scrap metal.

A toppled streetcar burns during El Bogotazo. Some say the bus companies paid rioters to destroy the tranvias.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, April 18, 2015

One Year On, Where's Gabo?

This display about Marquéz's life on the BLAA library's wall has been up for more than a year.
On the one-year anniversary of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's death in Mexico City, I searched for him thru La Candelaria, where Gabo lived for several years while in high school and later while working as a journalist - and came up empty.

Sure, there's the exhibition about Marquez's life on the wall of the Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango onCentro Cultural Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which was built by the government of Mexico. But the center - bizarrely - contains no exhibition about Marquez's life and works.
Tourists in the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Center,
in La Candelaria. The Mexican-built center
has no exhibition about the author.
Calle 11, but that's been there for more than a year. And down the street is the

Only the Biblioteca Nacional, north of La Candelaria, is exhibiting a few objects related to Gabo, such as his Smith Corona typewriter. (The bulk of Marquez's manuscripts and other documents were sold by his family to the Harry Ransom Center, a part of the University of Texas, in Austin.)

The 'liqui liqui' suit in which Marqués
accepted the Nobel Prize for literature.
The suit was on exhibition in the
Museo Nacional.
Paris, where Marquez grew into a novelist in the post-World War II years, has created a 'Gabo Trail,' along which fans can visit cafés and theatres he frequented, streets he walked, apartments where he lived and a hotel where he enjoyed a bohemian life. And in Cartagena you can also do a prepared tour of Gabo sites. By the same token, in New York, you can take a Mark Twain walking tour, and in Key West, Florida and Havana, Cuba, you can take Hemingway tours.

Bogotá could do something similar - and without much effort. After all, Marquéz wrote colorfully about the neighborhood in his autobiography 'Living to Tell the Tale.'

Many visitors to Medellin do tours about that city's (and Colombia's) most famous son, Pablo Escobar. Colombia's international publicists must grit their teeth every time they hear about that. But Colombia's image handlers have no grounds to complain about the villains being highlighted unless they do their best to celebrate the nation's heroes, as well.

And, while they're at it, why not also create a GGM cultural center which actually contains something about the novelist.

Marquéz's Smith-Corona typewriter, now on display in the Biblioteca Nacional.
A portrait of Marquéz along Carrera 10, in central Bogotá.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, April 17, 2015

Corruption: Here, There, Everywhere

La Candelaria Mayor Edilberto Guerrero,
under house arrest, speaks to supporters thru his window. 
When the La Candelaria neighborhood's mayor Edilberto Guerrero was arrested last week on corruption-related charges, I felt disappointed - but not surprised.

After all, during Guerrero's years in office, I've heard stories about apparently inflated contracts, such as one to install expensive Christmas lights, many of which didn't work. And also under his watch and with his acquiescence, ugly constructions have gone up, including a junk food chain store, a parking garage in the hills and a multi-story apartment building on a cobblestone street of single-family houses. At the very minimum, it seems, Guerrero doesn't have the historical center's patrimony and interests in mind.

Guerrero now stands accused of awarding a contract for a children's nutrition program to an unqualified company and is under house arrest. In his defense, Guerrero claims he's a victim of political persecution and denies he did anything wrong. But if the charges are correct, Guerrero's actions amount to stealing food from the mouths of babes.

Sadly, Guerrero isn't the only local Bogota official in trouble these days. The ex-mayor of Kennedy, a
Magistrate Pretelt denies corruption accusations.
huge impoverished area in southern Bogotá, was removed from office and banned from politics for 11 years, also for inappropriately awarding a contract, this one for supporting local small businesses.

One might not feel so bad if we had confidence that the court system could address and punish endemic corruption. However, the nation's highest court, the Constitutional Court, is engulfed in its own scandal, in which court's president Jorge Ignacio Pretelt fights an attorney's accusation that he asked for a bribe for a favorable ruling (which was not produced). According to to other reports, rural land Pretelt owns in Antioquia was violently stolen from its campesino owners.

Add to that several cases of apparent corruption I've heard about 'on the street.' An acquaintance who wants to buy a house using a government-backed loan, says the bank official who approves the loans demands a gift of a multi-million peso slice of that loan for herself.

Evidence of corruption? An old bus belches smoke
in Bogotá not far from the Ministry of the Environment.
According to Colombia Reports, 80% of Colombians consider their government corrupt, and more than half believe it's getting worse. Transparency International's reports appear to support that conclusion: Since 2002, Colombia has plummeted from 57th place to 94th in Transparency's rankings.

How corrupt is Colombia? Nobody can say exactly, but it seems to be pretty corrupt. And as important as is the corruption itself is the perception of its pervasiveness, which undermines confidence in government and produces a sensation of helplessness. I have a constant personal campaign against air pollution, as you can see here. But the evident complete apathy - if not corruption - of enforcement officials might make one shrug one's shoulders and ask 'why bother?' According to Colombia Reports, corruption has also been an important contributor to the nation's armed conflict.

The positive side to all of this is that some of the corruption cases do come to light and are investigated. When even the investigators have been completely corrupted, the situation seems hopeless. But, even tho corruption victimizes all of us, it is also a victimless crime in the sense that both people participate willingly and feel they benefit. The friend who will pay the bribe to the loan officer is happy to do so, since he's been waiting years to get a loan the legal way. He doesn't pause to reflect that such corruption can make the whole economic system disfunctional, and even collapse it.

What's the solution? Stiff penalties are part of the answer, but Colombia requires a deep, deep cultural shift.

Colombia won't soon be Sweden corruption-wise, but is being like Chile or Uruguay too much to hope for?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Are the FARC Capable of Peace?

Soldiers carry the corpse of one of their companions killed by the FARC in El Cauca this week.
(Photo: BBC)
The FARC's killing 11 soldiers in El Cauca this week makes little sense strategically, and none politically.

The soldiers, part of anti-drug trafficking unit, were resting at the time and killed using long-range weapons.

The FARC leaders clearly want the peace talks in Havana to succeed, which is one reason why they declared a unilateral cease fire last December. But this apparently unprovoked ambush imperils the talks' progress. Pres. Santos already ordered a resumption of air attacks on the guerrillas, altho, surprisingly, he did not suspend the peace talks.

Buenos Aires, in El Cauca Department.
(Image from Wikipedia)
But the soldiers' killings will harden public sentiment against the guerrillas, including that of hard-liners within the military, and will give ex-Pres. Alvaro Uribe and other right-wingers more ammunition against the peace talks. And the guerrilla leaders' number one goal doesn't appear to be social justice or land redistribution, but soft terms for themselves in any peace deal, despite their innumerable human rights violation. This latest massacre puts that further out of reach.

I can think of only two possible reasons for this action:

One, that the FARC disastrously misread national sentiment following the April 9 pro-peace marches, in which some guerrilla sympathizers called for a bilateral ceasefire. Perhaps the guerrillas hoped that committing an atrocity like this one would motivate more Colombians to support the ceasefire to stop the killing.

Instead, in the same way that Japan's 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor even while Japanese-U.S. negotiations were being held rallied Americans behind FDR's declaration of war, these latest killings seems to have only generated more anti-guerrilla anger.

Could the guerrilla leadership have read public sentiment so incorrectly? I doubt it.

The more likely and even more worrying explanation is that the guerrillas have lost control of some of their 'fronts,' whose leaders may aim to sabotage the peace talks. The attack occurred in the municipality of Buenos Aires, in El Cauca Department, located near the Pacific coast and the Ecuadorean border. The region is valuable because of illegal mining and cocaine exportation routes.

Could it be that local FARC leaders, aware that a peace deal would extinguish their huge illicit incomes, have made this their way of trying to kill the talks - in defiance of the guerrillas' top leadership?

If my second hypothesis is correct, it bodes badly for the negotiations, since many local guerrilla leaders have their own motives for wanting to preserve the conflict and its illegal incomes.

If the guerrilla leadership cannot pull those far-flung units into line, then a peace deal may not be merely far away, but impossible.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

´Do As We Say, Not As We Sell´


'Get On the Bus', editorializes El Tiempo. But buy one of our advertisers' cars, first.
One of the huge, daily traffic jams on Calle 26.
El Tiempo, Colombia's largest newspaper, has long been part of the chorus calling for people to use mass transit instead of private cars. And I can't doubt their sincerity. After all, the evidence is there for all to see in the city's immense and ever-growing traffic jams.

But, while El Tiempo wants you on the bus, they clearly also want you to buy a car, whose propaganda constitutes much of the newspaper's advertising, including two weekly pull-out car magazines. (The editorial, in any case, is mealy-mouthed and consists mostly of cliches, while neglecting the only policy demonstrated to reducing car use - a congestion charge.)

El Tiempo's hypocrisy in calling for less car use while doing all it can to promote car sales, is an example of the contradictions in many of us, not least of all Bogotá's city government, which claims to want to reduce private car use. Until the government and others actually make their policies match their rhetoric, the traffic crisis will only get worse.
A lone cyclist weaves thru traffic near the National University.
One of the huge, daily traffic jams in La Candelaria.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, April 13, 2015

Where Have All Those Tires Gone?


Just a few months ago, the used car and truck tires littering parks and sidewalks across Bogotá were making headlines: In particular, after an illegal lot with thousands of tires caught fire, turning the air grey for days.

Then, government and tire industry leaders - and apparently did nothing.

Recently, however, I seem to see fewer tires on the sidewalks, making me wonder where they've gone.


This pile of tire shreds near Calle 26...

....were helpfully covered up recently.

Then, one day, I happened to look thru a gap into this nondescript vacant building behind the Central Cemetery.


The building is packed with hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of used tires.

Waiting to burn.
One day, a homeless person will sneak in to sleep and light a fire; the tires will ignite and smolder for days, turning the sky grey. A few months ago, an unregulated tire dump caught fire and polluted Bogotá's air for days.


But there is a solution: Apply a deposit to tires (and many other waste products), creating an incentive for people to dispose of them properly, as well as a subsidy for processing them into, say, asphalt.


By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Colombian Artists Thru Hernan Diaz's Lens

Journalist and movie director Guillermo Angulo and Vanna Brandestini, 1961, posing as silent film actors. 
Hernán Díaz (1931- 2009) lived and chronicled a golden age of Colombian creativity during the second half of the 1900s. His friends included Colombia's three great artists: sculptor Fernando Botero, architect Rogelio Salmona and writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as well as many lesser known figures of cinema, painting and photography. Díaz also photographed common people and presidents, as well as landscapes.

Díaz's work is now on display in the Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango, on Calle 11 in La Candelaria, across the street from the Botero Museum.

Alejandro Obregon, 1920-1992, painter, muralist, sculptor and engraver.
Beatriz Gonzalez, pop painter.
Argentine painter, muralist and sculptor Rogelio Polesello and Colombian sculptor Feliza Bursztyn. 
Painter and sculptor Eduardo Ramirez, Hernán Díaz, sculptor Édgar Negret and photographer Rafael Moure.
Scenes from Bogotá's Eastern Hills (which are now being paved over).


Feliza Burzstzyn.

Sculptor and painter Fernando Botero.
Painter and sculptor Freda Sargent 
Gabriel Garcia Marquez appearing serious and intellectual.
'Girl with Dog.'
Writer, poet and sculptor Gonzalez Arango.

Fernando Botero at work.



Landscape scenes.

Argentine-Colombian art critic and writer Marta Traba.


Six Colombian artists.
A sweets vendor.

Cartagena scenes.


By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours