Wednesday, June 21, 2017

An Urban Garden in Peril

A rare sight in the city center: A free-range chicken.
In May 2015, volunteers began clearing away weeds and garbage and preparing the soil in a lot which had sat empty for many years on the edge of La Candelaria.

In the years since then, children from a local foiundation and adults with mental disabilities

Unfortunately, the city may soon take the land away, depriving the children and adults of healthy fruits, veggies, as well as healthful physical activity. The city says it will build a neighborhood social center on the land. That might be justifiable, but unfortunately the city's plans usually take years to get started - if they happen at all.

Meanwhile, the Huertolaria garden will not likely find another location.
Adults with Down Syndrome, who live in a house across the sreet, come daily to help on the farm.
Building a wall.
A boy and his chicken.

This courageous writer and a dangrous chicken.


The garden's workers.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Twisted Sort of Miracle

'Pilar Molano, a miracle amidst terrorism.' From Semana magazine.
For me, this headline captures what is either infuriatingly close-minded or touchingly naive about religious faith.

Pilar Molano in happier times.
I should be clear that I'm not against faith, which can provide comfort in times of crisis, like this one. And that I'm happy that Pilar Molano survived the bombing at the Andino shopping mall and hope that she recovers completely.

But calling a close call with death like this one a 'miracle' is a bizarre distortion of the world. Explicitly understood, a miracle is a supernatural intervention by a God to aid someone. If I could somehow suddenly jump 100 feet high or write like Shakespeare, then that would be a miracle.

But if God exists and he or she wanted to help Pilar Molano, then the about the worst way to do it would be to make her the victim of a near-fatal terrorist attack and then let her narrowly survive it, albeit with a terribly mutilated leg.

If God really wanted to perform a miracle for Pilar, he or she might have helped Pilar to achieve her life's dream, whatever it may be: playing music professionally, living in Hawaii, or flying an airplane. Or whatever.

But submitting Pilar to a incomprehensible terror attack and letting her barely survive it, seems like a twisted sort of miracle.

As for the bombing itself, authorities appear to still be at a loss as to the culprits. Fingers have pointed at three different groups, however:

The ELN guerrillas, who in February planted a bomb in a sidewalk above Bogotá's bullfighting stadium, killing two police officers and injuring about 20. But the ELN have denied being behind this bombing.

The Úsuga Clan, also known as the Urabeños or Clan del Golfo. The clan is into narcotrafficking, and illegal mining, which it protects with mass murder. But the clan doesn't appear to operate in Bogotá, and random, unclaimed terror attacks don't seem to be its style or in its interests.

The shadowy Movimiento Revolucionario del Pueblo (MRP), a group with links to public university students, which has planted bombs in Bogotá public restrooms and other sites over the last several years. But if the MRP did commit this terror attack, then why doesn't it claim it?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pure and Simple Terrorism

Memorials to the three women killed hang in the Centro Andino shopping mall.
(Photo: El Espectador
The bomb which exploded in a shopping mall bathroom yesterday killing three people and injuring at least eight caused far fewer human victims than many other Colombian attacks, but in its own way was much more terrifying.

Pablo Escobar's bombing of the DAS headquarters in 1989 killed 70 people (including the grandmother of a friend of mine) and injured many more. The Feb. 2003 FARC bombing of the exclusive El Nogal Club in north Bogota killed 36 people and injured more than 200. In November of that same year, FARC guerrillas threw hand grenades into a Bogotá Beer Company bar and neighboring restaurant, which North American Plan Colombia workers frequented, killing one Colombian woman and injuring 73 other people, including three Americans. This February, a bomb exploded on the sidewalk above Bogotá's bullfighting stadium, killing two police officers and injuring 20 more people.

As terrible as those attacks were, at least they were directed at some recognizable target: the DAS (Colombia's FBI), the business elite, U.S. government employees, the police, etc. But yesterday's bombing in the Centro Andino shopping mall had no rhyme or reason we've learned of, and nobody has claimed responsibility for it. The victims were common people, if likely wealthy ones, and the bombers could have had no way to know who would be inside that women's bathroom at that moment. One of those killed, Julie Huynh, a 23-year-old Frenchwoman doing social work in Colombia, was a friend of friends of mine.

That gives this bombing a special sort of horror, like a vehicle mowing down an anonymous crowd of pedestrians: the feeling that fatal violence could occur anywhere, with no reason, and that there's no way to avoid the risk - besides perhaps staying at home in bed.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Development by Rural Radio

Popular Cultural Action.
'You should buy a
NEW battery radio.
In the age of the internet and smart phones, old fashioned radio often gets overlooked. That's not yet true, however, in the countryside, where in some areas radio is the only source of local news.

During the 1940s, '50s and '60s, the Colombian government tried to use radio to promote land redistribution and health care, teach literacy and even promote family planning - and got embroiled in polemics with religous conservatives and anti-Communists.

Today, radio is still important in rural areas, in some of which it is the only
The BLAA exhibition.
 local news source. However, in some places that radio station belongs to the military or police, making one question how objective and inclusive the news is.

There's an exhibition about Colombia's rural radio on now in the BLAA library on Calle 11 in La Candelaria.

A priest reads to the radio.

'How to reach a man's mind.'

A young, apparently VP Nixon, talks radio.

Agrarian reform.

'The great communist threat.'

Services for the campesino.

'It's no sin to talk about that' (family planning).

Mother and Child.

'Land Distribution Plan.'

'Agrarian social reform is Christian and not communist.'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Required Reading for Bogotá Breathers

'Dying for a breath of Bogotá Air', from The City Paper
Steve Hide's interesting piece on Bogotá's perpetual air pollution crisis in the June The City Paper gives a good illustration of Bogotá's impotent air quality enforcement. (Unfortunately, I couldn't find the article online.)

Too tough for environmental officials to identify?
A 'green' bus belches its way along Carrera 10.
My favorite part - for ironical reasons - is the quote from the Bogotá Environmental Secretariat official, who complains that "citizens don't know how to denounce" dirty vehicles, to the government's hotline. That's probably true, but it begs the question of why city environmental officials rely on the public instead of doing their job by stopping and fining these 'rolling smokestacks.'

Hide writes that in Quito, Ecuador he saw environmental officials testing buses' emissions. In my 13 years residence in Bogota, which has included countless hours pedaling the city's streets and avenues, I have not even once seen officials testing a bus's emissions.

Bogotá's air pollution is slow motion murder committed in everybody's plain site, every single day.

An exhaust pipe near Palo Quemao.
A woman gets blown away by a TransMilenio bus, icon of Bogotá.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, June 12, 2017

Equal Opportunity Evil

A family's memorial to their daughter, who, along with her boyfriend, was murdered, chopped to pieces and thrown into a river by paramilitaries.
A few of the disappeared, who number in the tens of thousands.
A photo exhibition on now in the Centro de Memoria on Calle 26 beside the Central Cemetery makes a simple point: In Colombia's long conflict, there are no good guys. The leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and even the government forces have all committed terrible crimes.

The victims of all sides, and the only good guys, are Colombia's civilians. Kidnapped, 'disappeared' and driven out of their homes and off their land, civilians have been attacked by groups which often claim to be defending them.
Displaced Embera indigenous people.

Today, the FARC guerrillas, Colombia's oldest and largest guerrilla group, are turning in their weapons and demobilizing. However, where the FARC go away, other illegal groups try to move in to take over the guerrillas' drug trafficking, extortion and illegal mining businesses.

Displaced Emberá Chamí indigenous people.

The Centro de Memoria, off of Calle 26 near the Central Cemetery.

Sadly, the Centro de Memory, including its exhibitions, is usually vacant.

Female guerrillas. Young people in parts of rural Colombia may join illegal groups because they know no other authority.
Girls and women in guerrilla groups may be exploited sexually and forced to have abortions.

Indigenous guards, who have struggled to exclude other armed groups from their territories.

Burying a pregnant woman, apparently murdered with government collaboration.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Painting La Candelaria

Polka-Doting Carrera 3.
Today, the city organized a painting festival of some of La Candelaria's older homes, made ugly by neglect and graffiti. Hundreds of volunteers turned out, in what was a sort of street party.

Now, how long will the clean new walls last?
Painting a house.

Sponsored by Citibank!

'Please don't paint this wall.' 

Before the painting, many walls looked like this.

Many houses were graffitied.

A street packed with painters

These kids painted more than the walls.
A graffitied wall in the La Concordia neighborhood.

Painting an historic home.

Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, who is fighting a recall effort, showed up.

Piano playing in the street.

Cleaning up.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours