Monday, April 29, 2013

Attorney General Ordoñez Vs. Historical Fact

A.G. Ordoñez prefers not to answer.
Colombia's Federation of Jewish Communities is demanding that Attorney General Alejandro Ordoñez come clean on whether he believes the Nazi Holocaust happened.

For the record, it's hard to think of another historical even that's better documented than the Holocaust: there are the survivors' statements, the Nuremberg and other trials, confessions by Nazi perpetrators, voluminous Nazi records, the concentration camps - which are there to be visited, and, of course, the fact that the large Jewish populations which existed across Europe disappeared during World War II.

According to historical investigators, the Nazis massacred some 6 million Jews and hundreds of thousands of gays, Gypsies, communists and disabled people.

A lie? Piled corpses of victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

Ordoñez, a hard line conservative and traditionalist Catholic, got himself into this situation during an April 8Blu Radio. Ordóñez has said that he feels like he's 'on trial at Nuremberg' because of criticisms of his views opposing abortion, gay rights and a law banning discrimination.
interview by writer Héctor Abad Faciolince on

Abad asked Ordóñez "Do you believe that the Jewish Holocaust, by the government of Hitler, was an exaggeration?"

Armando Valenzuela Ruiz,
Colombian neo Nazi.

(Photo from a Neo Nazi
 site, where he shares the 
page with Hitler, 
Mussolini and Goebbels.)

Abad's didn't come out of the blue, as Daniel Coronell, a newspaper columnist, leader of Colombia's tiny Jewish community and executive of Univision in Miami, pointed out in a column in Semana magazine. After all, Ordóñez is a follower of conservative Catholic Bishop Marcel Lefebvre, some of whose other followers have denied the Holocaust. Even more incriminating are Ordoñez's associations with Armando Valenzuela Ruiz, a founder of Colombia's paramilitaries and life-long Holocaust denier who is venerated by Colombia's neo-Nazis.

In 1975, Ordoñez, Valenzuela and others signed a letter congratulating Ecuador's dictator for escaping a coup attempt. The letter, from 'Colombian nationalists' was published in Valenzuela's openly anti-semitic newspaper, according to Coronell. (The letter congratulated the dictator for triumphing over 'International Masonry,' but the bizarre conspiracy theories about Freemasons deserve their own blogpost.)

The letter was written 38 years ago, which gives Ordoñez plenty of time to
The February issue of Semana
magazine calls Ordoñez 'all powerful.'
have changed his ideas and associations. And Abad gave Ordoñez his opportunity to make clear that he believes that the Holocaust, like other historical events, really happened. Instead, Ordoñez thanked Abad and ended the interview.

Does Ordoñez deny the Holocaust? He made it easy to believe that he does. Colombia's Federation of Jewish Communities called on Ordoñez to state his position on the Holocaust. He hasn't responded.

People who seize onto the bizarre idea of Holocaust denial usually don't do it based on historical research, but motivated by anti-semitism.

A sign at Bogotá's May Day parade says
'Hitler killed 6 million Jews.
Ordoñez killed Colombia's democracy.'
As bad as religious prejudice is, especially for someone responsible for enforcing the law evenhandedly, even worse might be what it suggests about how Ordoñez's reasoning. Colombia is supposed to be a secular nation with no official religion, where policy decisions are made based on evidence. If Ordoñez really doesn't believe in the Holocaust, despite all the evidence, then what does he think about global warming, evolution, the basis of human sexuality and so many other subjects? Should anybody who bases his positions on ideology - whether prejudices or religion - be making decisions in a secular nation?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

A Milestone for TransMilenio

The entrance to the new Universidades TransMilenio station.
This weekend the Universidades TransMilenio station finally opened, years behind schedule, but it is there.

More than two years late, TM bus pulls
into the new station.
Getting the station open has been a long, long saga. TransMilenio's expansion project along Carreras Septima and Decima is more than two years behind schedule, and counting, thanks to alleged corruption and mismanagement by Mayor Samuel Moreno's administration. We're still waiting for the Museo Nacional station to open, which is supposed to happen in June, and for the Calle 26 line to be extended to the airport, tentatively set for late next year.

Buses have no way to get from one station to the other.
But the Universidades station's opening was delayed further by a legal battle over an expansion of Parque de la Independencia which bridges over 26th. Only after a judge ruled recently that construction there could continue did workmen finish the lanes leading to Universidades, which is near Los Andes and Jorge Tadeo universities and the Centro Colombo-Americano and the Aliance Francesa.

A line of buses waiting at Las Aguas. Why can't some go
directly on to the Universidades station and up Calle 26. 
Today I saw that the station was getting use, but buses appeared only infrequently. The new station is connected to the Las Aguas TM station, located only about 200 meters south, by an underground pedestrian walkway. But I don't understand why they didn't find a way to build a lane connecting the two stations. As it is, both stations are at the ends of their respective lines, obliging buses reaching them to turn around and head back.

Multimodal transit. A horsecart waits near
the new station.

The city hasn't removed the old traditional
buses from the road.
Another obvious failing is City Hall's lack of will to oblige the private companies to retire the old buses which compete against TransMilenio's service. El Tiempo reports today that these buses, in addition to contributing to traffic congestion and a vehicle surplus, also cause many of the nation's express bus systems to operate in the red.

One of the Museo Nacional station's futuristic entrances.
When the Museo Nacional station finally opens, supposedly in June, Bogotá will  face the next decision for its transit plans: What sort of transit system to build along Ave. Septima to the north.

Belching its way up the Eje Ambiental
(the Envionmental Axis)
I also took several photos, including this one, of TransMilenio buses belching clouds of smoke and showed one to a TM employee who was coordinating bus arrivals. She first informed me that I was "not authorized to take photos of TransMilenio stations." (Why don't they also prohibit people from looking at TM stations, which would go a long way to solving the pollution problem).

"So, it's okay for them to poison us, but prohibited for us to photograph the pollution?"

She seemed to become sympathetic. "There are functionaries in the portales who pull buses out of circulation if they're harmful," she explained.

"So this isn't harming us," I asked her, showing the photo again.

She apologized that she was not authorized to remove buses from service for polluting. "You can help us a lot," she told me, "by showing your photo" to the functionaries in the portales.

But maybe not, since the bus's own pollution makes its plate number almost unreadable. It's also absurd to expect me to do this: Can't they see for themselves? But nobody wants to invest the money in maintenance to stop TM from sickening bogotanos.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, April 28, 2013

It's Raining Again!

Rainwater turns a kiosk step into a waterfall in the Parque Nacional. 
The rainy season came late this year. But when it started last week it came with a fury. Most afternoons, the sky lets loose with a torrential downpour. Usually, the worst of it only lasts a half hour or so, leaving the city soaked, but cleaner.

These cyclists didn't appear to mind the downpour...too much. 

Cyclists and pedestrians take refuge under one of the park's bridges. 

And a few make a break for it. 

Sodden scouts build their character. 

The normally placid Rio del Arzobispo is ready for surfers today. 

Water cascades down a hillside. 

Tourists take refuge under a tarp. 

A day for dogs. 
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, April 27, 2013

To Prison or the Presidency?

One of them has been convicted of cigarrete smuggling, linked to the cocaine trade and jailed for two months.

Another stands accused of the murders of dozens of peasants and political dissidents.

No, I'm not talking about inmates of La Modelo prison, but of the elected presidents of two South American nations.

This week, Paraguayans elected multimillionare Horacio Manuel Cartes to the presidency.

The best president bad money can buy?
Paraguay's new Pres. Horacio Manuel Cartes.
Cartes, one of Paraguay's richest men, owns a tobacco, sports and banking empire. But, according to U.S. government suspicions revealed by Wikileaks, his bank was used for money laundering and his tobacco company flooded Brazil with pirated cigarretes. Cartes was actually convicted by a Brazilian court for cigarrete smuggling and identified as a tobacco smuggler by Brazil's congress. In the year 2000, Paraguayan authorities discovered an airplane loaded with cocaine and marijuana on Cartes's ranch. After winning the election, Cartes admitted that he'd once spent 60 days in jail on accusations of financial crimes, but explained that at that time Paraguay was ruled by a dictatorship and said he'd been cleared of the charges.

Cartes denies the contraband and money laundering accusations and says that he wasn't responsible for the plane on his land.

How did Cartes get elected despite this history, as well as crazy comments like calling gays and lesbians "monkeys." First of all, he controls the Colorado political party, perhaps the strongest political machine in Latin America. And, Cartes has lots of money, which is important anywhere, but extremely important in Paraguay, with its rampant corruption. While I lived there, a resident of one of Asunción poor riverside slums described to me how political parties paid for votes with beer and cash. Voters sometimes came home angry, my friend said, not because their candidate had been lost, but because they'd sold their vote too cheaply.

"My vote's worth more than that," they'd say.

So, Paraguay's a place where a millionare has solid political prospects, despite even a criminal background.
But another small South American country is ruled by a man accused of even worse crimes.

Blood on his hands? Suriname
Pres. Dési Bouterse.

Suriname President Dési Bouterse, who was the country's dictator from 1980 - 87, was convicted in the year 2000 by a Dutch court of smuggling nearly 500 kilograms of cocaine and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Much worse were 15 political murders and the massacre of at least 39 villagers, mostly women and children, committed during Bouterse's dictatorship. Those crimes are supposedly still under investigation or have been given amnesty.

Bouterse has also been linked by witnesses and in Wikileaks documents to Colombia's FARC guerrillas.

Paraguay and Suriname are tiny nations - but they are important cocaine trafficking routes. And Paraguay's a big marijuana grower.

And Cartes and Bouterse aren't alone. The U.S. government has charged Venezuelan high officials with supporting the cocaine trade. Colombian ex-Pres. Alvaro Uribe was linked to right-wing paramilitary death squads. And Nicaraguan Pres. Daniel Ortega stands accused by his adoptive daughter of having sexually abused her for two decades beginning when she was 11 years old.

Some could argue that the Paraguayan and Surinamese presidents are proof of the idea that if you smuggle 100 grams of cocaine or stab someone to death in a street fight, you go to prison. But if you smuggle thousands of tons of cocaine or order people killed by the dozens, you're more likely to go to the presidential palace.

Will Latin Americans and others ever stop electing leaders with criminal histories? Not likely, and one reason among many is drug prohibition itself. As long as prohibition diverts huge fortunes into the illegal economy, those who obtain those fortunes will get themeselves into positions of power, and many in positions of power will want to use that power to amass fortunes, any way they can.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Carrying a Mirror Thru La Candelaria

The other day, I came upon these workmen carrying a mirror pane back to their glassworking shop. They had taken it to a client's business, only to discover that it was the wrong size. 

Along the way, the mirror produced some interesting images and interactions.

Carrying a mirror isn't easy, I learned. One's hand tires gripping its slick surface. You can't carry a large mirror from underneath, the men explained, because the wind can catch it. So, every dozen yards or so, they had to stop and rest, at which time a third man placed cushions on the ground to place the mirror on.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Bookstores of Central Bogotá

Books covers walls and tables in the Pensamiento Critico bookstore on Carrera 8A, just off of Jimenez Ave.

Another view of Pensamiento Critico, which also
has books in English, French and German. 
With the annual Feria de Libros, or Book Fair, going on in Corferias, I took a tour of some of the traditional book stores and other book venues in central Bogotá, where books are sold on streets, on street tables and on sidewalks.

The many bookstores are a surprise in a nation not known for reading. A recent survey found that Colombians read on average only 1.9 books per year - and I bet that's too high. The bookstores' very existence is sort of inspiring. That someone in Colombia's still willing to shell out out real pesos to read Voltaire and Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair rather than spend time in front of the boob tube suggests there's still hope.

Unlike the book fair, you can enter these places for free, and the books are sure to be lots cheaper. And, while book festivals, with their literature and highbrow talks are great, I kind of wonder how many people attend for the literature and how many to see and be seen. I recall standing in a long line for a book fair in another country and observing that none of the other people in line were using their waiting time to read. Does that say anything?

Across the street from Pensamiento Critico, is this building full of small booksellers, who used to sell in the street (and some of whom surely still do).

The voluminous Merlin, another traditional bookstore, beside Pensamiento Critico. 

On Calle 16 between Carreras 8 and 9, around the corner from Pensamiento Critico, vendors offer books (many pirated), as well as DVD on tables in the street. 

On the sidewalk of Calle 22 and thereabouts, just off of Ave. Septima, vendors sell used books and magazines for a few thousand pesos. Every now and then I find a great classic in English.
A literally hole-in-the-wall bookstore on Ave. Septima and 22nd St.
The Knights Templars bookstore on Calle 10 a block west of Plaza Bolívar. The store, with great historical atmosphere, has lots of old books.

The Order of the Knights Templar is still around. But instead of leading crusades to the Holy Land, they're selling books in Bogotá.

Old objects in the Knights Templars bookstore. 

Books on Colombian history in the Templars bookstore. 
Maps in the Templars Bookstore. 

The National University's bookstore on Plaza las Nieves sells books published by the university. It stands out amidst the plaza's homeless, alchoholics and street vendors.

Evidently a book lover, a homeless man soaks in some knowledge by sleeping on the  windown ledge of the traditional Libreria Lerners on Ave. Jimenez. 
Inside Lerners. I was inspired to see classics like Upton Sinclair's 'The Jungle' for sale. Hopefully not all who buy it are required to read it for class. 

The bright and attractive bookstore in the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Center on Calle 11 has lots of works on art and culture, and even a collection of books in English on the second floor, altho they aren't cheap. The cultural center was created by the Mexican government.

Another view of Pensamiento Critico, which also
has books in English, French and German. 

Unlike many of the cafe-bookstores which have opened recently, the Luvina Café on Carrera 5 in La Macarena actually has lots of books. However, I haven't seen many people actually reading here. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours, which has La Candelaria's largest collection of books in English, French, German and Dutch for sale or exchange.