Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Price of Democracy

Humberto de la Calle celebrates victory.
The Partido Liberal, once one of the Colombia's two dominant political parties but now a minor player, held its presidential primary. Only 2% of eligible voters, and a far smaller proportion of Colombian citizens, participated in the election, which cost the nation 40 billion pesos, as well as subjecting the whole country to a dry Sunday and depriving tourists of public museums.

2% of the electorate participated.
But out of this exercise in democracy - which might have been better and more cheaply carried out by a phone survey or an internet vote - came the Liberal's presidential candidate, Humberto de la Calle, who defeated Minister of the Interior Juan Fernando Cristo. De la Calle headed the government delegation at the peace negotiations with the FARC guerrillas in Havana, Cuba, and would be a fitting succesor to Pres. Santos, who has made peace the centerpiece of his government.

Colombians will almost certainly face a choice between de la Calle and an anti-treaty candidate chosen by  ex-Pres. Uribe. The vote will become a referendum on the peace treaty.

If by next year, Colombians have accepted the peace agreement and want to move forward, then de la Calle will likely be the next president. But in the era of Brexit and Trump, there's no telling what might happen. The peace deal, after all, was narrowly defeated in a plebiscite.

It won't happen this time: A mural advertises the candidacy of Interior Ministry Juan Fernando Cristo.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Cynicism of Timochenko

FARC leader Timochenco, who created
millions of victims, is suddenly
concerned for them.
Timochenco, the ex-leader of the FARC guerrillas, and now presidential candidate of the FARC political party, apparently has a new mission: to fight for the rights of the victims of Colombia's armed conflict.

That's really interesting, since Timochenco, whose real name is Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, created innumerable victims himself as leader of the FARC guerrillas, who kidnapped, committed massacres, recruited children, forced women to have abortions and drove millions of peasants off of their land during their half-century of existence.

None of which, however, means that Timochenco's concerns are misplaced. In fact, the peace deal between the FARC and the government will mean widespread impunity for both soldiers and guerrillas, some of are eligible for political office despite being guilty of crimes against humanity. Timochenco, for his part, has been sentenced to hundreds of years in prison for myriad crimes. Those sentences will be suspended, however, as long as he participates in the JEP, the transitory judicial structure created to try ex-guerrillas and soldiers. Meanwhile, Timochenco is running for president.

Another group who will get off with a slap on the wrist are ranchers and businessmen who financed
Creating victims: Residents of the town of Bojayá, Chocó
clean up the church destroyed by a FARC cylinder bomb
which killed about 100 people.
illegal armed groups such as the guerrillas and their paramilitary enemies. The payments are known as vacunas, or 'vaccinations,' and opinions are polarized over whether those who made such payments are victims or criminals. In many cases, those who refused to pay off the outlaw groups have been kidnapped or murdered or had their livestock stolen. But many allege that landowners and corporations paid off illegal groups which returned the favor by driving peasants off of land the wealthy desired.

Ex-Pres. Alvaro Uribe also appears to have gotten off easy under the court's recent interpretation of the peace agreement. Uribe, who comes from a ranching family and whose father was murdered by the FARC, has been investigated multiple times for alleged links to right-wing death squads which flourished during his time in power. However, as an ex-president, he will enjoy immunity.

Yet, while it is certainly true that the conflict's victims will recieve short shrift, a successful peace process will hopefully reduce the number of victims created in the first place.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Plaza San Victorino UInder Guard

A police line on Plaza San Victorino today.
Plaza San Victorino, known for the nearby stores selling inexpensive toys, clothing, housewares and
Barricades on the plaza's west side.
other things, is sealed off these days. The city fears, reasonably, that, given the chance, street vendors will invade and occupy the plaza, as they have done many years before as Christmas neared. 

Some years, police invaded, the vendors rioted, and the police used tear gas. This year, they want to avoid those crises before they happen.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

The Bendita Chicha Festival

A few photos from the Bendita bebida festival held yesterday and today on the Plaza del Chorro de Queveda. Chicha and masato are traditional drinks inherited from the Muisca indigenous people, made from fermented corn and rice, respectively.

They're available around the plaza all the time (except during dry law), particularly in the Callejon del Embudo.

Bottles of chicha for sale.

Traditional foods.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Non-P.C. Forum

The Freedom Forum was held in the old Jockey Club
building off of Santander Plaza in La Candelaria.
When it comes to youth protest, usually the targets are pretty clear: The U.S. government, the World Bank, big business, Israel, etc. etc.

And there's plenty there to protest about, particularly with the current administration in Washington. But there's plenty to protest against in other places. So, it's refreshing to see young people taking on those other targets.

And some of those young people got their say this week at the College Freedom Forum, hosted this year by Bogotá's Rosario University. They included Abdalaziz Alhamza, a young Syrian, who talked about the horrors ISIS is committing against his country's people; Kimberley Motley, a U.S. citizen who is a pioneering defense attorney in Afghanistan, where just being a woman is a challenge, much less a foreigner who is of Korean and African descent; Cuban freedom activist Kimberley Motley; Mexican anti-drug prohibition activist Lisa Sánchez; and Ukranian anti-corruption activist Yulia Marushevska.

Significantly, the participants, four of the five of whom are women, don't seem to belong to any single ideology. Instead, they fight against severe social problems and straight-out evil.

Of course, the College Freedom Forum, and its sister organization, the Oslo Freedom Forum, as well as their sponsor, the New York-based Human Rights Foundation have been linked to islamophobia for criticism of repressive governments in Moslem nations. The Rights Foundation "has been described by the Cuban state media as a CIA front, labeled “imperialist” by the Ecuadorean president, and declared “enemies of the state” by the Venezuelan propaganda machine" says the Huffington Post. But, sadly, many Moslem-majority nations do have repressive governments. And Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela, which label themselves lefist 'revolutionaries,' have all committed serious violations of human rights.

For its part, the Rights Foundation says it promotes an open society and opposes authoritarianism. It's hard to argue with those values.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

When Institutions Don't Work

Are they real, or just virtual?
Case One: For months, our building's sewage system regular crisis. During hard rains, the
wastewater would back up and come flowing up out of the bathroom drain, obliging all of us to grab mops and buckets and clean the mess up.

The landladies, who live upstairs, didn't care - until it happened to them. Then, they hired laborers to clean and rebuild the house's pipes. Then, the only step left was for the city's Acueducto, or Water, department, to hook the house's pipes up to the city sewer line.

That was months ago, and we're still waiting.

One of the landladies, who has physical and psychological problems, has visited Acueducto at least a half dozen times, and come back with promises that they would do the work 'in a few days', 'in a week', 'in a month', etc. They even wrote 'Emergencia!' in big letters on one of the work orders. They've broken all their promises.

To compound the situation's absurdity, the last time the landlady visited Acueducto, they told her she needed to first go get permits from the city's Transit and Public Space departments. And then come back to acueducto.

Shouldn't the water department, rather than the homeowner, have the responsibility of coordinating with the transit department about planned street work? And if they do want the homeowner to do the city employees' job, shouldn't they have told her this the first time she visited, months ago?

Or is all this delay and run-around their way of saying 'You need to grease my palm to get anything done'?
'God and Fatherland.'
And where does the
public service come in?

Case Two: More than two months ago, a foreigner who has lived in Colombia for years was walking down a Candelaria street when a youth stabbed him several times in the back.

The foreigner almost died of blood loss, spent more than a month in the hospital, underwent a half dozen surgeries, lost a piece of one kidney, and is now at home recuperating.

Meanwhile, what have the police done about this attempted murder? The police 'investigador' only interviewed the victim more than two weeks after the attack - and only after we complained to his superiors - and more than two months after the crime he has not talked to the witness. The street has many video cameras which might have captured the attack, but the investigador hasn't looked at the videos. Instead, he gave the victim's teenage son a letter authorizing him to obtain the videos.

"He wants me to do his job," the son says.

A Colombian acquaintance who works in a La Candelaria hotel had a similar experience after being stabbed in an attempted mugging. He went down to the police station and placed the denuncia, but hasn't heard from the cops since.

How many people have these criminals robbed, attacked or even murdered since? But identifying and catching them seems to carry a much lower priority with the cops than, say, shaking down kids for smoking pot or stopping tour guides for working without the benefit of a Sena certification.

And if the public institutions are this apathetic and abusive here, in central Bogotá, in one of the city's more important neighborhoods, the heart of its tourism industry, then what happens when someone needs help in Usme, Kennedy, Ciudad Bolivar or some other barrio popular?

Yet, the really remarkable thing is that Colombian institutions actually work WELL compared to those in many neighboring countries, such as Venezuela and Bolivia. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have sought refuge in Colombia because of the astronomical levels of corruption and criminal violence there (as well as the collapsing economy and hyuperinflation).

In Bolivia, where I lived some 15 years ago, the public institutions seemed designed primarily to squeeze money out of the people they were supposed to serve. There, my landlady's telephone would get cut off periodically, and she'd have to go down to the phone company and pay someone a bribe to get it turned back on. And the police seemed to make a practice of arresting people in order to force them to pay a bribe to be released - a form of institutionalized state kidnapping for ransom.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The War We Have Not Seen

Massacre victims.
A paramilitary commander kidnaps a woman on suspicion of guerrilla sympathies, holds and rapes her, and then murders her to keep her quiet.

A teenage FARC guerrilla, eight months pregnant, wants to have her baby. But the guerrilla leaders
Massacring civilians.
force a doctor to abort her pregnancy. When the doctor and the baby's father both object, the guerrilla leaders order them murdered, too.

A child soldier flees a paramilitary unit, but is recaptured. The paramilitary commander gathers together the students from the local school to watch the execution, as a warning.

A guerrilla unit commander, ordered to blow up a military vehicle, becomes bored with waiting, and decides to bomb a car carrying a civilian family instead.

FARC guerrillas, suspicous that a local schoolteacher is reporting on them when she leaves town, capture and hang her.

A funeral.
Such horrors became almost routine during Colombia's long and senseless conflict. And such accounts, told by ex-combatants, many of them only children when they joined up, are on display now in Bogotá's Museum of Modern Art, illustrated by childlike paintings.

The project is called 'The War We Have Not Seen', by the Points of Encounter Foundation, and captures a few of the conflict's innumerable horrors, horrors which would have made headlines in any normal country, but, if not for this project, would have gone unnoticed here.

The museum has, incidentally, done a good job of becoming bilingual.
A hanging.

A river of death.

Killing a woman.

Kidnap victims.

A massacre.

A paramilitary officer. In the background, a woman he raped and then murdered.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours