Saturday, November 22, 2014

Anglolandia for the FARC

The people's army? Or the army against the people?
This pro-FARC graffiti appeared this week on the Universidad Nacional's Bogotá campus, and, strangely, it's in English.

A mural in the Teusaquillo neighborhood
portrays a landmine victim. The FARC
plant landmines to protect themselves
against soldiers, but many civilians are
injured and killed by those mines.
But isn't English the language of the United States, the 'empire'? And isn't Spanish the language of romantic revolutionaries, not to mention of the students and professors of the Nacho?

Was this written by a native English speaker? Maybe, but perhaps maybe not. A native, it seems to me, would have written that 'Simon Trinidad and Sonia are examples of...'

Grammar aside, the statement made me think about the foreigners who support Colombia's largest guerrilla group. Mostly, these seem to be young idealists in comfortable places like Sweden and Denmark, who read the FARC's websites and swallow unquestioningly their language about revolution and social justice. These true believers don't bother with the reality, easily available on human rights organizations' websites, about the guerrillas' innumerable atrocities, including recruiting children, massacring civilians with mortars and car bombs, planting land mines, displacing peasants, murdering indigenous people, and on and on.

Those sorts of outrages would never be tolerated in the comfortable, law-abiding wealthy nations where these fellow travelers live and enjoy good lives. However, by supporting the FARC, they implicitly condone such crimes when they are committed against the poor of Colombia.

A FARC motorcycle bomb killed and injured civilians
in the town of Tumaco in July, 2012.
But there's a saying here: 'If you're under age 30 and not a communist, you don't have a heart; if you're over 30 and still a communist, you don't have a brain.'

Simon Trinidad, by the way, is a FARC leader imprisoned in the United States, and Tania is a Dutch woman who joined the FARC and is now a member of their negotiating team in Havana.

The people's army? In 2002, a FARC mortar landed on the roof of a church in the town of Bojayá, Chocó, killing some 120 townspeople who had taken refuge in the church from fighting between guerrillas and paramilitaries.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fifty Years of FARC

A mural on a wall of the Universidad Nacional campus in Bogotá commemorates 50 years of the FARC bringing 'hope for a free and sovereign nation.'
The idealistic 1960s came and went. So did financial backing from Cuba and the Soviet Union. Even support from Venezuela's revolution dried up. And the dream of a communist paradise was left in the dustbin of history.

But the FARC guerrillas, the world's oldest guerrilla group, who have been marking their 50th birthday these days, fight on.

Why have the FARC survived - albeit weakened and disheartened - in the face of history and economics, and long after any hope of military victory has evaporated?

Of course, Colombia is a large, mountainous country with lots of impoverished, remote regions where the government exercises little control. It also has lots of corruption, injustice and inequality. But, sadly, you can say the same about many countries.

Those are some of the reasons (in addition to support from Cuba and the Soviet Union) that guerrilla movements appeared in Colombia, as they also did in Peru, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela. However, only in Colombia (and to a small degree in Peru) have guerrillas survived.

'Until victory.' A mural in the Universidad Nacional
in Bogotá predicts a FARC victory.
The key difference seems evident: Colombia has a large illegal drug trade, while most of those other countries do not. Money from that black-market drug trade has provided most of the guerrillas' financing during the the last decades, altho recently they have diversified into things like illegal mining.

The guerrillas are not likely to celebrate a second 50 year anniversary. Weakened and dispirited, and degenerated from a peasant army to a criminal band with socialist rhetoric, they are in peace talks with the Colombian government.

Which raises the question of what would happen to all that dark money if the FARC sign a peace treaty with the government and really abandon the drug trade. The market for illegal drugs won't disappear, so someone else will make money off of them, funneling more money to narcotrafficking gangs or even other guerrilla groups.

In perhaps an unintended overlap, this footballer appears to be kicking the FARC out of Colombia. 
The FARC slogans, strangely, expressed in English, the language of the 'empire.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

The Auto Show's Dirty Secret

New cars shown in the auto show in Corferias...
(Photo: Corferias)
...will soon be trapped in Bogotá's traffic jams.
Bogotá's annual big auto show is going on now in the Corferias convention center. What they won't show you, tho, is the congested, chaotic reality out on Bogotá's streets. And each additional car sold here will worsen that situation.

By 2020, the number of private cars in Bogotá is predicted to double. The city doesn't have room.

The unaffordable subway which Mayor Petro and Pres. Santos seem determined to build won't unravel the traffic jams. Neither will building and expanding avenues, which only encourages more driving. What Bogotá needs, in addition to more expensive gasoline, is a congestion charge, which would pay for transit and discourage unnecessary private car use.
A shiny car waits for a buy in Corferias....

In today's El Tiempo, Jaime Lerner, ex-mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, calls private cars "the cigarette of the future." If people have cars at all, he says, they should be used only for recreation, not for city driving.
...will soon be waiting in a traffic jam like this one.
A new car in Corferias...
...will make the same old traffic jams even worse. 
Waiting in the showroom...
(Photo: wait on the street.
Looks nice, huh?
(Photo: Corferias)
Stewing in traffic. Not so nice.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Best Frenemies?

'There's already a path to resolve the crisis and renew the peace process,' announces today's El Tiempo.
A victory for the peace process?

'The people have the key to peace,' says a sign at a
demonstration today against the suspension of the peace talks.
Judging from today's press headlines, that's what this Sunday's kidnapping of a general by the FARC amounted to.

El Tiempo, Colombia's leading newspaper, headlined 'Advances in moves to achieve general's liberation.'

Remember that the FARC, who had promised to stop kidnapping, grabbed a general and his assistants while he traveled in civilian clothes without bodyguards no apparent hostile intent.

The FARC want find a fast
solution to the crisis they
caused themselves, they say.
But Colombia's  El Tiempo, historically owned by the family of Pres. Santos and an active backer of the peace talks, is not denouncing the guerrillas for breaking their promise or violating human rights abuses, but rather interprets the FARC's actions as an advance, as its subheadline today announced: 'The solution to the crisis could allow a deescalation of the conflict.' Perhaps the guerrillas should kidnap more military officials to advance the peace talks even further?

The contrast with the episode a few weeks ago when the guerrillas murdered several NASA indigenous guards for removing a banner which the guerrillas had hung on indigenous territory could hardly be greater.

That time, government officials denounced the killings, but continued talking peace with the FARC. This time, the government suspended negotiations, but seems to be trying to put a positive spin on the guerrillas' crime. Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre termed the kidnapping an 'improper retention' - using what is traditionally the guerrillas' own euphemism for kidnapping.

Pres. Santos won reelection primarily thanks to support for the peace talks, and he's determined not to let anything, even murder or kidnapping, derail them.

For their part, FARC leaders in Havana said they wanted to resolve the situation as quickly as possible and find "a fast, tranquil and just solution to this problem." Strange comments coming from the organization which caused the crisis in the first place and presumably could end it at any moment by freeing the general and other kidnappees.

Students on the National University campus in Bogotá
walk past a mural celebrating the FARC guerrillas.
But the contradiction between the guerrillas' actions and statements also suggests that the FARC leadership cannot control some of its 'fronts'. That's a worrisome reality for any post-peace treaty situation, in which some guerrilla units might defy their leaders and turn into straight-out narcotrafficking groups, as some ex-paramilitary groups have done.

This evening, the FARC promised to free the general, his two assistants and two other soldiers held by the guerrillas.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Scenes from Bogotá's Bike Week

A rider on a trick bike at Jorge Tadeo University.
Crazy wheels and idealism, but not so much practical mobility: Last week Bogotá held its seventh-annual Bicycle Week, when cycling and its advantages are supposed to receive lots of attention. Unfortunately, perhaps, the week focused more on cycling's eccentricities than its potential for moving people cleanly, healthfully and sustainably.

To his credit, Mayor Petro has supported cycling, with both media events (worth little) and some concrete advances, such as several new bike lanes, the IDRD's bike lending program on Carrera Septima, the Universidad Nacional and Virrey Park. However, plans for a city-wide public bikes program are stalled. And Petro has done little to address systemic problems, such as pollution, traffic congestion and chaotic streets, which can make cycling unpleasant and even dangerous.

More photos and details on my Bogotá bike blog.

César Salamanga, founder of Pazicleta, which provides bicycles to poor rural children, to enable them to get to school and keep them out of Colombia's armed conflict.
Street bikes from Mejor en Bici, Bogotá's best-known cycling advocacy organization.
Reading the book on bicycling, published by Bogotá's City Hall. 
Juan Camilo of Bicisi, which builds affordable custom-made bikes 'so that nobody has an excuse not to ride a bike.'
Several bamboo bike makers have sprouted in Bogotá over the last few years.
Clowning with colorful bikes at the Bici-Expo.
Santa, a circus bike rider, shows his stuff in the Parque Nacional. The banner announces a competition of 'ecological bicycles.' But aren't ALL bikes ecological?
The Bici-Expo was held at the Gran Estación shopping mall.

The Gran Estación lends out these bikes during La Ciclovia.
A happy cycling couple at the Bici-Expo.
Masked against pollution: Sadly, many Bogotá cyclists feel the need to protect themselves from the city's air.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, November 17, 2014

Not all Victims are Equal

'General kidnapped in El Chocó' reports El Tiempo.
About two weeks ago, FARC guerrillas hung banners commemorating the death three years ago of a murderous guerrilla leader on territory belonging to the NASA indigenous people. NASA indigenous guards pulled the banners down. Furious at being defied, the guerrillas murdered two of the NASA people.

In response, the NASA captured eight guerrillas, two of whom were teenagers. After a trial in front of thousands of NASA people, two of the guerrillas were sentenced to 60 and 40-year prison terms and the teenage boys to being whipped.

Colombian leaders denounced the FARC for the killings and for employing child soldiers, but continued negotiating peace with them in Havana, Cuba.

Two days ago, a Colombian general disappeared in Chocó Department, allegedly kidnapped by the
FARC. In response, the government suspended the peace negotiations.
Caracol TV reports the suspension of the peace talks in Havana.

This is far from the first time that some victims have turned out to be more important than others.

In 1928, Colombian soldiers, defending the interests of the United Fruit Company, massacred hundreds or thousands of striking workers in the town of Cienaga near Santa Marta. Soon afterwards, the general in charge, Carlos Cortés Vargas, was promoted to chief of police of Bogotá.

But the next year during students protests Bogotá police shot and killed a young man. who turned out to be the son of a friend of the president. Murdering hundreds of plantation laborers was apparently acceptable, but killing a member of the elite crossed the line. Both Gen. Cortés and Minister of Defense Ignacio Rengifo were fired.

The NASA present Captured FARC guerrillas to the public.
And don't get me started on the Caso Colmenares, the sad story of a student from an elite private university who either died or was murdered in a north Bogotá ravine while partying with friends. The media never stop telling us about the Colmenares trial, while countless humble Bogotanos die tragically and unnoticed.

The drama of the many victims of Colombia's long civil war is in the news these days because of the debate about how - and whether - to compensate them. A recent study by Harvard University found that, including displaced people, some 6.9 million Colombians qualify as victims. That's 14% of Colombia's population, whereas most other nations have compensated about 1%. The FARC, for their part, deny that they have victimized civilians at all - something nobody believes.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Banana Massacre on Stage in the Parque Nacional

The 1928 banana workers massacre became a landmark event in Colombian history after Gabriel Garcia Marquez made it a key episode in his Nobel prize-winning novel 'One Hundred Years of Solitude'. 

This theater troupe, performing around mid-day in the Parque Nacional, didn't employ much subtlety in portraying the hardships of the banana workers, employed by the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita). Banana prices had declined, causing a drop in pay and benefits. Workers went on strike and the military arrived to back the U.S. company. With union leaders gathered in the plaza of the town of Ciénaga, near Santa Marta, in Magdalena Department, the soldiers started firing machine guns placed on roofs of buildings on all four corners of the plaza. Estimates of the number killed range from a few hundred to thousands of unionists. Afterwards, the corpses were loaded onto the trains used to ship fruit to the coast and dumped into the ocean. 

Some believe that the Colombian military acted because they feared that if they did not, then U.S. Navy ships waiting off the coast would invade. The U.S. Embassy at the time knew about the massacre, and reported it to Washington, but kept quiet publicly.  

The massacre brought fame to then-Senator Jorge Eliecer Gaitán, who made fiery speeches in Congress demanding punishment for the killers. But that didn't happen.

Today's performance portrayed the hungry workers with empty milk cans and starving infants. Death, with a skull head, pursued the workers and even chased Gaitán. Actors waved black and red flags, suggesting anarchism. Workers and Gaitán waved flags and yelled in protest. But a businessman denounced the workers as troublemakers who deserved repression.

For liberty! - if Death does not catch Gaitán.
Our poor starving babies!
The businessman, in grey on left, denounces the protesting workers as troublemakers who deserved what happened to them. 

Death victorious!

Shining shoes.

Who will fill our empty milk cans?

On a different note, a homage to the disappeared.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours