Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Venezuelan Opposition's Moment

A selfie with the crowd in back, as Venezuelans voted today on Plaza Bolivar.
'The people decide!
Colombia has filled during recent years with Venezuelan political and economic refugees, and today they showed their strength. Thousands filled Plaza Bolivar for a plebiscite designed to weaken Venezuela's increasingly hapless, corrupt and authoritarian government.

The opposition's positions will win overwhelmingly - and the government will ignore it and continue
with carreening toward dictatorship. On July 30, the government plans to hold a vote vote to elect an assembly to rewrite the nation's Constitution. But the voting system and representation were designed by the Venezuelan government to guarantee itself a majority.

The people decide!, on three
questions designed to
weaken the government.
Interestingly, the Maduro government has recently suspended regional elections it was sure to lose, arguing that with oil prices low it could not afford to hold the vote. However, it did miraculously find the money to hold the constitutional assembly vote it plans to wind.

The government in Caracas has also used its packed Supreme Court to nullify all decisions taken by parliament, which is overwhelmingly dominated by the opposition.

Today's ballot, designed and promoted by the MUD opposition coalition to Venezuelan Pres. Nicolás Maduro, contained three questions:

- Do you reject the constitutional assembly planned by Nicolas Maduro without the previous approval of the Venezuelan people?

- Do you demand that the armed forces and all public functionaries obey the 1999 Constitution and back the decisions of the National Assembly.

'Gochos united in Bogotá.' Gochos are people
born in the Venezuelan state of Tachira.
- Do you approve of the public authorities and the creation of a national union government and the holding of free and transparent elections to restore the constitutional order.

Many observers believe that in Venezuela power ultimately rests with the military. Opposition leaders argue that the government has violated the 1999 Constitution, written under the leadership of the now-deceased Hugo Chavez and would like the military to refuse to obey the government.

.Whatever happens in Venezuela: Continued crisis, outright dictatorship, revolution or civil war, it will mean huge impacts on Colombia, in terms of trade and immigration.

In a celebratory mood, Venezuelans oppositionists line up to vote on Plaza Bolivar.

Painting Venezuelan flags.

A Venezuelan exile's sign: 'Maduro, it's your fault that my children miss their grandparents.'

Venezuelan government opponents pack the Plaza Bolivar.
Venezuelans walk to vote.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, July 7, 2017

Maria, a Sesquicentennial Celebration

Perhaps it's appropriate that Jorge Isaacs was recently removed from the 50,000-peso bill and replaced with fellow novelist Gabriel García Márquez.

A scene from Isaacs' novel 'Maria.'
After all, Isaacs' signature novel, Maria, represents a past era and a past mindset. It's a romantic, sentimental novel, set near Cali on a plantation ironically named El Paraiso worked by slaves, and resembling his family's own hacienda.

Altho Maria, published in 1867, the story of a love affair between two cousins, was produced repeatedly on the theatre stage, television and in movies, it seems that few people read it anymore, perhaps because its sentimental romanticism is so 19th-century. Today, it's all about magical realism.

Nevertheless, this being the novel's 150th anniversary, it's receiving a bit of attention, including an exhibition in the Biblioteca Nacional in Bogotá, which calls the novel:

'the foundational novel of Colombian literature for its representation of relations between different
A plantation scene on the El Paraiso plantation.
social classes, the protagonism of the landscape, the reflections about the transformation of the colonial and plantation world, the ideas of a 'nation', and the era's political tensions.'

But appreciating those aspects requires a familiarity with 19-century Colombian society, which few have today.

Isaacs himself, who lived from 1837 to 1895, was an extraordinary character who lived a life which might have come from a Garcia Marquez novel: The son of a Colombian mother and a Jewish-Jamaican immigrant, Isaacs' failures in business caused him to turn to politics, literature and the military. He was at times a soldier, politician, road engineer, explorer, educational planner, and would-be coup leader in Antioquia Department. And, despite his idealized portrait of plantation life, Isaacs campaigned to end slavery, which he called 'a cancer.'

He left behind a book of poems and his novel Maria, a bestseller in its day translated into 31 languages.

Reading a modern version of Isaacs' 'Nueva Era' newspaper.

The art deco National Library, in Bogotá.               

A character in Maria is attacked by a crocodile.

A portrait of Maria.

A modern version of Isaacs' newspaper, the Nueva Era.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, July 3, 2017

'Money for the FARC, Hunger for the Victims.'

'Money for the FARC, hunger for the victims.'
These folks protested the other day against the peace accord, which includes stipends and other forms of support for the demobilized FARC guerrillas. According to some analysis, the guerrillas will even be able to control much of their ill-gotten money.

There's also something funny about these protesters' signs: They look very professional for something made by displaced victims of the guerrillas - as tho someone else (Uribistas???) were funding this group.

But, putting all of that aside, as well as the argument that a very imperfect peace deal was the best deal possible, the guerrillas did victimize many innocent people, most of them humble ones - and they deserve to be remembered.

'Alan Jara, humanize the unit of victims.'
Jara, an ex-governor who was once kidnapped by the FARC, heads the government's program to help victims of the conflict. 

'The state perpetuates the suffering of the victims.'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Plastic Everywhere, and No Solution in Sight

Before the plastic bag tax: Carrying plastic bags (probably full of more plastic bags) home from the supermarket.
After the bag tax: the more things change, the more they stay the same: Carrying plastic bags (probably full of more plastic bags) home from the supermarket.

Sackss of plastic bags and other trash in the Plaza San Victorino.
Nobody doubts that plastic bags are a problem. They little streets, plazas and parks, trash up rivers and clog sewers. And a lot of them end up in the ocean, where animals swallow them and choke to death. And then there are all the petroleum resources used to manufacture the bags, and the pollution generated during the process. All to make something which is often used just once, for a short time, and then discarded.

So, give Bogotá officials credit for recognizing the problem. If only they would try an effective solution.

First came 'educational' measures for stores. Some neighborhood stores put up signs encouraging customers to bring their own bags - which almost everybody ignored.

Worth something?
Then, on July 1 a bag tax kicked in - of 20 pesos -  or 6/10 of one U.S. penny. Nobody bothers to pick a 20 peso coin up off the street, nor do people carry them, making this tax meaningless. So, unless the same customer uses five bags, he likely won't get charged at all. At the same time, I don't see any practical way the DIAN can monitor how many plastic bags a store uses. (Expect a black market in plastic bags). So, stores will simply pass on to all of their customers the tax bill for the bags they report using, eliminating the tax's incentive quality.
The tax didn't discourage this shopper from packing her
shopping cart with bags filled with more bags.

All of this makes about as much sense as Colombia's policy to reduce carbon generation, in which the country simultaeneously taxes carbon to discourage its use, and also subsidizes fuel consumption and encourages oil and coal production.

It's no wonder that plastic bag habits are tough to change. Not only are plastic bags convenient, but a friend points out that giving them out has become a 'social gesture.' I couldn't count the number of times that a seller has chased after me or literally cried out in protest when I rejected his or her offer of a completely useless plastic bag to carry home a single apple, a candy bar or a box of aspirin. But the bag came from somebody's heart.

Taxes have effectively reduced plastic bag use in Ireland, some U.S. cities, and other localesbcxi. But those places have stronger legal systems and lower rates of corruption and black markets.

Perhaps a bag tax would work here if the government either enforced it using sting operations, or actually taxed the newly-manufactured bags.

'Please bring your own bag.' This sign, in a shop in La Candelaria, was removed once employees realized that the pllastic bag decree wouldn't be enforced.

A sign in a shop implores customers to save the planet by bringing their own bags.
Notice the woman's hand giving a customer a bag.
City workers hand out reuseable bags in La Candelaria. They gave the bags to anybody willing to sign for them, whether they needed them or not.
A proud woman with her free bags.

This older woman scored two bags. But will she ever use them? Could she actually carry one full of stuff?
The La Panamericana stores seem to have taken real measures. Here, a sign at the checkout counter saying they no longer will give out bags smaller than 30 by 30 cms.

Canvas bags for sale in La Panamericana.
The bag rule doesn't apply to neighborhood corner shops and traditional markets like this one.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Trash Museum: A Monument to Wastefullness

Bike tourists on a drizzly day outside the 'Garbage Museum' in Teusaquillo.
'Cosmic suicide will awaken us from lethargy.' Thoreau.
Talk about turning a vice into a virtue. The resident of a house on a quiet corner in Teusaquillo evidently liked collecting discarded stuff - but not cleaning up. Over the years, his house and yard filled with the results of his habit, turning the lot into something like a city dump, to the great delight, undoubtedly, of his neighbors.

When you've made a mess of things, it's good to paint it as a matter of principle. Thus, the trash museum has signs pointing out how wasteful and resource-greedy humans are. 'Did some of these objects come from your house?' asks one sign. Another advises 'Think before you buy,' and a third warns of cosmic collapse. He's also got a sophisticated website.

The trash museum, if that's what it is, makes an important point about humanity's wastefullness. And particularly in a city which does little recycling, and, more importantly, makes no effort to reduce the amount of waste produced, in the first place.

A discarded doll inside the house.
The trash museum's trashy entranceway.

'We are the garbage culture.'

N ice flowers!

'Think before you buy.'
'What are you doing?'

The front of the garbage museum, on a corner in Teusaquillo.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours