Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Welcome to Gridlock

Much more of this to come. Cars in a jam on Carrera 30. 
In a grim move for a liveable Bogotá, the City Council voted down a proposed traffic congestion charge.

A daily traffic jam in La Candelaria.
Look forward to a future of ever-worsening traffic jams, noise and pollution. It's a future which will hurt everybody - except for those who sell cars, gasoline and parking lots.

In opposing the charge, a city councilwoman opined that 'Bogotá was not ready for a congestion charge.'

Does that mean that Bogotá IS READY for tens of thousands of additional cars, which will compound traffic jams?

When will Bogotá be ready for a congestion charge? Perhaps a decade or more from now, when a first subway line is finally working? By then, the number of private cars in Bogotá may have doubled, strangling the city.

But congestion charges, which have reduced traffic jams and pollution in London, Singapore and other cities, can do particular good exactly because a city lacks a subway system. The income generated by such a charge would help finance Bogotá's mass transit.

Why did the council dump the congestion charge after months of discussion, despite the support of both Mayor Petro and his temporary replacement Rafael Pardo and two studies which concluded that a charge would work?

I bet that those who profit from traffic jams and air pollution, including car sellers, gasoline vendors and the car parking industry, with their deep pockets, lobbied hard against the congestion charge. Who backed it? Perhaps a few NGOs.

Meanwhile, Colombia continues taking public money away from schools, hospitals and parks to subsidize the diesel and gasoline fuels which are poisoning us and turning our streets into parking lots.

Do those sound like rational priorities? Of course not.

The brilliant cynic Ambrose Bierce defined democracy as 'Three wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.'

With powerful economic interests ready to attack it, a congestion charge won't have much chance until a popular and charismatic leader, who's willing to take short-term political costs, champions the idea. Mayor Gustavo Petro, who seems obsessed with fighting to hold onto power for the sake of holding onto power, isn't that man.

In a May 7 editorial, El Tiempo suggests that the City Council's vote was 'political' and argues that a congestion charge is a necessity for Bogotá. City Hall will introduce the measure again, El Tiempo says. Hopefully, I don't expect much from the Petro administration.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Encapuchados Warm Up for May Day

Hooded rioters prepare to hurl Molotov cocktails at the police.
May Day's around the corner, but the encapuchados at the Universidad Nacional aren't waiting. Today, the 'hooded ones' turned out in force to throw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the riot police, who fired back with tear gas and water cannons.

The rioters are supposedly supporting small farmers, who are holding marches and blocking roads once again in protest against low prices for their harvests and the high cost of supplies. It's not clear how the rioting helps the farmers, but the youths evidently enjoy causing havoc. And, since the university campus is 'autonomous', the police can't invade it, making the protesters almost invulnerable.

Tear gas cannisters explode on a campus lawn.
Why do the police insist on surrounding and confronting these anarchists? All they're doing is giving the rioters what they want. If the police stayed away, the encapuchados would march around, get bored and go home.

While all this was going on, most of the students went on with their days, eating lunch and going to classes. What would happen if anarchists like these appeared on a U.S. or European campus?
An anti-riot tank arrives at the university.

A line of riot police on Carrera 30, beside the National University.

A Molotov cocktail bursts into flame near a riot police line by the university's 26th St. entrance.

Jammed traffic on Carrera 26 heading toward the university. Of course, such traffic jams are a daily occurrence, anyway.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Only 21,000 Avoidable Deaths...

Belching diesel smoke on Ave. Septima.
According to a study published by the Universidad Nacional, Bogotá could prevent more than 21,000 premature deaths between now and 2020 just by bringing its atmospheric concentrations of tiny particles called PM10 down to 50 micrograms per cubic meter, a level considered acceptable by the World Health Organization.

Perhaps the possibility of preventing tens of thousands of deaths will motivate officials to enforce environmental laws? No. That's unthinkable.

Will the prospect of tens of thousands of unnecessary, preventable deaths make air pollution as important as the Millionarios' win-loss record or the price of gasoline? Impossible!

Perhaps this mass killing will push Justin Bieber and George Clooney out of the headlines? Don't even think about it!

Would it be different if they were 25,000 deaths? 30,000? How many people must die?

Sooting up the air near the Universidad Nacional.
Those PM10 particles are dangerous just because their tiny size enables them to get stuck in your lungs and other parts.

According to the National University study, cleaning the air would save the lives of 21,000 adults and 900 children young than five, as well as prevent thousands of hospitalizations, emergency room visits and avoid more than 30,000 cases of acute respiratory disease.

A cement truck sends up a blast of smoke on
Ave. Septima, near Parque de la Independencia.
And Bogotá surely could clean up its air. But that would mean actually enforcing emissions laws on cars, buses, trucks and factories - something officials prefer not to do. Bogotá announced recently that Ave. Septima would become a 'green corridor' (not the first time they've promised that) thanks to low-emissions flex buses and the withdrawal of some of those ancient 'rolling chimneys' from the avenue. A look at La Septima, however, reveals little more than those chimneys, usually trapped in congestion. And, even if the city does remove some of the old smoke belchers from this iconic avenue, will they not just shift to another part of the city? And have environmental officials forgotten that air pollution respects no boundaries?

What kind of society just stands by while tens of thousands of people die and many more suffer needlessly? Who is responsible?  The companies which don't want to hurt their profits cleaning up their machines? Or the environmental officials don't bother to enforce the laws? Or the public which suffers passively? Maybe all of them.
A generator belches smoke on Plaza Bolivar during the memorial ceremony for writer Gabriel Garcia Márquez.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, April 25, 2014

What is Funambulos?

Hanging out in Parque de la Independencia.
Perhaps you've passed by the Parque de la Independencia recently and noticed these strange figures hanging in the trees. They aren't fallen extraterrestrials or earthly visitors who smoked too much of that good stuff.

Rather, they were made by the Funambulos Theater, also known as Teatro La Macarena, located uphill in the Bosque Izquierdo section of the La Macarena neighborhood.

Funambulos, an experimental theater supported by the city and private funders, held an open house this month coinciding with the Iberoamerican Theater Festival.

A figure cheers up the park's vandalized merry-go-round.
The theater also decorated Parque de la Independencia's once-handsome merry-go-round, whose seats were stolen last year.

Funambulos Theater in Bosque Izquierdo.

Funambulos' attic, with a curious floor.
The interior of Los Funambulos.

A photo shoot in Fundambulos.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Enough Already! (Petro's back)

A Petro supporter carries flags on Ave. Septima.
I woke up this morning feeling a terrible tension, which lasted most of the day. It continued when I saw the piles of trash on central Bogotá's streetcorners, the vehicles belching plumes of smoke and the endless traffic jams.

Why did these scenes of urban malaise - which I see every single day - bother me today in particular?

Because Mayor Petro's back, reinstated by a judge.

It's not so much because I think Petro was a bad mayor - even tho he accomplished little and seems to believe that billboards and radio ditties will change people's behavior more than enforcing laws will.

No, Bogotá's urban troubles angered me particularly today because, with the city's mayor mayhem continuing into a second round, there's no end in sight for these urban maladies.

Petro was mayor for a little more than two years, the final months of which he spent mostly fighting
Pro-Petro people on Ave. Septima celebrate their
man's return to office.
the inspector general's decision to oust him for allegedly mishandling garbage collection and a recall vote. The scheduled recall vote was cancelled after Petro finally lost a long legal battle against his ouster.

Petro was first replaced by labor minister Rafael Pardo, who actually got things done, who was in turn replaced by Petro ally Maria Mercedes Maldonado, who held the office for barely one day.

Now, the recall vote will be rescheduled, and the legal fight over the inspector general's order will continue.

Bogotá's merry-go-round of mayors will continue, with officeholders who don't know how long they'll be there and who are more concerned about keeping their grip on power than actually exercising it.

And, meanwhile, garbage will keep piling up, the air will get dirtier and traffic jams will get longer, because we've got nobody at the helm.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Very Colombian Send-Off for Márquez

People lined up today to attend a mass in honor of Gabriel García Márquez.
Today's mass honoring the late Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez struck me as an only-in-Colombia event. To enter the Catedral de Bogotá you had to pass thru three (count 'em) police checkpoints, where you were frisked and your bags searched. Would terrorists and assassins really try to infiltrate a revered novelist's memorial service? Well, maybe, in Colombia. 

Just to make certain that nobody could mistake Plaza Bolivar for a scene from a magical realism novel, in front of city hall a group of people displaced by violence were camped out demanding government assistance. 

The principle memorial ceremony for Márquez was held yesterday in Mexico City, where he lived the last half-century of his life. Márquez was cremated and his ashes are to be divided between Mexico and Colombia, but it's not clear where Colombia's share will be kept. Márquez's hometown of Aracataca wants the ashes for a museum about the novelist's life (even tho some of the town's residents feel that Márquez should have helped them more).
'Goodbye to our Gabo.'

A young man waiting in line reads a newspaper about Márquez. Very few of the people waiting to honor the novelist used their time to read.

A last-minute clean-up for Simon Bolivar, who is normally covered with graffiti.
Not a country of magical realism: People displaced by Colombia's violence demand government assistance on Plaza Bolivar. 

Police search people on their way to mass. There were three police checkpoints. 

A generator supplying electricity to the event belches out smoke. 
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Gabriel García Márquez: Already Forgotten?

A few months ago City Hall on Plaza Bolivar carried a huge banner in memorial of the deceased South African leader Nelson Mandela. I expected at least as much for Márquez, but City Hall's wall is empty. 
Today, I took a cruise thru La Candelaria in search of some memorial to Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez, who died a few days ago in Mexico City.

Colombian Pres. Santos declared three days of national mourning for this great Colombian, as well as a memorial service next Tuesday in the Cathedral de Bogotá. Márquez's funeral is to be held Monday in Mexico City, where the novelist lived for a half century. He has already been cremated, but it's not clear whether they will be interred in Mexico or Colombia.

Strangely, even tho Márquez lived and worked for a time in La Candelaria (he worked for the El Espectador newspaper before moving to Paris and becoming a novelist) and several institutions here carry his name, I found no memorial to the novelist.

In the town of Aracataca where Márquez was born, the people seem to have mixed feelings about their most famous son. Márquez visited only rarely and contributed little of his fortune to the development of the town, which still doesn't even have fresh water.
The Gabriel García Márquez Cultural Center was built by the Mexican government's cultural agency. Strangely, the building has never had an exhibition about Márquez, but I expected SOMETHING about the man's passing. However, I saw nothing. 
The old El Espectador building on Ave. Jimenez. They might have hung a black banner here, or a photo of the novelist.

A flag a half mast on a government TV station building on Calle 26 - the only official sign I saw of Márquez's passing. 
A newspaper vendor in La Candelaria. Since Márquez's death, several papers have reported an almost nothing else. 

People ponder an exhibition about Márquez's life on the wall of the BLAA library in La Candelaria. But the annual exhibition was here before the novelist's death. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Complicated Character

Gabriel García Márquez: 1927-2014
Gabriel García Márquez, Nobel Prize Winner, Colombia's most famous author, leftist icon and a writer whose work captured Colombian history and culture, died today at age 87.

I'll leave evaluating his fiction to others with better literary taste, except to say that I've enjoyed his autobiography and journalistic reporting more than his fiction, and his lesser-known works - particularly the historically-based ones - more than his master work, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

It's sad that Márquez, Colombia's only Nobel Prize winner and a pioneer of a style of fiction known as magical realism, died as the second-most-famous-Colombian, behind the monstrous Pablo Escobar. 

Márquez will be remembered as a great artist and great Colombian - both of which are true. But, unfortunately, he'll also be remembered as a kind of saint and patriot - which is less true.

Márquez was a leftist, and perhaps something of a leftist of convenience during his later decades. During its early years, when it was still politically palatable, Márquez associated himself with the M-19 guerrillas. Threats resulting from that relationship drove him out of the country, and Márquez lived for the last half century in Mexico City, even tho Colombia's political climate had improved enough to permit him to safely return home.

Márquez's leftist rhetoric and ideas earned him the friendship of Fidel Castro, whom Márquez visited repeatedly in Havana, where Márquez had a home. Márquez, who got his start in writing as a journalist, also created a foundation to teach journalism and purchased and then sold a weekly newsmagazine, Cambio. Yet, I almost never heard anybody call Márquez on the contradiction between promoting free speech and befriending - and thus supporting - the hemisphere's last dictator and greatest repressor of free speech.

Márquez was sometimes criticized for not being more philanthropic. The comparison to singer Shakira, of Hips Don't Lie fame, is not flattering. Shakira's art may be more superficial than Márquez's, but with her Pies Descalzos children's foundation she's given a lot more to her country.

In 1972, after winning the Venezuelan Romulo Vallegos literary prize, Márquez gave the $100,000 award to a Venezuelan political party: the Movement Toward Socialism. Couldn't Marquez have found a worthy cause at home? his critics asked.

Where Márquez rested on his leftist laurels, his sometimes-friend, sometimes-enemy, fellow Peruvian Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, remains politically active and opinionated (Vargas Llosa is also a decade younger).

Márquez was certainly a great artist. But whether his character made him a great man is a different matter, and the two shouldn't be confused.

Addendum: Maria Fernanda Cabal, recently elected to Congress with the conservative Centro Democratico Party, made waves by tweeting a photograph of Márquez and Fidel Castro with the phrase 'Soon they'll be together in hell.' A few hours later, she erased the tweet. She later tweeted that she didn't question Márquez's literary greatness, but did question his 'indifference toward Colombia.'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fish Feeding Frenzy in Paloquemao

The venerable Paloquemao market's fish section is packed these days (while the neighboring meat section stands vacant). This is Holy Week, of course, and even if the number of Colombian Catholics is declining - and many of those Catholics are only nominally so - as these photos show, eating fish during Holy Week is still popular, if only for cultural reasons.

Bagre on the chopping block. The fish is endangered and may be absent in future years.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours